Peter was born in Budapest in 1923. Growing up in a privileged and cultured environment, he was encouraged in his pursuit of creative interests. A Self-Portrait (left) painted at the age of fifteen, demonstrates both his talent and his sense of identity as an artist. At school he excelled in the study of Greek and Latin. Although his father was Jewish, his mother was Catholic, so he was able to continue his education until the occupation of Hungary by German troops in the spring of 1944, when he had to go into hiding. He and his immediate family escaped the deportations, but 17 members of his father’s extended family perished in the Holocaust.
After the war, he completed his degree in the history of art and began his academic career, teaching but also serving as a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts. Sympathetic to the aims of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, he fled with his wife and daughter across the border into Austria to escape the brutal Soviet suppression. He worked in Italy for a decade before accepting a permanent position at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he remained for the rest of his life, frequently visiting Europe in connection with his scholarly work.