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Core Record

Painting Title Saints Peter and John in the Tomb
Alternative Title St Peter and St John in the Tomb
Collection York Art Gallery
Artist Attributed to Italian School
Date Earliest possibly about 1610
Date Latest possibly about 1750

This painting had been cut down and now it contains only a part of the original scene. It shows a bearded old man to the right, kneeling, and another figure standing behind him; they both look left, towards the light. One possible interpretations is that it shows Saint Peter and Saint John looking at either an angel or at Christ's empty tomb. That subject matter would be taken from the Gospels (e.g. John 20.1-10): on Sunday morning the women who came to embalm Christ's body found his tomb empty and an angel told them that Christ has risen. They alerted the Apostles and Peter with John went to the tomb to confirm the information.

However, the subject of Peter and John at the tomb was not a popular subject in 17th century art and this may be a fragment of another subject (e. g. the Transfiguration). The painting is in poor condition condition but is most likely Italian. The scene is composed in expressive way, the chiaroscuro is very distinctive, and the gesture of the old man derives from compositions by Caravaggio. It is very likely that the picture was designed for a big altarpiece, as its scale is quite significant even though most of the composition is gone.

Current Accession Number YORAG : 391
Subject religion; figure
Measurements 233.7 x 172.7 cm
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Bequeathed by John Burton 1882.
Principal Exhibitions Yorkshire Fine Art and Industrial Institution, Summer Exhibition, York, 1883, no. 123.
Publications York Art Gallery Catalogue - Catalogue of Paintings, Vol. III: English and European 19th and 20th centuries, The Reserve Collection, City of York Art Gallery, York, 1974, p. 119; Oil Paintings in Public Ownership. North Yorkshire, London, 2006, p. 353 as by unknown artist

One possibility is that YORAG : 391 was an altarpiece from France, damaged during the French Revolution, and taken to England by someone escaping from France at the time. Usually, according to the rules of Council of Trent, if for some reason an altarpiece was damaged it should have been either restored or destroyed completely, as altarpieces, considered as sacred objects, were not supposed to be secularised, but no rules were respected during the French Revolution. The mass destruction of churches in France at the end of 18th century was the best opportunity for acquiring such pieces - however this is just speculation.

John Burton (1799-1882) was a horse dealer and farmer; he created a collection of paintings (mainly Victorian) in his villa in Poppleton, Yorkshire. He had been on the organising committees for the 1866 and 1879 exhibitions in York and decided to leave his collection to the citizens of York rather than his first choice, the National Gallery (he was persuaded to change his will a month prior to his death). The Burton Bequest of 127 pictures founded the York Gallery's permanent collection.

Rights Owner York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery)
Author Dr Magdalena Łanuszka



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