Are good and evil entirely distinguishable? There are numerous good and evil characters in the Bible. Roman emperor Nero, who persecuted Christians, is known as one of the most infamous men who ever lived. By contrast, St. Peter, who was martyred in Rome ruled by the tyrant, is a symbolic figure who lived a life that resembled that of Jesus Christ.
Italian artist Michelangelo Caravaggio portrayed St. Peter’s martyrdom in this painting. The 17th-century artist depicts Peter, who was the first pope, as a bare, frail old man in agony. Peter, nearly nude, is crucified upside-down because he did not believe that a man is worthy to be killed in the same manner as Jesus Christ. In Caravaggio’s painting, Peter tries to hold his head up and twists his body to peer at something but he is unable to move due to unbearable pain. His deeply wrinkled face is filled with agony and pain, and his sorrowful gaze appears to desperately wish for salvation. The large rock that is placed on the bottom in the middle symbolizes Peter, of which Christ declared his Church to be built.
Unlike the detailed expression and gaze of Peter, the three executioners’ faces are hidden or indistinguishable. Those who are forced to carry out evil work are not Roman soldiers but actually everyday laborers, as attested by their dirty feet and muscular bodies. One is pulling the cross up with ropes while another tries to raise the heavy equipment. The third person is crouching under the cross with all his might. They are so weighed down with their own work that they do not even show pity on the agony of the innocent old man. They are simply focused on the daily work assigned to them. Caravaggio seems to take us by time travel to the execution site. Do you more resemble the good saint that is crucified upside down and twisting in agony? Or are you more of the everyday laborer who nonchalantly performs an act of evil? Or are you like Nero, who defines his own standards for good and evil? Or are you simply an onlooker.