Picture of the month: Saints Peter and Dorothy

A saintly scene rich in symbolism

This oak panel shows Saints Peter and Dorothy poised in front of a cloth of gold. They each hold objects associated with them that reveal who they are.

Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece, 'Saints Peter and Dorothy', probably 1505–10

Saint Dorothy’s basket of flowers includes roses, a reference to the story of her martyrdom. She was mocked on the way to her execution by an unbeliever who challenged her to send him roses and apples from heaven; miraculously a child appeared carrying both. Dressed in a fashionable white gown with an intricate lining, her pointed shoes peek out from beneath her velvet skirts.

Saint Peter in contrast is barefoot, his feet in symmetry with Saint Dorothy’s. In his right hand he juggles the keys to heaven and a book representing the gospels; the spectacles in his left hand are a clue to his religious studies. He has lost most of the hair on his head but has a wonderfully painted curly white beard.

It’s a beautifully harmonious composition. As well as mirroring each other’s feet, the figures also make similar hand gestures. Saint Peter’s right hand, clutching the keys and the book, is in the same position as Saint Dorothy’s right hand, which holds a single flower. And he holds his spectacles in his left hand in the same way that Saint Dorothy delicately clasps her woven flower basket.

The panel was once part of an altarpiece painted for the church of Saint Colomba in Cologne. It’s an exquisite example of work by its creator who was the leading painter in Cologne at the time.

Painting
Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece
probably 1505-10
Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece: 'Saints Peter and Dorothy'
Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece: 'The Deposition'
The Deposition
Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece
Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece: 'The Virgin and Child with Musical Angels'
The Virgin and Child with Musical Angels
Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece