CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Rembrandt: The denial of Peter

Exhibition: 30 April - 1 June 2009

From the museum website, 28 April 2009

One of Rembrandt’s main works, the painting entitled The denial of Peter is the focal point of the Museum of Fine Arts’ next dossier exhibition. The painting with a biblical theme will arrive in Budapest from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and will be exhibited in the Geniuses and Masterpieces series along with thirteen works selected from the Museum of Fine Arts’ own collection. The exhibition forms part of the Dutch cultural festival “Nothing Is Impossible” and will be open to visitors until the end of May.

The Museum of Fine Arts began a series of special dossier exhibitions in the centenary year of 2006, in the framework of which it displays a selection of masterpieces from the biggest and most prominent museums of the world that had never previously been exhibited in Hungary. Each dossier exhibition of the Geniuses and Masterpieces series is organised around a centrepiece work and presents a theme from a fresh perspective. This is the objective of the present exhibition too, which primarily draws attention to Rembrandt’s magnificent painting. The permanent exhibition on the second floor of the Old Masters’ Gallery with its 240 systematically arranged Dutch paintings helps the visitors to acquire a greater understanding of the Dutch painting of the period.

Rembrandt was one of the geniuses of the Dutch “golden century” and indeed in the history of European art. The Denial of Peter, dated 1660, originates from his mature period. The painting’s subject is a story from the New Testament that tells of the cowardly betrayal of Jesus’ first disciple. Peter, whose name – given to him by Jesus – means rock, repeatedly promised during their last time together that he would follow his master to prison and to death then denied his master when he found himself in danger.

Rembrandt based his depiction of consecutive episodes on the lines of Luke’s Gospel and packs the events into a scene taut with drama. The main and monumental figure of Peter the Apostle, wrapped in a light-coloured cloak, becomes recognisable in the light of a candle and is looked at with suspicious glances by those around him, while Jesus’ interrogation takes place in the background. The picture’s closed composition and the life-size figures being squeezed into a confined space both accentuate the desperation of the situation. There is not only fear on Peter’s face but also inner astonishment and recognition of the gravity of his deed, since Jesus turns towards him, reminding him of what he had said to him earlier: “Before the cock crows today, you will disown me three times”. The viewer knows that after these words were uttered Peter went away and wept bitterly.

It was probably the emphasised role of repentance and the forgiveness of sins that made this theme important in 17th-century religious painting. In the exhibition, a painting by Jan Miense Molenaer and two engravings based on a picture by Daniel Seghers demonstrate how other masters elaborated the story some decades before Rembrandt’s painting.

Linked to the theme of The denial of Peter, some Rembrandt etchings and engravings have been selected from the Museum of Fine Arts’ Collection of Prints and Drawings for the exhibition. Rembrandt elaborated some of the scenes of Christ’s Passion in several of his graphic works. The viewer is drawn into deep contemplation by the master’s plates which vary in their dimensions and modes of expression and are experiments in various technical solutions.


Royal Netherlands Embassy in Budapest

Information on the programme of the Nincs lehetetlen Holland Kultfeszt (Nothing Is Impossible Dutch cultural festival) can be found at