I know the question some how tricky if not even boring, but the other day during a conference about Guido Reni and Caravaggio’s Saint Peter a group of scholars were discussing if a philological reading of the two painting were more correct over the contemporary look and perception of them. In particular someone argued that the Caravaggio’s Saint Peter was too theatrical and therefore it was lacking of authenticity. From my personal point of view the crucifixion of Caravaggio was way more authentic compared to Reni’s very harmonic mannerism: the tilted cross in the act of being put in place,Peter’s feet already covered with blood, Peter’s struggle as if he was fighting against his punishers, the almost random point of view… and so on….this made me think about how the overall discourse about authenticity is somehow nonsensical and how it could be reduced to a discourse over the intention of the artist. In caravaggio the intention is to represent reality while in Reni is to represent divine harmony…but still this explanation is not satisfying me, still even if boring the question of authenticity in art some how eludes a comprehensive explanation. What you think?reni caravaggio

  • "Peter's feet already covered with blood" Where do you see that? The red in Caravaggio's painting doesn't seem to be blood but the nails that pierce through his feet and either faint smears of blood or even rust from the nails, but being covered in blood isn't really a fitting description. Not that it matters, just an observation.
    – haxor789
    Feb 21, 2023 at 10:19
  • 1
    In particular someone argued that the Caravaggio’s Saint Peter was too theatrical and therefore it was lacking of authenticity. PS. Stick your head in there and argue back to them politely
    – Gordon
    Feb 21, 2023 at 22:36
  • There's not much you can do unless ... like someone I've only heard legends of ... you have hotline to Mr. Real McCoy. Mar 23, 2023 at 13:18
  • soviet realism here we come.
    – user65174
    Mar 23, 2023 at 17:10

3 Answers 3


Both painters made their painting centuries after the event allegedly took place, so neither of them is "authentic" to what has actually happened, but both are presenting a version of "what could have happened".

Now are they authentic with respect to the biblical and other religious source material? After a short google search, it's seems there's not much known about it in the first place. Like it's unclear where it happened, with Rome being suggested and 64-68 AD as the time span being floated. It's apparently not fully implausible that he was crucified upside down as Roman Soldiers apparently had their sick fun with the executed, but it could also be an invention of the author. It's apparently not even clear how the act of crucifixion actually works as a means to execute someone. And while accounts of mass crucifixion exist, evidence of it are rarer. And apparently an upside down crucifixion isn't leading to suffocation which is among the many possible causes of death by crucifixion. So it's unclear whether the text already is historically authentic.

Now as far as I can tell (which isn't much), they didn't leave out details, but on the other hand no text could describe a scene in that richness of detail without changing the genre of the story entirely, so they are certainly both adding a lot of interpretation of their own, which is not present in the text or the situation itself. An example might be how they obviously differ from each other in depicted technique of the execution. In Reni's painting the nails are put in place AFTER the cross is almost fully erected (slight tilt but the men are more concerned with Peter) where the cross and Peter are kept in place by one man with a rope while another holds his upper body. Not sure how realistic that is. Also given that the upper body is almost as long as the length of the legs the cross might not be large enough for him (though far from being an expert on perspective and human proportion). On the other hand Caravaggio has already nailed Peter to the cross before it is about to be erected and all 3 men are busy bringing up the cross, while Peter is kept in place solely by the nails. Also not an expert on human anatomy in terms of whether nails through the feet and hands would be sufficient to support the entire bodies weight, like there are other depictions of crucifixions with an additional foot rest which might be more realistic or apparently the Greek word that is translated as "hand" can also mean anywhere along the underarm. So there's another angle in terms of anatomic and technical authenticity.

