Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael (Utrecht 1566-1638)
Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael (Utrecht 1566-1638)

The Denial of Saint Peter

Details
Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael (Utrecht 1566-1638)
The Denial of Saint Peter
oil on canvas
18 1/8 x 26 5/8 in. (46.1 x 67.7 cm.)
Provenance

Literature
A.W. Lowenthal, 'Joachim/Peter Wtewael, Father/Son, Master/Pupil', in A. Golahny, M.M. Mochizuki and L. Vergara (eds.), In His Milieu. Essays on Netherlandish Art in Memory of John Michael Montias, Amsterdam, 2006, pp. 279-86, figs. 1, 3 and 4.

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Abbie Barker
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Lot Essay

Published for the first time by Anne Lowenthal in 2006, this recently rediscovered picture showcases Joachim Wtewael’s renowned technical ability, and demonstrates his skill as a genuine master of light.

The episode of Saint Peter’s denial of Christ was a favourite subject for many northern followers of Caravaggio in the early seventeenth century. The story is familiar: following Christ’s arrest, Peter followed him into the courtyard of the high priest, where he sat by a fire. There, he was recognised on three occasions as one of Christ’s followers and, under the threat of imprisonment and execution, he denied knowing his master each time, thereby fulfilling Christ’s earlier prophecy that before the cock crowed that morning, Peter would have denied him thrice. With the story unfolding at night, it provided the perfect setting to experiment with the effects of chiaroscuro and many of the so-called Utrecht Caravaggisti, including Gerrit van Honthorst, Hendrick ter Brugghen and Dirck van Baburen, made versions of The Denial of Saint Peter. These compositions were often, if not always, illuminated by a single light source from within the picture: a candle, a lantern, or a fire.

Though Wtewael was also from Utrecht, he was not part of the same circles, instead becoming one of the great exponents of Dutch mannerism. Yet the popularity of The Denial of Saint Peter as a composition amongst his contemporaries may have encouraged the invention of this work; it brings together chiaroscuro effects with Wtewael’s characteristically bold colours and mannerist forms. The picture plane is dominated by the standing soldier, his back to us and his weight on his right leg, sculptural and static. Around him, though, there are details that catch the eye: the ever-changing palette, the faces full of character and the feet being warmed by the fire.

Lowenthal dates the picture to circa 1620. The subject had in fact been treated by Peter Wtewael, Joachim’s son and pupil, in a panel now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. The composition is similar, though in the Cleveland picture the figures are shown half-length, and as Lowenthal notes, it lacks the refined finish and complexity in colouring of the present lot (Lowenthal, op. cit.); all of which indicates that Peter’s version was derived from Joachim’s, now rediscovered, original.

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