Lot 54
  • 54


250,000 - 350,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • The Penitent Saint Peter
  • oil on canvas, unlined
  • 121 x 105 cm.; 47 ½ x 41 ¼ in.


Acquired by the grandfather of the present owners in Valencia during the 1940s; Thence by descent.


B. Navarrete Prieto, Murillo y las metáforas de la imagen, Madrid 2017, pp. 129–30, reproduced fig. 73.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Bartolome Esteban Murillo. The Penitent St Peter. This painting has an extremely early lining and probably the original narrow stretcher. There are two original vertical seams quite close together at centre right, and the back seems to have had some black priming, suggesting the possibility that the double canvas could itself have been an original strengthening factor. There have recently been 16 small patches added behind, with a cluster around the evidently weak area at the centre of the top edge in the upper background. Under ultra violet light the old varnish overall is fairly opaque, with incidental places reflecting the patches behind. There are just a few minor retouchings in the face, mainly in the cheek, leaving the beautiful detail of the eyes and the other features undisturbed. One or two other little touches can be seen by the side of the head, with a thin retouched line down the edge of the left shoulder and small touches by the right and left base edges. The dark drapery seems to have remained rather well preserved, as has the dark background generally, including the sky, under much old varnish, while the beautiful foreground drapery and great book are clearly beautifully intact and unworn. The painting is in exceptionally good condition throughout, having clearly been peacefully maintained with minimal intervention over time. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Datable circa 1675, this powerful depiction of the Penitent Saint Peter is a late work by Murillo, painted during the final decade of the artist’s life. The existence of the painting was unknown until its discovery in 2017 by Dr Benito Navarrete Prieto, following its emergence from obscurity in a private collection in Valencia, where it remains today. Painted with thick, broad brushstrokes, the powerful tenebrist style of the painting reflects the pervasive influence of the work of Jusepe Ribera in Murillo’s œuvre, while the simplicity of the design serves to heighten the scene's strong emotional content as Peter repents for denying Christ three times, thereby reinforcing the significance of repentance within the Catholic faith as a route to salvation. Murillo treated the subject of the penitent Saint Peter in oil on at least two other occasions.1 The earliest known treatment is a painting dated circa 1650–55 today in the Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao, in which Peter is similarly depicted as here in three-quarter-length, but facing directly towards the viewer, the right side of his face cast in shadow as a powerful light source emanates from the upper left.2 In the Bilbao painting the Saint is similarly dressed in his characteristic blue and yellow robes, accompanied by his attributes of the keys and a large volume of the Holy Scriptures, yet his features are more youthful than in the present work and furthermore, his clasped hands are not raised to beseech forgiveness but rest on his knee, thereby reducing the overall emotional intensity of the scene.

The other treatment of the subject by Murillo is the artist’s masterpiece commissioned in around 1675 by his great friend and patron Justino de Neve (1625–1685), in which Saint Peter is seen in full-length, set within a landscape (see fig. 1). The painting was bequeathed on De Neve’s death in 1685 to the Hospital of the Venerable Priests in Seville and remained there until removed by Maréchal Soult (1769–1851) in 1810, who retained it for his own private collection. Following his death it was sold at auction in Paris in 1852, when it was acquired by a certain Townend of Brighton, remaining in England for over a century and a half until it was sold in 2013 by private treaty sale through Sotheby’s to the Fundación Fondo de Cultura de Sevilla (Focus), whose small but outstanding collection of paintings and sculptures by Sevillian masters (including two works by Velázquez) is today housed in the Hospital of the Venerable Priests, Seville, the very place from which the Penitent Saint Peter was appropriated by the French over two hundred years ago.

Although the figure of Saint Peter is facing the opposite direction, it seems likely that Murillo had in mind the Venerables’ version when painting the present work. In both canvases the Saint is depicted with his hands clasped in a similar fashion, seated on a rocky outcrop, before the entrance to a cave and with a distant landscape beyond. The thick handling of paint and restricted palette are common to both paintings, although here the Saint appears more frail and older in years. It seems probable that the Venerables’ treatment slightly precedes the present work in date, which on stylistic grounds is likely to have been painted circa 1675. A comparison with Francisco de Zurbarán’s somewhat earlier treatment of the subject (circa 1645–50), lot 60 in this sale, reveals Zurbarán to be an artist more interested in the dramatic sculptural forms of Saint Peter, whilst Murillo reveals a greater sense of humanity and heightened emotion. The palpable influence of the naturalism of Ribera, combined with the fluid handling of Murillo make this an image of great strength and beauty. 

1 Valdivieso lists another treatment in a private collection, Paris, although on the basis of the published photograph alone, judgment over the attribution should be reserved; see E. Valdivieso, Murillo: Catálogo Razonado de Pinturas, Madrid 2010, no. 361. There is also a drawing of the subject by the artist today in the British Museum, London, which appears to be a prima idea for the Venerables' canvas; see J. Brown, Murillo: Virtuoso Draughtsman, 2012, pp. 206–07, no. 82, reproduced.

2 Deposited by the Provincial Council of Bizkaia after transfer in lieu of tax by BBVA in 2000, for which see Murillo and Justino de Neve; El Arte de la Amistad, exh. cat., Madrid, Museo del Prado (26 June – 30 September 2012), Seville, Hospital de los Venerables Sacerdotes (11 October 2012 – 20 June 2013), Dublin, National Gallery (6 February – 12 May 2013), p. 138, fig. 65 reproduced.