Oil painting on canvas 90 x 73 cm without frame and 112 x 86 with coeval frame depicting St. Peter by the painter Giovanni Battista Merano (Genoa 1632 - Parma 1698).
This evocative canvas is to be ascribed to Giovanni Battista Merano, a painter somewhat out of the way from the circuit of the most prestigious Genoese commissions; and not by chance, because he worked for the Farnese family between Parma and Piacenza (the city where he died) with vast fresco cycles.
Pupil of Valerio Castello and Giulio Benso - with the former he made a study trip to Emilia in the first part of his career - the young painter made an intelligent synthesis between the productions of these two masters, as we see in the Massacre of the Innocents of 1661, located in the church of the Gesù next to the Rubens altarpieces and in front of a large canvas of the Castle. The figures with elongated, supple proportions, traversed by an agitated movement, the clothes with elongated and slightly jagged folds and, more generally, the biblical story which is interpreted as an intense drama aimed at involving the concerning.
Despite such an important commission, as already mentioned, Merano does not appear to have been involved in the numerous construction sites that redeveloped the most sumptuous palaces of the Genoese nobility: that was a moment of strong economic expansion for the city and the art market had a consequent acceleration in terms of request for both works on canvas and frescoes. Apart from the Sant 'Elia saves the shipwrecked for the church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Genoa, the painter works for Levanto, Sestri Levante, for the Basilica of San Giovanni Battista in Filomarina: but he is in Parma, in the church of San Giovanni Evangelista , at the beginning of the Eighties, which leaves an imposing cycle of frescoes that denotes a mature poetics, as we see in this detail with Angels with the medal garlanded with St. James overcoming the Moors, called St. James.
The palette becomes clearer, the drawing becomes more incisive, the cloths more abundant and curvilinear, with a rather decorative development: the movement is less agitated, more meditated and classical both the arrangement of the figures in space and their graceful attitude.
The depth of field of the representations, which outline an illusionistic breakthrough almost on the wall of opening a window on another world, with the cherubs playing jokingly among the garlands, denote complete adherence to the baroque temperie.
In recent years it has also been a rethinking of its origins, with naturalistic inflections between Bernardo Strozzi and Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari: the luministic contrasts are insisted, the evocative and silent atmospheres, the forms become more immanent and statuary, intensely expressive.
In our canvas one of the most venerated figures of the Catholic Church is easily recognizable: St. Peter who bears the attribute of the keys, which were delivered to him by Christ and also indicate him as the first Pope, the one who took his place after the Ascension. as a spiritual guide. He was in fact one of the twelve apostles, or the first followers of Christianity: of humble origins, he was a fisherman who became the favorite disciple of Jesus and witnessed all the salient events of his earthly life. For example, he personally saw the transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the agony in the garden of olives and tried to defend Christ during his capture, wounding an assailant. Tireless preacher, he travels through the Mediterranean until he reaches Rome, where between 64 and 67 he was martyred by Nero.
Here he is caught invoking divine help, turning his eyes to heaven almost pleading, with a strongly pathetic expression: his hands are crossed on his abdomen, with the keys in plain sight, he wears the usual brown and blue robes, indicating the earthly kingdom and that of heaven over which the church dominates; the two keys allude to these two spheres of influence, temporal and spiritual power.
The figure emerges from a dark, indistinct background, identified by a bright light that grazes plastically detects the forms, with the large and redundant folds of the cloths to accentuate the volumes and the intertwined hands on the foreground to let the onlooker enter the representation and at the same time to give a convincing sense of depth.
The safe and quick brushstrokes that outline the iridescent effects along the curled edges of the garments are striking, which skilfully restore the hair and fluffy beards or describe the signs of aging on the face and hands with great skill. This mixture of archaicizing instances, which refer to certain examples of early Caravaggism, is interesting, and a result that in the theatricality, in the immanence with which it is carried the image. so vivid, in the search for an emotional involvement of the user it shows instead a prompt reception of the poetics of the mature Baroque.
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