Private collection Switzerland;
from whom acquired by the present owner.
This impressive depiction of the Penitent Saint Peter is an early work of the Utrecht artist Dirck van Baburen, dating to his formative sojourn in Rome (by 1615-circa 1620). It was once one of a pair of pendant canvases, together with a painting of a bearded saint, almost certainly Saint Paul (see fig. 1), which sadly has now been lost.
Like so many other Northern artists of his generation, Dirck van Baburen set out for Rome after his initial training had been completed. He seems to have made it to Italy by 1615, where a document records a commission for an altarpiece of the Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian for that year (untraced). The young artist quickly received an even more impressive commission, the decoration of a Cappella della Pietà in the Spanish church of San Pietro in Montorio, Rome. He was commissioned by Pietro Cussida, the agent for the Spanish crown, to decorate the chapel with canvases depicting the Passion; Baburen painted most of the canvases, with the exception of one lunette of the Mocking of Christ which was undertaken by his friend and sometime housemate, the Rotterdam artist David de Haen.1 The centerpiece of the chapel, still in situ, is perhaps Baburen’s masterpiece, the magnificent Christ on the Road to Cavalry, datable to 1617. Other documented pictures of these Roman years include the superb Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles (then in the collection of Vincenzo Giustiniani, now Gemäldegalerie, Berlin); a Capture of Christ (for Cardinal Scipio Borghese, still Galleria Borghese), another of the same subject (now Fondazione Longhi, Florence) and a Saint Francis (Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna).
Thus, the present Saint Peter and its no longer extant mate are important additions to this small group of Roman pictures. They were both in matching simple gilt Roman “Salvator Rosa” frames (which the Saint Peter retains), thus underlining their Roman provenance, and they are said to have been from the Rospigliosi collection. Even the pairing of these two particular saints is telling, as they are the twin protectors of the city of Rome.
The facial type of the Saint Peter and the modeling of the flesh tones, particularly in smooth handling of the locked fingers, are absolutely typical of Baburen, and appear in other pictures of this moment. Erich Schleier (see below) dates the picture to circa 1617, and notes the relationship of the figure of Saint Peter with that of the same saint in the Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles in Berlin. Leonard Slatkes (see below) dated the picture to circa 1618-19, based on comparison of the present Saint Peter to a figure in one of the lunettes of the chapel in San Pietro in Montorio.
In a document, Dr. Erich Schleier has confirmed the attribution of the painting to Baburen, and noted its affinity with a number of works of this period. In a letter dated June 5, 1995, Leonard J. Slatkes confirmed the painting to be by Baburen.
1 For this commission, see C. Grilli, “ Il committente della cappella della Pietà in San Pietro in Montorio in Rome,” Bollettino d’Arte, 79, 1994, pp. 157-164.
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