PICTURES OF THE BIBLE  © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008







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Saints Peter and Paul; Carlo CRIVELLI; c. 1470; egg tempera on poplar; National Gallery, London

 National Gallery London







Two men, standing, dressed after the antique, study a book together; they are Peter and Paul, the two apostles.

Paul is on the left, bald and bearded. He is younger than Peter since his beard is black. He has a long sword but he does not hold it and has put a shut book on it.

Peter wears a short beard and he has a wide tonsure on his skull; he is reading a big book and showing a text to Paul. He carries two keys attached to his left hand.

On the ground can be seen an apple and a skull, the signs of sin and death while the book is that of the Good News of salvation.




Peter and Paul, being often associated and being celebrated together on June 29th, had to be physically differentiated.

Paul carries a long naked sword since he was condemned to death but, as a Roman citizen, he had the privilege of being beheaded. As Paul chose the name of Paul, which means “the small one”, he could be so. In his representations, it is not the case but he is always completely bald and wears a long beard.

On the contrary, Peter wears a short beard, he has little hair, just a tuft on the front; he has a wide tonsure like future priests. But he is sometimes dressed as a pope and consequently wears on his head the three-tiered crown or tiara. Peter holds the keys, always two, that of the heaven and that of hell; a third one may appear; it is then that of the earth. They are big, made of gold and silver and so they sometimes look like sceptres. They are tied or bound together for the power to bind and to loose is one.




Saints Peter and Paul; Carlo CRIVELLI; c. 1470; egg tempera on poplar; National Gallery, London

 National Gallery London



The Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 16

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?

And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

And Jesus answered and said to him,

And I say also to you, That you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it...

And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-19)


Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, chapter 1

Writing to the Christians of Galatia (a region of today’s Turkey), Paul evokes the time when he persecuted Christ’s disciples and then his conversion.


Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles, save James the Lord's brother.

Now the things which I write to you, behold, before God, I do not lie. Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;

And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judaea which were in Christ: But they had heard only, That he who persecuted us in times past now preaches the faith which he once destroyed. And they glorified God in me. (Galatians 1:18-24)



Being the first to acknowledge Jesus as Christ, or Messiah, Peter becomes the first among the apostles, hence the mission entrusted to him by Jesus.

Hardly has he recognised Christ than Saul, now Paul, becomes a missionary and visits the Christian communities. Though he has never met Jesus during his life on earth, he considers himself an apostle.








Saints Peter and Paul; Carlo CRIVELLI; c. 1470; egg tempera on poplar; National Gallery, London

 National Gallery London


The physical differences, specially their age difference  are clear. Peter can be recognised thanks to his keys,  Paul to his book.


The Apostles Peter and Paul ; CORREGGIO,1520;
freso, cupola,  Church of San Giovanni Evangelista, Parma  

Web Gallery of Art




The Apostles Peter and Paul; El GRECO; 1592; oil on canvas; The Hermitage Museum; St Petersburg

Web Gallery of Art


Two separate representations at poles apart since the Saint Peter is the one who was venerated in the basilica in Rome, whereas the Saint Paul is an intimate painting in which the artist shows his attachment for the apostle.  

Self-Portrait as Saint Paul; REMBRANDT; 1661; oil on canvas; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam



The Statue of Saint Peter; Arnolfo di CAMBIO; c. 1300; bronze; Treasury of San Pietro, Vatican

Web Gallery of Art


Two scenes with Peter alone. What Poussin calls ordination corresponds to Jesus’ delivery of the keys. As for Peter’s tears, they follow the third cock’s crow

And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, who said to him, Before the cock crows, you shall deny me three times. And he went out, and wept bitterly. (Matthew, chapter 26, verse 75).


The Ordination; Nicolas POUSSIN; 1647; oil on canvas; National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

Olga's Gallery - Online Art Museum



Peter’s Tears; George de LA TOUR; c. 1645; oil on canvas; Cleveland Museum of Art

Olga's Gallery - Online Art Museum


Two scenes with Paul alone before he takes this name.

Saul attends Stephen’s martyrdom (See Stephen).

Saul’s conversion (See Paul’s Conversion)


St Stephen’s Martyrdom; Bernardo DADDI; 1324; fresco; Santa Croce, Florence

Web Gallery of Art



St Paul’s Conversion; PARMIGIANINO; c. 1552; oil on canvas; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Web Gallery of Art





Saints Peter and Paul; Carlo CRIVELLI; c. 1470; egg tempera on poplar; National Gallery, London

 National Gallery London



Peter was called Simon, which means “obedient”. A fisherman with his brother Andrew on Lake Tiberias, he is one of the first to follow Jesus who gives him the nickname of Peter (Kephas in Aramaic, Petros in Greek, Petrus in Latin) which designates the rock on which the Church can be solidly built.

He is always the first named in the lists of the apostles and several episodes show the particular role he plays during Jesus’ life and after the Pentecost at the birth of Christianity.

See the Miraculous Draught of Fishes, Jesus walks on Water, the Washing of Feet, the Pentecost.


Peter being traditionally recognised as the first bishop of Rome, his successors wished to keep this role of primacy. They were designated under the name of “pope” at the beginning of the Middle-Ages; this appellation has the same root as children’s “papa”.

The role of popes in the Church has continually grown over the centuries whereas their political power has declined considerably. Today, apart from the government of the Church, their influence is at the same time spiritual and media-friendly and their political role exceeds that which they could have as sovereigns of the smallest state in the world (44 hectares), the Vatican or Holy See.



St Peter plays a major part in tales and popular stories.

In them, he is at the same time venerated but also mocked at because of his threefold denial. After Jesus’ arrest during which he went as far as to cut the ear of the High Priest’s servant, he took fright and, during the night, he denied three times the fact that he was a disciple of Jesus. A cockerel crowed then and he remembered “the word of Jesus, which said to him, Before the cock crows, you shall deny me three times. And he went out, and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75).

He is the hero of many stories in which the power of the keys makes him a sort of caretaker of Paradise.





BIBLE PICTURES   © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008