The Denial of Peter

ca. 1600-05

Pen and brown ink
Inv. No. 16830

12.5 × 16.7 cm

zur  Biographie

The Frankfurt painter Adam Elsheimer produced most of his oeuvre in Rome during the decade from 1600 until his premature death in 1610. Despite their small formats, his paintings exerted such a powerful influence on other artists of the time that he is to be credited with a key role in the stylistic transition from Mannerism to Baroque. Of Elsheimer’s drawings, barely more than two dozen have survived. It is therefore all the more significant that the Department of Prints and Drawings possesses the Denial of Peter, complementing the unique group of his paintings in the Städel Museum Gallery. Though it exhibits some areas of damage where the ink has run, this drawing allows us to appreciate the special qualities of Adam Elsheimer’s art. The artist has composed a group consisting of three main figures in the foreground and four secondary figures placed behind them. Contrary to the direction taken by the eye from left to right – and thus making an even more forceful impact – a woman is pointing at a bearded man. He recoils, and although his movement is contained in compositional terms by a figure standing on the left, it is not impeded in terms of the narrative: he is stumbling backwards into a void. The four onlookers in the right-hand half of the composition appear to be commenting on what is happening. After Christ had been taken prisoner in the Garden of Gethsemane by the men sent to arrest him, he was brought before the high priest that same night. Outside the latter’s palace, a woman came up to Peter and accused him of being one of the prisoner’s followers. Out of fear, Peter denied three times that he had anything to do with Christ. It is this scene from the Passion story that Elsheimer appears to have depicted here. He has compressed the entire dramatic event into just a few gestures and physical postures, and the figures involved in the action thus appear charged with unseen inner energy. Stylistically, the artist avoids the elegant, form-conscious Mannerist line. Instead, he draws in a style that is direct, and guided by an investigative mode of thinking – not one that leans on previous models – and by the endeavour to capture his subject with immediacy and without falsification; using subtle empathy, he interprets it from within.

More works

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