Toledo Museum of Art Acquires The Liberation of St. Peter by 17th–Century Italian Artist Luca Giordano

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Luca Giordano (Italian, 1634–1705), The Liberation of St. Peter. Oil on canvas, shortly after 1660. 79 by 121 inches. Toledo Museum of Art. Museum purchase.

Luca Giordano (Italian, 1634–1705), The Liberation of St. Peter. Oil on canvas, shortly after 1660. 79 by 121 inches. Toledo Museum of Art. Museum purchase.

The Liberation of St. Peter by Italian artist Luca Giordano (1634–1705) has been acquired by the Toledo Museum of Art.

A ceremonial introduction of the 350-year-old painting will take place at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 in the Museum’s Great Gallery.

Toledo Museum of Art Director Brian Kennedy; Lawrence W. Nichols, the William Hutton senior curator of European and American painting and sculpture before 1900; and the Most Reverend Daniel E. Thomas, the new Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo, will speak. They will discuss the painting from both artistic and religious perspectives. The program is free and open to the public.

The massive oil painting is a dramatic depiction of the Biblical story told in Acts 12: 6–11 of an angel liberating Peter from prison and is a wonderful example of Giordano’s work, Kennedy said.

“Giordano’s composition is a riveting presentation of the power of the divine overwhelming the earthbound,” Kennedy said. “The subject of St. Peter had an immense symbolic power during the times in which the artist lived. Giordano painted his Liberation of St. Peter in the years of thanksgiving that followed the end of the plague that devastated his hometown of Naples in 1656.”

In the Baroque period, artists often referenced great art of the past. This masterpiece reveals Giordano’s indebtedness to Raphael’s famous fresco on the subject in the Stanza di Eliodoro in the Vatican, according to Nichols. .

“Giordano strategically positions his angel in the very center of the composition, the shadow of his airborne right foot tellingly placed adjacent to the gravity-adhering left foot of the stunned St. Peter. Freed from his chains—which are visible in the foreground below the angel’s left knee—a bewildered St. Peter obediently follows the angel past six sleeping armed guards and two other prisoners still bound. Giordano’s use of rich colors gives a truly unworldly aura to the angel in flight,” Nichols said.

Nicknamed Luca fa presto (“Luca does it quickly”), Giordano was a prolific and highly sought after artist during his long career in which he received commissions from the Medici courts in Italy and served as official painter to the Spanish king, Charles II, from 1692 to 1702.

Although no commission is known for TMA’s new acquisition, its scale (79 by 121 inches) strongly suggests it was originally was intended as a church altarpiece, Nichols said. The painting was in private hands from the middle of the 19th century until it was consigned by the previous owner to Sotheby’s in late 2010. It was purchased early the following year by the Matthiesen Gallery in London from which TMA acquired it.

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