The Denial of Saint Peter
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Simon Bening
Flemish, Bruges, about 1525 - 1530
Tempera colors, gold paint, gold leaf, and ink on parchment
6 5/8 x 4 1/2 in.

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Intense drama marks Simon Bening's cycle of forty-one miniatures of Jesus' life and Passion in the prayer book of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg. The Denial of Peter, set in an eerily lit hall, captures the climactic moment retold in the Gospel of Matthew, when Peter utters a third denial of his acquaintance with Jesus to a servant girl. She points to the right, where Jesus is being led away through the doorway. Shown on the left, Peter's expression reveals the depth of his agony as he realizes that Jesus' prophecy that he would deny Jesus "before the cock crows" has come true. The cock, with open beak, stands in the cupboard on the right.

The intense glow of the fire in the center of the hall casts a naturalistic but also dramatic light on the scene, silhouetting a soldier standing between the viewer and the fire. The artist included other naturalistic details as well: the figure on the right, for example, who yawns sleepily to indicate the late hour. Such prosaic details draw viewers into the story, encouraging them to feel as if they are a part of the scene.