Saint Peter

Statues like this sculpture of Saint Peter served as an essential devotional object during the Spanish Colonial period.

Saint Peter 19th Century, Ecuador

Saint Peter was one of the twelve Apostles. He was one of the earliest followers of Christ and therefore a leader of the early Christian Church. Saint Peter was the first Bishop of Rome and is credited with establishing the Roman Church, differentiating him from the other Apostles. Saint Peter was often depicted carrying the Keys to Heaven because he was the Guardian to the Gates of Heaven. He serves as a reminder to live a holy life in order to enter into heaven. Saints are individuals judged by God to be worthy of entering the Kingdom of Heaven immediately after death. They are called the “Soldiers of God.” This sculpture is essential to the Latin American Colonial culture. It is an essential figure used by patrons for praying and asking forgiveness for their sins. This figure brought comfort and reassurance to the people of this period. Saint Peter was as an earthly visual object to serve as a connection to entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Saint Peter would have formed part of an altarpiece or would have been placed in a niche inside a church where it would have been accessible to the patrons to pray to before or after a service. This object would have been part of a set of the twelve Apostles.

The statues of the Apostles served as objects that Christians used to show their religious devotion. In particular, Saint Peter served as an entity for Christians to express their desires to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven and to also ask for forgiveness for their sins so that they may pass into heaven after they die.

Peter was a Christian martyr, crucified in Rome under the Emperor Caesar. It is generally known that he was killed upside down. He requested this because he considered himself unworthy to be crucified in the same fashion as Jesus Christ who was crucified right side up and nailed to a cross.


The official title of this work is Saint Peter Holding a Book and the Keys to the Kingdom. This type of statue is known as a santos figure which is a piece of art from one of various religious art forms found in Spain. This work was created in the nineteenth century during the Latin American Colonial period and is from the part of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru that is that is modern-day Ecuador. The work is made of wood, paint, gilding, and glass.

Saint Peter is standing in a contrapposto pose on a blue and green pedestal accented with small amounts of yellow. The colored brush

The contrapposto position of Saint Peter.

marks on the pedestal move in a diagonal direction which produces a echo of the sway of his robe. Saint Peter is making a particular gesture with his right hand with his thumb and forefinger touching indicating that he is preaching. Under his left arm, he is carrying a book and a set of keys. His bare feet are exposed under his elaborate robe; his left foot is flat against the pedestal while his right foot appears to be in movement, as if the saint was about to take a step. Saint Peter is wearing a blue gown with gold detailing. The area around his neck and the area around the bottom of the gown are decorated with a floral design. The rest of the garment is covered in a fishnet or scaled type of design. On top of the blue robe, Saint Peter is wearing a red sash that drapes over his left shoulder and continues down to the bottom right side of the garment; it too is decorated with a floral and fishnet pattern.

Saint Peter’s eyes are clear and his cheeks are flushed. There is a small

The Face of Saint Peter

amount of pink paint on his lower lip. He has patches of hair on the top of his head and on the sides, and he has thick grey beard with brown and blonde highlights. The statue is three dimensional and is rather small so as to fit as a part of a set inside a niche or as a part of the altar inside a church. The statue is roughly ten inches tall.

It’s important to note that Saint Peter is depicted in an old stage of his life. This indicates that he is a figure that was looked up to by the people of the church because of his wisdom and his devotion to spread the word of Christ. He was seen as an astute figure within the church. The somewhat worn down and tired look on Saint Peter’s face demonstrates that he has worked hard to dedicate his life to Christ, to the Church, and to guiding the people of the Christian faith. The book and keys Saint Peter is holding could indicate that individuals sought his approval or permission to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Santos statues pictured here are standing in a similar position to the statue of Saint Peter, in active postures with their arms outstretched and feet exposed. Both are wearing draping robes, but the clothing on these figures is far less elaborate and instead of carrying keys they hold Bibles.

This is a sculpture of St. Thomas, one of the apostles. It is from Ecuador in the 19th century, and would have been placed in a church.  

The statue on the right is of Saint Thomas, another one of the twelve Apostles. This statue also would have existed as part of a set along with other apostles. This sculpture of Saint Thomas (also discussed under the heading of “Art and the Church”) is similar to Saint Peter in its stance, as he stands in a contrapposto pose with his feet exposed. There is similar attention to the details of the hair and the face. In addition, they are both are wearing robes decorated with vibrant colors with gold detailing. Lastly, both pieces would have been used as devotional objects within a church judged by their elaborate gold-leaf detailing. They differ when it comes to the upper body positioning. Saint Thomas is in more of a contemplative pose with upward gaze and his hand on his cheek while Saint Peter’s pose is more outwardly expressive with his hand outstretched as if he was speaking to an audience. The poses of the statues show the importance of capturing the essence of each saint. Saint Peter is spreading the word of Christ, a

act that reflects his devotion and purpose at a “Soldier of Heaven.”

Along with the importance of the pose, is the importance of the material of the sculptures and the artistic process used to create them. The Saint Peter statue is made of wood but is given various treatments before the final product is created. The material used to create this statue is wood, paint, gilded gold, and polychrome. Wood was used for this piece because of its beauty and strength. Santos statue started to appear around the 1500s but it was not until the 18th century that we saw such detailed statues of the saints that are similar to Saint Peter and Saint Thomas. As the churches of the New World developed in style and sophistication, artists began to incorporate sets of saints, like these, and small religious paintings into the altarpieces inside the church. In Spanish art altarpieces are known as retablos and they are located behind the altar.

The decoration in front of the altarpiece is known as the altar frontal. The purpose of the altarpieces and the statues and paintings within them is to educate the illiterate congregation.

The statues in the altarpieces were ornamented in a Spanish style called estofado. The process to create them was very painstaking. The artist would start by washing the wood with a brown pigment known as bole. The artist would then apply gold leaf and then paint the sculpture with different colors. Next, the artist etched off the paint to reveal the gold leave leaf underneath.

When the artist worked on areas depicting skin they used a process called encarnacióon. The carved wood was submerged in a white gesso that was then painted with using different flesh tones. Next, a layer of shellac was painted over the white gesso which was then sanded. Lastly, another thin layer of flesh colored paint was applied, shellacked over, and finally sanded again. This technique was repeated over again until the flesh gave off a glowing sheen that looked like skin.

Sculpture of the Resurrected Christ by Roque Lopez, 18th century

The colors used to paint statues like Saint Peter were significant because they had symbolic meaning. A few of the most important colors were blue, gold, and red. Blue represented heaven, truth, and spiritual love. Gold symbolizes celestial light, beauty, perfection, virtues, and eternity. Red is associated with emotions, royalty, divine love, faith, charity, and the Holy Spirit.

The symbolic religious representations seen through Saint Peter’s clothes and his stance show his importance and his key role within the church during Spanish Colonial times. The tedious artistic process used to create Saint Peter shows the dedication the artists felt to capture him, and all the Apostles, in their true light. Saint Peter is a representation of a devotional Spanish Colonial art object from the age of discovery in Latin America.

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