And there is yet another angle of the authenticity of emotions of the actor. Like in Reni's painting Peter's hands and arms seem relaxed and smooth while Caravaggio's Peter looks as if he wants to rip out that nail from the cross. The view on his face is so rather perplex, while in Reni's paining he's almost reaching for heaven. In neither painting does he seem to express any sort of pain or anxiety. Again not an expert on how authentic that is. Like in Reni's painting it's pre-nailing so his pain might still be moderate but in Caravaggio's painting he literally already has 3 visible and 1 implied nail through regions that are pretty receptive. And given that this process probably took some time, his adrenaline might have already died down or is about to. So even if he's rested in himself and suffering through that motionless, it's still prompts the question how much you'd even be physically able to hold that pain.

And then there is the authenticity in terms of painting techniques. Like how the lighting of the scene feels weird in that you've the characters in some sort of spotlight in bright colors above the background of a pitch black night. Now this might have to do more with the darkening of the canvas over time than with the authors intention but it still is part of the look and feel. And I don't know what it is but the blueish piece of cloth in Caravaggio's painting has a strange plasticity to it. It has a stability that you'd not expect from cloth.

Now that doesn't even mean that it IS in authentic, as it could very well happen that a weird angle and a moment in time might actually produce these circumstances, but they "feel inauthentic".

Which prompts another problem that the perspective of the artist is always part of the picture. Like even if the artist were to be a photographer, so that his skills as a painter and his creative vision would not play into the creation of the piece of art, the perspective, the natural lighting, the situation, the composition of the scene even if not influenced itself by the artist would still show a certain perspective that belongs to the artist and isn't 100% authentic to what you might see if you'd witness the same scene.

Also with regards to authenticity you could ask whether the depicted objects, cloths, colors, look and feel and whatnot are authentic to the time period depicted. Like idk would this blue be something that people of the time could have worn? Would these people who look rather working class be able to afford colored cloth? Does the complexion match the climatic conditions. Or is the painting itself authentically made by the respective artist or by some apprentice in their workshop or a talented forger. Is the canvas, the colors the degree of wear and tear compatible with the age and time of origin?

So TL;DR there are many respects to which a piece of art can be authentic and inauthentic, but in the end as long as it is a deliberate piece of art, which it pretty much always is (and if the deliberation is in choosing what to present and not present), there's always an authorial intent and not "just a representation of reality".


Okey. i don't know what means an authenticity, but i read this on Caravaggio's painting:

Three executioners. Who are they? they are not similar to Guido Reni strong men with shaded faces, that all are same. These men are different, we may to see accents on their part: the lower figure is the "beast" - he stand all fours like a frog, he truing to push the cross by his back; the middle one has the highlighted wrinkled forehead - it is rationality a calculating mind, the mind not from the soul, but the brain; and high figure activity image - strong intentions and thin rope of the volition. These are three metaphors of Piter's "sins" that readed. They are three nails in Piter's body - the yellow, red and green.

Peter has a strong body, he is laying on the cross and the cross is turned out at straight angle and at the heart side of Peter. We can see the pain of Peter's body, his body is strong, but he can't control the pain reactions, his body wants to live and wish the earthly life not the eternity.

Only Peter's eyes, only his sight is still seeking for God and he looks detached at the down corner at the abandoned rag, the crumpled piece of the fallen blue sky.

Reni's text is more simple and clear. Men are men without any metaphor, only the symbol the feather on red hat. Peter is reaching for the Light. Only inverted cross denote that it is a Piter. Piter = inverted cross, inverted cross = Saint Peter. No other metaphors and thought, looks like clear straight dogma. But it is impossible to know the hung man as Peter if you don't know the story of Saint Piter.

For me Reni is close to void sense of pure signifier, beautiful and senseless. But i don't understand nothing in religious.


I don't have much to add, but literary "realism" (and I take it that's what you mean by 'authenticity', being 'true to life' rather than being a true expression of the artist) found ways to give the impression of authenticity even when it was lacking, and this doesn't so much make it defunct as it does reliant on indirect or non-literal justification. Think about how 'photographic' assumptions dominate the conception of popular literature, while more serious mimetic techniques include suggestiveness, moral fervour, vitality, etc..

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .