Raphael, 'The Death of Ananias'
Bodycolour over charcoal underdrawing on paper, mounted on canvas
Height 342 cm x width 532 cm
On loan from HM Queen Elizabeth II; rcin 912947
'But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou has not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.'
The apostles have persuaded some wealthy men to sell off their land and houses and donate the proceeds to the poor. One of the men, Ananias, has secretly kept back some of the proceeds from the sale of his property. Peter rebukes him for his greed and deceit, and the townspeople react in shock as Ananias falls down dead in front of them. At the left of the cartoon, Apostles give alms to the poor. At the far right, Ananias's wife, Sapphira, dressed in a rich green gown, counts her coins, oblivious to the events in front of her. She has also decided to keep back some of her wealth and within a few hours she, too, will be struck dead.
In this episode Peter punishes the Jews for disobedience. The miracle was also interpreted as the punishment for simony (embezzlement of funds from the Church), a serious problem throughout the Renaissance. Ironically, Pope Leo himself was accused of improperly diverting Church money for the commission of the tapestries.