Peter is Mr. Brown, a well-driller and plumber from New Mexico. The painting is filled with symbolism: the large boulder behind Peter alludes to his name (Matthew 16:13-20, “petros” is the Greek word for “rock”), the thistles are symbols of the Fall and the sorrow and curse of sin, and the two red streaks in the upper right corner allude to Peter’s own blood and death by crucifixion upside down. But Peter shows great strength: he is kneeling with his head bowed in humility and he is one of the few figures in the Chapel series with a halo.
But this work is no simple collection of iconographic symbols of Peter’s life. It is meant to cause us to reflect on sin and repentance, contrasting Peter with Judas. Peter, though he betrayed Christ (Matthew 26:30-35, 69-75), sought forgiveness in Jesus’ mercy and love (John 21:15-19). Judas, though he also betrayed Christ, never did (Luke 22:48; Matthew 27:3-5)
Which will you be?