Look closely at the angel in this painting. How many arms do you see? This painting is unfinished; the extra limbs not yet painted out provide a glimpse into the mind of the artist as he made changes on the canvas. A preparatory drawing for the angel also shows Lanfranco experimenting with the angel’s pose. The angel plays a pivotal role in the story.
Lanfranco faithfully followed the biblical source for the subject of the painting, from the book of Acts 12:6-7. While Peter was imprisoned in Jerusalem, an angel arrived to free him. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying “get up quickly.” The chains fell from Peter’s wrists.
In the painting, the angel has just arrived in a blaze of light, with his cloak billowing behind. The angel’s left hand now touches Peter’s should, whereas it only hovered above in the earlier composition. This change gives the image a feeling of immediacy. The angel’s grand gestures and Peter’s dynamic pose, all placed close to the foreground, are characteristic of Italian painting in this period.