The Delivery of the Keys to Saint Peter: A Renaissance Gem

The Renaissance masterpiece, Delivery of the keys by Perugino shows a scene of Christ delivering the keys of the kingdom to Saint Peter.

The Delivery of the keys to Saint Peter

My reading of countless articles, magazines, and books on art taught me that even contemplating the best artwork of all time is incomplete without mentioning the history of Rome. It is easy to see how art is more than just displaying historical references, social or economic phenomena, or the evolution of humanity, but also an introspection towards ourselves because humans are the sole embodiment of lifecycles. I recommend you visit the Churches of Rome and Florence if you are somewhere midst of violating my beliefs, where the Apostles and Christ literally communicate with you to rehabilitate your mind. One such painting that has not only inspired us throughout the decade but was also a masterpiece of the Renaissance is Perugino’s The delivery of the keys To Saint Peter (Entrega de las llaves a San Pedro, in Spanish). Before we go on to the article, which is a complete analysis of the artwork, I need to tell you something. I found out by asking and communicating with a lot of people from my neighborhood and conducting an internet poll that there are very few in Million who even know about the artist. And you won’t believe that even the best sources over the internet has his profile and biography incorrect. Hence, I am stating a few facts about the artwork and the artist’s life, which you might think is supposedly wrong, but well, for this reason, I will be linking the original source at the end of the article. Stay with me while we get to know the artist first, then analyze the painting.

About the Renaissance Painter: Who Was Perugino?

Perugino, or Pietro Vannucci, was born in Perugino (his signature reads Petrus de Castro Plebis). His birth was probably in 1446 or 1447 at the Castello Della Pieve. Since we have no records of his exact birth date, so mentioning only the year is worthwhile here. Coming to his family, we have two opinions where Vasari told us that he was a poor man, but at the same time, Mariotti reminds us that his family was not that low in income as they enjoyed citizenship rights since 1427. Perugino’s work during his early career shows the same art techniques as Niccolò da Foligno or Niccolò Alunno, his first master. Now let me emphasize the importance of his mastery to understand the art form of Perugino. Niccolo was the originator of the school of Umbrian painters, which carried a special place in Perugino’s work thereafter. He was the pupil of Benozzo Gozzoli, but when it comes to displaying emotions such as rage, sweetness, and harmony, Niccolò was behind as he was a fiercer spirit with a dash of uncompromising realism. So early in the works of Perugino, you will see self-contained and learned solemnity religious expressions on the figures instead of any other emotion like jealousy, passion, rage, scorn or amazement.

Self Portrait Pietro Perugino

With the second master, Bonfigli, Perugino learned the illustrations, records and details full of figures with single faces or groups. Like Umbrian art, his artwork is notable for its treatment of the landscape in a unique way. For example, you will see that his landscapes include distant hills, single trees, vast arches of blue sky and other frames in the lovely scenes. He got this from another finest artist Fiorenzo di Lorenzo. So briefly, in his early days, it was the influence of Niccolò Liberatore, Fiorenzo di Lorenzo and Piero della Francesca that he attributed to greater heights in his art career.

It was the accuracy of perspective that made Pierro’s art so famous, which was carried over into Perugino’s. His finest work, for instance, was to display mystifying hollows, perfectly shaped roofs, and rooms. Now that you know about the artist concisely; let me take you to the historical backdrop of the artwork.

History and Background of Perugino’s Artwork.

ArtistPietro Vannucci or Pietro Perugino or Petrus de Castro Plebis
Year Paintedc. 1471-84
PeriodHistorical Religious Painting
Dimensions330 x 550 cm
WorthNot on sale
Where is it housed?Sistine Chapel, Vatican city

In the reign of Pope Sixtus IV (during 1471-1484), Perugino was commissioned to paint a part cycle of frescoes on the Sistine Chapel of Rome. The story behind the artwork emphasizes the message of Petrine authority, where Sixtus wanted to include the supreme buildings of the Vatican with biblical passages. Hence, when Perugino was given the subject matter of the scene from Matthew 16:13-19, the end result was an example of the Early Renaissance period, where the flatness of the two-dimensional surfaces was less to make the figures appear three-dimension. So you see that there is the use of aerial perspective to anchor the scene realistically in three dimensions, though painted in 2-D.

Now let me take you to the meaning of the artwork.

Understanding the Painting’s Meaning.

As I have mentioned that the subject matter was from a biblical passage, let me read it aloud for you.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”

18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

For those who do not understand, let me tell you that it simply portrays Christ delivering the keys of the kingdom to Saint Peter which frames the spiritual authority. It also signifies the apostolic accession by which Christ handed power to Saint Peter and then to popes.

Further, it needs to be noted that the two keys, Gold and Silver handed by Christ represent Spiritual authority i.e. the power to bind and loose in heaven, and Temporal authority i.e. the power to bind and loose on earth, respectively.

The Delivery of the Keys to Saint Peter Analysis.

