Carracci’s Christ appearing to St Peter on the Appian Way (1601-02)

This painting, sometimes known as Domine Quo Vadis?, depicts an event not mentioned in the New Testament. A legend grew up that some years after the crucifixion St Peter fleeing Rome encountered Christ walking in the opposite direction. "My Lord, where are you going?" he asked, to which Christ replied that he was bound for Rome to get crucified once more.  

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Captions for image(s) above:

Annibale Carracci, Christ appearing to Saint Peter on the Appian Way (1601-02) Oil on canvas. National Gallery, London

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Carracci identifies himself with Christ whose pointing finger appears to touch the surface of the canvas as the artist's brush would have from our side. In art, pointing is painting. St Peter's hand too, if you think of his figure as Carracci's outside the canvas, touches and thus paints the same surface. Both represent the artist, though differently on different sides of the imagined "canvas". That's why Peter's pose is in profile. He is outside the "image" like the artist was, blocked from going any further by the "canvas". It's as though a flat sheet of glass separates Christ and Peter while the Cross, painted using a different perspectival system, cuts through it. Indeed, as I'll now explain, these painting metaphors contrast the physical reality of the Appian Way, to and from Rome, with the Christian Way of the Cross.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Annibale Carracci, Christ appearing to Saint Peter on the Appian Way (1601-02)

Click image to enlarge.

Early Christian preachers often used metaphors of painting. They urged congregants to paint a mental self-portrait as Christ because Christ's life was a model for all. Anyone could become like Christ. Thus Christ and Peter have similar noses because both represent the same man: one as he actually was and the other as he wanted to be. Their hands, on the same plane, "touch" the invisible glass or mirror between them. The left hand of Carracci-as-Peter touches or "paints" the scene while Carracci-as-Christ is a mirror-image of the real Carracci with an extended arm painting himself as Christ. The saint fleeing persecution in Rome symbolizes our own fears and troubles. But he is stopped by Christ who tells him (and Carracci and us) to stop running away from our trials and follow the Cross. In other words, as those early preachers advised, model your life on Christ's.  

Captions for image(s) above:

Annibale Carracci, Christ appearing to Saint Peter on the Appian Way

Click image to enlarge.

Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 05 Jun 2017. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.