Saint Peter and the centurion Cornelius
Pieter Aertsen (Amsterdam, 1508-1575) attributed
Written expertise by Prof. Didier Bodart.
Provenance Bob Jones collection University Gallery of Sacred Art
Greenville (South Caroline) inv. P59.155.Wei.L
Oil on the table
Sculpted and gilded frame
Table cm. 75 x 98
Frame cm. 92 x 114
Very good condition
Perfectly vivid colors remained unchanged
This important Flemish work, painted in oil on panel, depicts the evangelical episode which sees the Apostle Peter converting the Roman centurion Cornelius and his entire family to Christianity.
Cornelius' conversion is narrated in chapters 10 and 11 of the Acts of the Apostles.
The event is of fundamental importance in the history of the first Christian communities, which were open to welcoming even the uncircumcised, freeing themselves from ancient Jewish traditions.
The affair will have considerable weight in the decisions taken by the Council of Jerusalem which will decree the reunification of the so-called "Pillars of the Church".
Cornelius was a Roman centurion known as a pious and fearful man, who prayed and was generous with alms.
His residence was in Caesarea of Palestine, seat of the Roman Governor.
Having learned about the Christian doctrine, his heart was driven to search for God, no longer recognizing himself in the pagan gods.
One day, while he was praying to God, eager to know his teachings, he had a vision of an angel who, calling him by name, told him that his prayers and alms were pleasing to God. Then he invited him to send his men to Jaffa to invite into his house, a man named Simone known as Pietro, who would have instructed him on what he asked.
Cornelius then sent two soldiers to look for him; In the meantime, Peter had had a vision that clarified God's will regarding the admission of uncircumcised pagans into the Church. (Admission to the Church was the prerogative of Jews only)
Therefore, having met Cornelius' messengers, Peter accepted the invitation and came to Caesarea to his house. Cornelius surrounded by his family, when he saw him, welcomed him with the honors due to a messenger of God, prostrating himself at his feet, but Peter urged him to get up and began to preach the word of the Risen Jesus: "all those who believe in me obtain the remission of sins and eternal life”.
And while he continued his apostolic speech, behold the Holy Spirit descended on all those present.
With this new Pentecost, Peter clearly understands God's will, so he baptizes them by joining them to the Church, without the prescribed circumcision of the law of Moses.
It will be the Ecumenical Council of Jerusalem in the year 49 that will definitively sanction this first great innovation since the birth of the Church.
The painting magnificently describes the scene which sees the two protagonists in the foreground, Cornelius on his knees with his hands on his chest and Peter bowing over him in the gesture of making him get up (as described in the Acts of the Apostles). Behind them are depicted two splendid women dressed in elegant Dutch dresses and hats typical of the time. One of them shows her little newborn baby lying in her arms.
In the dim light we can see a series of characters including the two Roman soldiers sent by Cornelius to take Saint Peter and a group of his family members.
The pictorial and coloristic approach presents the unmistakable characteristics of 16th century Flemish art.
Professor Bodart, one of the best known experts on ancient Flemish art, places it directly in the production of the famous Master Pieter Aertsen (Amsterdam, 1508-1575), one of the greatest exponents of Nordic Mannerism.
The work comes from the sale of some paintings from the famous Bob Jones collection "University Gallery of Sacred Art" in Greenville in South Caroline (inv. P59.155.Wei.L) which took place in the 1980s.
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