We are finally at the formal analysis of the painting, Delivery of the Keys, which we waited for so long. And now I think that you are in an acceptable position to splash the information in your mind.

The Delivery Of The Keys To Saint Peter by Perugino

In addition, Perugino’s the delivery of the keys to Saint Peter offers a great deal of information about Umbrian art, so it is crucial to become familiar with it quickly. You do not need to byheart the entire history, instead, I am describing it in two words, space composition. Now you know about the ordinary compositions, but space composition is somehow different in the first place as it directly gives you a hint on extending an inward depth to show the image in three dimensions and not in two. It simply means that you have shown the picture in a cube and not on a surface. Let me now take you to the analysis of the artwork.

Mr. Berenson defines the artwork as

“intrinsically religious art”

and capable of

“communicating the religious emotion”

and able to

“awaken in those who looked at the pictures a consciousness of preference of a life holy and refined.”

The entire painting produces a sense of vastness and spaciousness with an open and broad air environment that narrates a viewer directly to the sight of heaven through the blue arches of the sky and free air enclosure.

Background Scene.

In the foreground, you see there are majestic and dignified figures with different postures but similar expressions (all religious). As your sight moves to the backdrop, the distance makes the figures expressed shorter, which is the delivery of the keys perspective. In the centre of the position, a giant and majestic temple is standing under the influence of disappearing horizons and everlasting hills. It also indicates the Umbrian landscape, which I have tried explaining in an earlier section. There is a wise use of the colour blue haze in the foreground to make the viewer lose the senses over it. The painting displays that the populace of a country is not limited by space, so each mass has a circulation of open-air charm, which further makes it clear that there is no sense of crowding. All you see is the soothing quiet and stillness through figures, even though their faces are not clear, still indicated by the fine thread of connection of their common interest. Although distant from Christ and his apostles, the foreground people are linked with them through Christ’s connection with the foundation of his Church.

Background of the painting delivery of the keys

You see with the contours of the hills and valleys, there are tiny dots in the form of fortified towns, looking down its neighbor. There are great white winding roads, single trees through blue sky accent and the golden glare of sunlight battling the intervening space of green grass of the fields. No one can take away the charm of the foreground in the composition.

Left Side of the Composition.

There are eight figures on the left side of the composition, showcasing the rear side of Christ. A golden ring surrounds each of their heads, symbolizing their spiritual dominance. There is a connectivity between the figures through their glancing and talking like in a mass, despite the absence of detailed emotions. There is a story narration through them using the signs of their hands.

Left side of the artwork delivery of the keys

Right Side of the Composition.

There are eleven figures on the right side of the painting, and each of them has similar connectivity, attire, story, emotions, and vastness between them.

Right side of the artwork delivery of the keys

Christ and Saint Peter.

Wearing a long robe draped in a blue cloth, the composition depicts Christ giving keys to Saint Peter and thereby handing over the responsibility. His golden brown hair and the incidence of his eyes fill love with his gesture. The kneeling down of St. Peter is out of respect towards the Ultimate God. His one hand takes over the key, whereas another one rests over his chest. His large-yellow robe with smooth texture and lines shows his exquisite drapery effect.

Central part of the composition showing Christ delivering the keys of the kingdom to Saint Peter

Well done, champ! We are finally done with the formal analysis of the composition, however, we are yet to move to the next section.

Colour Analysis of the Painting.

There are shades of blue and yellow, which particularly dominate the entire composition. The grey colour in the monument exemplifies the natural beauty even more. When you notice the green grass area, the small spaces in the structures, or even the robes of the several apostles, you will find the shade of yellow, exemplifying its importance. Further, there is the use of red, violet, and black colour too in the composition. And well, white is almost a not-so-neglected colour.

Final Words.

With this, we are at the end of the article. Tell me what more you saw in this Perugino’s The delivery of the keys to Saint Peter (which you wish me to add here). I really hope you find the article interesting and full of relevant information! Shoot your thoughts in the comments down and I will be happy to read them.

Frequently Asked Questions.

What do the keys of St Peter mean?

The two keys represent the spiritual authority, and temporal authority that Jesus passed on to Saint Peter.

What type of painting is the delivery of the keys?

The delivery of the keys by Pietro Perugino is a fresco made on the walls of Sistine Chapel. The artwork exhibits the use of linear perspective, the artist’s drapery effect, and portrays a biblical incident of Christ handing the keys of the kingdom to Saint Peter.

How did Perugino use linear perspective in the delivery of the keys?

Perugino depicted one point perspective in the delivery of the keys by portraying people getting shorter with the increasing distance, the use of colour blue haze and to fade the landscape in the ultimate background. Additionally, the portraiture of paneled flooring as well as the buildings in the background play a crucial role in perspective on the artwork.

What does the delivery of the keys represent?

The delivery of the keys by Pietro Perugino depicts a biblical incident of Christ handing the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Saint Peter.

Related Reads.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments