Although Saint Andrew is typically associated with an X-shaped cross, here he is depicted on a standard vertical cross.
Saint Andrew’s efforts to introduce Christianity to Greece in the first century AD were met with hostility from local authorities. He was sentenced to die on the cross because he refused to acknowledge pagan gods. For two days, Andrew preached from his martyr’s station to an increasingly sympathetic crowd. Bowing to public demand, Andrew’s would-be executioners attempted to untie him, but their hands were mysteriously paralyzed. Andrew’s desire for martyrdom was thus fulfilled and he died enveloped in divine light. Caravaggio’s innovative interpretation involves the viewer more closely in the event by presenting the crucifixion as intimate and private, rather than as a gruesome public spectacle. Bold contrasts of light and dark suggest the presence of God. A masterpiece of Baroque painting, Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of Saint Andrew is the only altarpiece by the artist in America.