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Caravaggio, Crucifixion of Saint Peter

Caravaggio, Crucifixion of St. Peter, oil on canvas, 1601 (Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris, Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Suzanne
    Why was he crucified upside down?
    (19 votes)
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  • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user Noodlebasher
    You don't see people besides Jesus on crucifixes these days. When did people decide that the cross should only be associated with Jesus?
    (12 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Aaron
      The cross was a means of execution for the worst of criminals. It was very shameful for someone to die on a cross. In fact, apparently, the worst of insults was to call someone a "crucified one".
      As a result, people thought very little of anyone who died on a cross. The Bible talks about Jesus, though God, humbled himself to take the form of a servant and die on the cross. So the cross took on a different meaning in one way because it was the means for Jesus to die.
      According to tradition, Peter the apostle was also crucified, and being an important part of Church history, has ended up in art as well.
      (19 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Jon Dough
    How did the other apostles die? In what order?
    (4 votes)
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  • female robot grace style avatar for user Inger Hohler
    Peter is rendered very life like. I was admiring how the artist seemed to have gotten the pain lines between his brows right! In this light I found it odd that there is no blood on Peter's feet nor hands. Is there a reason why the artist would leave out the blood?
    (5 votes)
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    • ohnoes default style avatar for user Yasmine Yuma
      It would have probably been too graphic and explicit. The main intent was to portray the saint and the moments before his death, the fact he's nailed to a cross was already violent enough. It was already crude and unsettling enough (if it was meant to inspire a sense of awe in the viewers). I don't think it would have been accepted, had it been that realistic.
      (4 votes)
  • mr pink orange style avatar for user ermine
    Why Christianity and polytheistic Graeco-Roman culture could not coexist? Why polytheistic Romans persecuted monotheistic ones, and vice versa when Christianity "won"? Was it for political or other reasons? Many religions coexist today. Why was this not the thing in the past? Other societies seemed to be more tolerant: Hinduism and Buddhism, the mythology of Hittites and mythology of the conquered nations.
    (3 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Maybe the polytheistic religions of Rome and Greece had lost their appeal to the common people of the empire. That happened in China when Confucianism (the religion of the emperor) and Taoism (the religion of the educated) ceased to work for the common people, and the polytheistic folk religions just didn't help. Buddhism, from India, swept the empire, and later gained sanction from the emperor. I suspect something like that may have happened in Europe, too.
      (2 votes)
  • winston default style avatar for user Emily Mickel
    Is Peter still alive? I can't tell if his cross is being pushed up or taken down.
    (0 votes)
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    • female robot grace style avatar for user Inger Hohler
      If you look at his body and expression I think you will find clear signs that he is alive. Had he been dead and in the process of being taken down, gravity would have worked on the dying body and made him lay flat against the cross. Here he is with a raised neck and a raised shoulder. The expression of his face is one of pain. Most likely the frown would have been relaxed if he were dead. His eyes seem alert whereas a dead person has filmed over eyes (which may not have been visible in the painting.)
      (7 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Jon Dough
    When and why did the Romans stop crucifying people?
    (3 votes)
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    • female robot ada style avatar for user Ms Jennifer
      The Roman Empire collapsed. However, crucifixions didn't stop with the destruction of the Roman Empire, nearly every society since has used crucifixion against Christians (Japan, China, even the Germans in concentration camps used crucifixion).
      America has used equally brutal measures to kill Muslims and American Indians, so unfortunately, people torturing people to death did not stop with the end of the Roman Empire.
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Lucas Hodges
    These guys seem like huge baroque fans/nerds, they could hardly let the other speak for their oohing and aahing at the piece!
