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Caravaggio, Crucifixion of Saint Peter


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.