Saint Peter - Artus Quellinus I - 1658
Saint Peter - Artus Quellinus I - 1658

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Saint Peter

Artus Quellinus I
Inventory number: 
Saint Andrew's Church Antwerp
17th century Saints

Although baroque art may be conveniently associated with theatrical, gesticulating figures, it still manages, more than any other art movement, to put characters on stage able to give expression to their feelings in a serene and subdued manner. A case in point is the figure of St. Peter, sculpted by Artus I Quellinus (1609-1668). As his patron saint, he decorated the memorial to canon Peter Saboth (†1658), destined for the first north column in the nave where the saint was intended to be the first in a time-honoured series of the apostles placed against all of the nave’s then 12 empty columns. In the absence of (interest from) other deceased parishioners with wealthy backgrounds, Peter was left to stand alone on his high perch and was subsequently taken down.
The cockerel at Peter’s feet is a reminder of the prediction that Christ made to him before being taken prisoner: “Verily I say unto thee that this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice” (Matthew 26, 34). So it came to pass and, immediately after the cock crowed, and in the sight of Christ, “Peter remembered the word (of Jesus)”, was filled with remorse “and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26, 75). This is also reiterated in the Latin chronogram on the plinth: “Petro reCorDantI VerbI et aMare fLentI”. Peter’s countenance expresses his sorrow at the internal struggle with his pangs of conscience in denying his beloved teacher, Christ. Simply to save himself a man might even let his friends fall by the wayside. Self-preservation versus friendship: a timeless dilemma. To achieve that faith in Christ, Peter is ultimately prepared to die on the cross himself, which explains the traditionally inverted cross beside him.
Because of its exceptional magnificence and expressiveness, the French government confiscated the statue for museum exhibition; however, following the Concordat with Napoleon, the baroque masterpiece was returned in 1803.