    (2 votes)
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  • old spice man green style avatar for user CielAllen08
    The painting of the Crucifixion of Saint Peter looks so realisitc it almost
    looks like it's going to come to life at any moment like all of Caravaggio's paintings,
    did Caravaggio use water color for this?Is that why his paintings make it look so real?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user kuzuriii19
    I don't think she finished speaking but Dr. Harris mentioned that Caravaggio grabbed a guy but from where? Out on the street? Was it someone he knew?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

SPEAKER 1: We're in Santa Maria del Popolo. SPEAKER 2: In Rome. SPEAKER 1: Looking at one of the great Caravaggios of the Baroque. SPEAKER 2: This may actually be my favorite Caravaggio, although I think I said about the last Caravaggio we did. SPEAKER 1: You may have. This is the "Crucifixion of St. Peter." You know, we talk about the diagonals of the Baroque and the sense of action in the momentary. But Caravaggio just makes that seem so pedestrian. It's such an activated, complex set of movements and weights. SPEAKER 2: Counter-movements. SPEAKER 1: And yes. And gravity plays this intense role. SPEAKER 2: Very, very, very powerful feeling of the pull of gravity. But what gets me is Peter. Caravaggio went out onto the street and got a guy. SPEAKER 1: He's a real and powerful, intense figure. And he looks really crabby, just the way Peter should be. Now, the story of course is that Peter-- SPEAKER 2: He asked to be crucified not the way that Christ did. SPEAKER 1: That's right. So upside-down. SPEAKER 2: So they're turning the cross upside-down, right? Look at him. He looks poor and kind of messy. SPEAKER 1: Not idealized at all. SPEAKER 2: No. SPEAKER 1: This is in such contrast to the pomp and ceremony. SPEAKER 2: He's a guy hanging out in a bar in Rome. SPEAKER 1: Well, that's what Caravaggio is so well known for. It's all the pomp and ceremony of Rome, of the Catholic Church is here turned on its head by Caravaggio. Think about this in contrast to the medieval traditions where there's no sense of gravity, no sense of weight, no sense of physicality. I mean, we're really seeing the ramifications of the Renaissance, but the brought into the Baroque era with a kind of intense emotionalism and physicality that even puts the Renaissance to shame. SPEAKER 2: Yeah. Oh, and shoved in your face. The guy who's lifting the cross , he's got all the way under it and is hoisting it with his back. We see his butt in our face. We see his legs, his dirty feet. SPEAKER 1: That's right. And this notion of really pushing out past the picture plane into our face is absolutely-- SPEAKER 2: Right. Into the space-- into our space. SPEAKER 1: And look at the diagonal of Peter has his feet comes towards us. SPEAKER 2: Yeah. SPEAKER 1: You're absolutely right. It breaks out into our world. SPEAKER 2: Right. And in fact, the cross as it moves out into our space by his feet, gives us a very close up view of the nails. There's a kind way that it gets to you in your body so that you almost go "ugh, agh." SPEAKER 1: Yeah. There's all this tension, actually. SPEAKER 2: You can feel that. The nail through his hands is all very, very real and descriptive. And the way that there's that black background. SPEAKER 1: Because light is really emphasizing what you're talking about. They way in which the knees protrude, the way in which the body is sort of pushed forward. All of that is highly controlled by the way that the light is played here. SPEAKER 2: And on his abdomen and his knees, they make his body look very normal. Like it's a regular man's body. So different than the kinds of bodies we're used to seeing in the Renaissance. SPEAKER 1: It's true, although there is a kind of heroicism here in terms of its mass and its strength. But it's only expressed through-- SPEAKER 2: Belied a little bit by the face though, I think, which looks so vulnerable. SPEAKER 1: It's true. There is this kind of incredible tension, because you're right. All the forces of nature play here. And we're not quite sure if that rope is strong enough. We're not quite sure if those men are strong enough. It may just fall. SPEAKER 2: It may. The whole thing could collapse at any second. SPEAKER 1: Absolutely. There's this kind of sense of transience in the momentary. SPEAKER 2: And sort of human frailty, you know. SPEAKER 1: That's right. In a sense, Caravaggio's brilliance is to be able to create this sense of newness and freshness, and as if this hadn't been rehearsed hundreds of times in paintings for hundreds of years. SPEAKER 2: I know, but no one did it like this. SPEAKER 1: It's as if it's the first time. SPEAKER 2: Yeah.