|Saint Peter the Apostle
From the earliest images until modern times St. Peter was portrayed with a short, square beard. In antiquity he had a full head of hair (see examples from the fourth and fifth centuries) but medieval through baroque works show him in various stages of balding from the back of the head (in contrast with St. Paul, who is balding from the forehead). From the 15th century on St. Peter typically has a fringe of hair below a bald pate with a tuft above the center of his forehead (example). One exception from the 17th has him with a longish beard and balding more like St. Paul. His feet are bare or sandaled and his garb almost always consists of a long, sleeved tunic beneath a large mantle.
In portraits St. Peter's primary attribute is a pair of keys (since at least this 9th century example), referring to Christ's words to Peter in Matthew 16:18-19 (cached), "I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Because this text is cited in support of papal sovereignty, he is sometimes portrayed as a Pope, with a triple tiara or a triple cross (example). He also often has a book, a reference to the two New Testament letters ascribed to him.
Images of Christ's washing the feet of the apostles often make reference to Peter's initial demurral (example) and subsequent request that Jesus also wash his head and hands (example – for more on the washing of feet see my page on the Last Supper). St. Peter's denial of Jesus is one of the most common narrative images involving the saint (examples from the fourth century and the seventeenth century). This episode is narrated in all four gospels.
Another common subject is Christ's calling of St. Peter (example), originally known as Simon. This is narrated in three different Gospel accounts.
Peter's miracles have also been a focus of interest. In late antiquity St. Peter's water miracle was a popular subject. According to the story, while confined in a Roman prison he converted the jailers and baptized them with water that he caused to flow miraculously from a rock (example). Another prison story, narrated in the Golden Legend and at length in Acts 12:6-17 (cached) has the saint rescued by an angel on the eve of his trial before Herod (example). From the 18th century we have monumental paintings of his resurrection of Tabitha and the fall of Simon Magus (an episode in the Golden Legend).
A less common subject, but one made famous by Raphael's painting of it, is the resurrected Jesus' command that St. Peter "feed my sheep" in John 21:15-17 (cached). One portrait uses those words in an open copy of John's Gospel as the saint's attribute instead of the keys.
In Acts 10:9-15, Peter has a vision that leads to the apostles' decision not to require Gentile converts to observe Jewish dietary laws. This is the subject of a colorful relief in Burgos Cathedral.
The Golden Legend tells the apocryphal tales of St. Peter's confrontations with Simon Magus in Jerusalem and in Rome and the death of Simon Magus (example).
The Golden Legend also has an account of the execution of SS. Peter and Paul at the order of Nero. Artworks will portray either both executions (example) executions or just St. Peter's (example). The Golden Legend quotes Pseudo-Dionysius as saying that St. Peter asked to be crucified upside-down, and most images of his crucifixion follow suit (example).
June 29 (Crucifixion of St. Peter)
February 22 (St. Peter's Chair)
August 1 (St. Peter in Chains, discontinued in 1960)
November 18 (Dedication of the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul)
At left, the famous statue of St. Peter in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome
Other narrative images:
4th century sarcophagus from GaulOther portraits:
Catacombs painting with Christ and PaulHagiography:
Golden Legend #89: html or pdf
Golden Legend #44 (Chair of Peter): html or pdf
Golden Legend #110 (Peter in Chains): html or pdf
The 2nd Century Acts of Peter (cached)
Acts of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul (cached)
Acts of Peter and Andrew (cached)
Scripture: Peter's Denial
Scripture: Calling of Peter