St Peter walking on the Water; Luis BORRASSà; 1411-13; tempera on wood; St Peter, Tarrasa, Spain

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Jesus walking on the water

Understand the scene


A man sinks into the water and holds out his hand towards another. He is Peter who drowns himself and is rescued by Jesus. The picture does not correspond exactly to the title or to the scene since it is Jesus who should walk on the water and who seems rather to stand on the shore. This is due to the fact that the scene is viewed from the boat where the apostles are.

The representation takes place after Jesus has already walked on the water and when Peter walks towards him in the same way. It is the moment when the apostle, frightened, shouts “Save me!”.

The spectator’s attention is thus drawn onto Peter who sinks into the waves and shouts towards Jesus. The latter comes to rescue him, generally by stretching out his arm.

The representation of Jesus is common; he is near the shore or quite visibly on the water of the lake on which he advances.



Do not confuse with




Quite a number of narratives in the Gospel take place on Lake Tiberias, a real interior sea with its storms, its boats and its fishermen, among them several apostles, Simon Peter in particular. All these representations have in common a fishing-boat on the lake.




The miraculous Draught of Fishes ; Gustave DORÉ; 1865; engraving from “The Holy Bible”

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The miraculous Draught of Fishes

In some representations of the miraculous Draught of Fishes, Jesus seems rather unreal and one does not understand whether he stands on the shore or walks on the water.

See the miraculous Draught of Fishes


Christ’s Appearance on Lake Tiberias; DUCCIO di Buoninsegna; 1308; tempera on wood; Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Milan.

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The title is hardly explicit. Jesus holds out his hand to Peter but the latter already reaches the beach; he does not drown himself. This is the miraculous Draught of Fishes according to John’s narrative; that is to say after the resurrection of Christ. One characteristic detail: the fish Jesus has prepared on the grill.




Jesus asleep during the Storm; Julius Schnorr von CAROLSFELD; 1851 engraving from “Bibel in Bildern”.



The stilled storm

A fishing-boat is violently rocked by a strong storm on the lake; Jesus who was asleep stills the storm.

See the Stilled Storm





The biblical narrative

The Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 14 

The apostles have fished all night in their fishing-boat.
And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea.
And ...the disciples ... were troubled, saying: "It is a spirit" , and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spoke to them: "Be of good cheer; it is I; do not be afraid." And Peter answered him: "Lord, if it is you, command me come to you on the water." "Come", said Jesus. And when Peter had come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying: "Lord, save me ! 

  And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said to him: "O you of little faith, why did you doubt? " (Matthew 14:25-31)


The storm, the waters of the lake are symbols of death. As in the stilled storm. Jesus is the one who vanquishes the tempest and hence death. He is the Messiah. But in Matthew's narrative, the role played by Peter allows the reader to distinguish him from the other apostles while underlining his weakness.

See similar pictures

The way Peter sinks into the water makes the scene more or less dramatic. The stress is always put on the relation between the two men.


Christ appears on the Lake and saves Peter from drowning; miniature on vellum; manuscript KB 76 F 5; Koninklijke Bibiotheek, The Hague

 Museum Meermanno





Jesus walking on the Water; Julius Schnorr von CAROLSFELD; 1851; engraving from “Bibel in Bildern”.



This time, it is actually Jesus who walks on the water. But where is the view taken from? Whereas the biblical narrative mentions the apostles who, from the boat, see Jesus walk, the representation renders the miracle exterior.  

Jesus walking on the Water; Gustave DORÉ; 1865; engraving from “The Holy Bible”.

Education Environnement





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