Saint Peter was imprisoned by King Herod, who wanted to have him sentenced to death. Saint Peter prayed to God and during the night before his trial he was miraculously liberated by an angel. This King Herod Agrippa I, King of Judea from 41 until 44 AD, was the grandson of Herod the Great, who had ordered the Massacre of the Innocents.
Our unsigned painting can with great certainty be attributed to Pieter Neeffs II for the architecture and to Frans Francken III for the figure staffage. They worked very regularly together on the same paintings.
About Pieter Neeffs I and II
Their name is sometimes spelt “Peeter Neefs”.
- Pieter I : Antwerp circa 1578 – before 1655/56 Antwerp
- Pieter II : Antwerp 1620 – after 1675 Antwerp
Painters of architectural perspective paintings, especially of church interior scenes.
Pieter I was probably a pupil of Hendrick van Steenwyck I, Pieter II of his father, Pieter I. Hendrick van Steenwijck II (Antwerp 1580 – before May 8th 1640 Leiden or The Hague) often painted the Liberation of Peter, in fact at least 70 times (either painted by the master himself or by his studio).
Both Pieter Neeffs I and II painted church interiors: mostly invented compositions that were inspired by parts of the Cathedral of Antwerp. They show the church interiors over day, but sometimes also at night. This last category is rarer and much more sought after, because of the intriguing play of light. In Holland both Anthony de Lorme and Daniel de Blieck also painted nocturnal church interiors.
Pieter Neeffs I often repeated his most successful compositions. As did two of his five children who continued in their father’s style :
- Lodewyck (1617 – after 1648), who was also a clergyman; not many paintings are known by him.
- Pieter II (1620 – after 1675).
It is very difficult to distinguish the works by Pieter II from those of Pieter I: Pieter II not only copied his father’s style, but also his signature.
Both painters did not regularly sign their paintings and their dated works are very rare. Sometimes father and son seem to have collaborated on the same painting. Their works can therefore easily be confused, although the son used harder and more vivid colours and his shading is less gradual.
Finally both painters used the same staffage painters to fill in the figures in their church interiors: Jan Brueghel I, Frans Francken II, Sebastiaen Vranckx, Bonaventura Peeters I and Frans Francken III.
About Frans Francken III
Antwerp 1607 -1667 Antwerp
Pupil and later assistant of his father, Frans II Francken.
Master in the Painter’s Huild of Saint Luke in Antwerp in the year 1639/1640.
Versatile painter of (flower) still lifes, genre scenes, portraits and collector’s interiors. He was also active as a staffage painter (painting the figures in the church interiors of Pieter I and II Neefs, just as his father had done).
About the Francken family
Frans III belonged to an important family of painters in Antwerp, divided over five generation:
1. none of the paintings of Nicolas Francken (circa 1510/20 – 1596) have survived;
2. three of his sons were painters: Hieronymus I, Frans I and Ambrosius I;
3. four sons of Frans I also became painters: Thomas, Hieronymus II, Frans II (best-known member of the family and father of our painter) and Ambrosius II;
4. three sons of Frans II were painters: our Frans III, Hieronymus III and Ambrosius III;
5. finally for Constantyn Francken, son of our Hieronymus III, his father died too young to give him lessons in painting.
Not only the sons of Frans II, but also his brothers, had at some stage been active in the workshop of Frans II.
About the subject of our painting
In the Bible, New Testament, Acts of the Apostles, chapter 12, a short text (12:5-19) describes the miraculous liberation of Saint Peter from prison by an angel.
After he had the Apostle James beheaded, King Herod Agrippa (the last Judean king from the Herodian dynasty that was installed by the Romans) had Peter arrested.
Peter prayed for his liberation and for forgiveness for King Herod.
The night before he would go onto trial an angel came to Peter and miraculously rescued him: all guards (four groups of four soldiers) laid asleep, Peter’s chains fell off his hands and all gates opened. The angel and Peter walked out of the prison. The next day Herod’s soldiers searched in vain for Saint Peter. Herod had all guards put to death.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because our painters have treated this challenging biblical subject with a combined mastery of perspective, religious mystery and silence.