June 24th 2022

Carlo Crivelli, about 1430/5 – about 1494
Saints Peter and Paul, probably 1470s
Tempera on poplar, 93.3 x 47 cm, Mond Bequest, 1924, NG3923

This painting of Sts Peter and Paul is one of my favourites because the two saints look like real characters.  This is a side-panel from a large and very formal altarpiece  which once adorned the high altar of the Parish Church of Porto San Giorgio, which was the port for the city of Fermo on the Adriatic coast.  As was the convention, the two saints are shown set against heavenly gold and standing in their allotted space within the overall frame.  Crivelli used layers of gesso to make St Peter’s key and St Paul’s sword stand out from the flat surface of the panel.  As was the convention, Saint Peter is shown as older than Saint Paul,  with white hair, a tonsure and and a beard. Both are dressed as in the “gospel -style” with a tunic worn beneath an outer garment. Both are barefoot which signifies their following of Christ as disciples. But the idealism stops there.  These two are real men, who look quite ordinary and just a bit “quirky”.  While it is true that, in true “Crivelli-style”, they both look like they have just come from a hair dresser’s salon, nevertheless they could be workers from the docks.  To my eye, the immaculate hair styles only serve to draw attention to other imperfections.  Both are well past their youth.  Their weathered skin suggests their past lives as a fisherman and a tent maker.  Surprisingly,  they don’t look particularly pious.  Rather they both seem to be concentrating on a passage to which St Peter points with his rather long finger.  An open book was often a symbol of true doctrine. Perhaps the apple at St Peter’s foot is a clue to the subject matter.  Shown together St Peter and St Paul represent the Church and the authority of Rome.  However, by his command of expression and gesture,  Crivelli leaves us in no doubt that the ultimate authority rests with St Peter and his successors.  It worth remembering that Fermo was within the Papal States and that the big controversy of the day had been whether ultimate authority in the Church rested with the Pope or with a General Council.  If what Crivelli intended was to convey the authority of St Peter and the Papacy, then he has done so in a remarkable way.  In this work, it is the natural appearance of these two saints and the humanity of their relationship which conveys the message.


Edinburgh Catholic Chaplaincy

The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.

The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.

Read more