Painting of the Week: Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of St. Peter

This piece from Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio is called Crocifissione di san Pietro, or “The Crucifixion of Saint Peter.” It depicts the martyrdom of St. Peter described in the Acts of Peter.

According to tradition, when condemned to death, Peter requested to be crucified upside down. He did not believe he was worthy to be killed in the same manner as Jesus.

What looks like a dark background is actually a cliff of rock, alluding to the meaning of Peter’s name: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matt 16:18).

But now it is time for thee, Peter, to deliver up thy body unto them that take it. Receive it then, ye unto whom it belongeth. I beseech you the executioners, crucify me thus, with the head downward and not otherwise: and the reason wherefore,
I will tell unto them that hear.  — Acts of Peter

Artist: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Year: 1601

Location: Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. (The piece hangs on one side of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Annibale Carracci. Carvaggio’s Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus hangs on the other.)


Read more about this piece and browse other sacred art in the Verbum app.

Written by

Verbum, part of the Logos family, empowers Catholics to study Scripture and explore Church tradition.

View all articles
Written by Verbum