Ben Quilty on Bernardo Strozzi

Part of a series of new perspectives on portraiture commissioned for Archie Plus

Bernardo Strozzi

The release of St Peter

c.1635
oil on canvas
Purchased 1965

For me to make rosy cheeks on an angel, I squeeze red from a tube into some yellow and add white. But I like to imagine what it took for Bernardo Strozzi to paint this rosy-cheeked angel as he frees St Peter from his chains.

I think of the challenges of painting by oil lamp or candlelight, with light flickering on the models’ faces. And I think of how Strozzi had to mix rare pigments, oil and mediums to make his painting survive its own drying and last for hundreds of years.

It’s a painting about getting time back, about being miraculously released. Strozzi knew the subject, having spent time locked up several years before making this work. The angel is solid – those cheeks, that meaty forearm. But St Peter, awestruck, looks right through him to his newfound freedom.

Almost four centuries since Strozzi mixed his paints, I feel the urgency of that glimpse of liberation.

Ben Quilty, father, artist, gardener, human

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