The Denial of St Peter by Rembrandt van Rijn - 1660 Dulwich Picture Gallery The Denial of St Peter by Rembrandt van Rijn - 1660 Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Denial of St Peter

oil on canvas •
  • Rembrandt van Rijn - July 15, 1606 - October 4, 1669 Rembrandt van Rijn 1660

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In Rembrandt’s time, there was a particularly strong association between history painting and drama. This dramatic painting, The Denial of St Peter, tells different parts of the New Testament story of Jesus’ betrayal by his Apostle at the same time. The candlelight leads our eye to the key moments: the arrest of Christ in the background; the accusation by the servant girl; and the shame in Peter’s eyes.

The reflected light glancing off the background group creates a subtle narrative tension, revealing the figure of Christ as a witness to the action, glancing backward to Peter at the very moment of his betrayal.

A number of Rembrandt’s paintings employ a tool known as staetveranderinge – a dramatic reversal of the mood from one extreme to another. In this case, the light is used to pinpoint the moment in which the servant girl accuses Peter. Emanating from her finger as she shields the candle, underscores the foreboding of what is about to happen.

You can see this work and many other masterpieces on display in Rembrandt’s Light; a cinematic exploration of works by the Dutch Master at the Dulwich Picture Gallery until 2 February 2020.

P.S. Read about Rembrandt and his most tragic love story here.