Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Delivery of the Keys to St. Peter

The fresco of The Delivery of the Keys to St. Peter (1481-1482) is a work of art by Pietro Perugino located in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Artist Pietro Perugino resembles the natural world by showing perspective and space, by using correct proportions, using representational color, and by showing liveliness in the human body.

During the Renaissance period, artists were obsessed with resembling the natural world (also called naturalism). Painters of that time not only focused on the minute details of their work but also began to focus on creating perspective and a sense of space. Renaissance artists accomplished giving their works of art a three-dimensional feel by using a mathematical technique called one-point perspective. Artists such as Pietro Perugino quickly become fond of this technique and demonstrated it in The Delivery of the Keys to St. Peter. According to Stokstad, “one-point perspective (also called linear, scientific or mathematical perspective) is a method of creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface by delineating a horizon line and multiple orthogonal lines. These recede to meet at one or more points on the horizon (called vanishing points) giving the appearance of spatial depth” (Stockstad, pg. 776). Specifically in this fresco, one can see how the lines on the floor are used strategically to create the illusion of perspective and sense of receding space. The receding space forces the viewer to put themselves in the scene and look out toward the vanishing point. By using one-point perspective, paintings go from being very flat to resembling the three-dimensionality space of the natural world. Not only that, but using one-point perspective with diminution of scale, in which things start a certain size and get smaller as they follow the orthogonal lines, achieves a sense of natural perspective. Along with lines used in one point perspective, Perugino employs correct proportions as one would encounter in the real world. In this fresco the human body is proportionate to its surroundings as well as with itself. Correct proportions prevents the artist, for example, from making the human head or hands larger than they should be compared to the overall body. Proportions are crucial when an artist is trying to resemble the natural world.

Another technique Perugino uses in order to portray the natural world in his art is by the use of representational color. The artist uses color in a very strategic way as well, in order to resemble the real world. For example, the use of darker colors in the front to show closer things and lighter colors in the back to show distanced things allows the viewer to feel the depth within the fresco. Along with that, the artist also uses cooler colors such as blue to show things at a distance, and warmer colors to show things that are closer. Another way that Perugino employs color in The Delivery of the Keys to St. Peter to emulate the natural world is by using representational colors. For example, the sky is blue as is in the real world and the skin tone of the people are as one would see in real life. Yet another way of copying the natural world is by using shadows and highlights with color. The shadows and highlights are demonstrated beautifully in the clothes of the men in the foreground. Perugino uses more saturated colors for shadows and less saturated colors for highlights. The use of shadows and highlights is something one sees constantly in the natural world and seeing it in this fresco is sure to remind viewers of the natural world.

One last technique that Perugino uses in The Delivery of the Keys to St. Peter to resemble the natural world is showing the liveliness in the human body. Gestural movements can clearly be seen in the people between the the Piazza and the crowd in the foreground. Some are shown running, bending, kneeling, and waving their arms while others seem to simply converse. The large crowd in the foreground also show some gestural movement and even emotion in their faces. This gives the fresco a sense of livelihood which clearly resembles the natural world.

Employing perspective and space, correct proportions, representational color, and vigor in the human figure is a proven way to resemble the natural world. Through this system, Perugino accomplished a three-dimensional scene on a flat surface.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your post and agree that perspective, space, proportions are very important in how this fresco represents the natural world. I also liked how you also incorporated color and figureal movement as important aspects. I found your observation about how the people seem like they are just going about their day in their natural environment very cool because for some reason I didn't notice that right away.
    Good post,
    Jessica Grosz

  2. Personally, I found the introduction of linear perspective fascinating, as it revolutionized the way paintings evolved during the fifteenth century. I also really like the use of colors within this piece, it really helps establish where our focal attention should be drawn to. Good analysis!

  3. I found the art during this period very interesting. The piece you chose is the reason why. I think it’s so interesting to see where dimensional art is created. Truly bringing naturalism to the art world. I mentioned this piece in my response as well and think it’s so interesting to see the great detail and the mathematics behind this piece. I think you were able to hit on those distinctions very well. Especially when you discuss the color and the details he brings to his figures.

  4. I think it is quite interesting how just a few different techniques can bring a painting to life. I truly enjoy how Perugino uses such variety in how each figure is positioned, I don't think there are two people standing exactly the same in this painting.