Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Overnight, Christ Before Caiaphas

Giotto, Jesus Before Caiaphas
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena Chapel

“Those who had arrested Jesus led him away
to Caiaphas the high priest,
where the scribes and the elders were assembled.….

Then the high priest said to him,
“I order you to tell us under oath before the living God
whether you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“You have said so.
But I tell you:
From now on you will see ‘the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power’
and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven.’”
Then the high priest tore his robes and said,
“He has blasphemed!
What further need have we of witnesses?
You have now heard the blasphemy;
what is your opinion?”
They said in reply,
“He deserves to die!”

(Matthew 26:57, 63-66)

Although I had been aware that Giotto had painted several of the scenes from the Passion of Christ on the walls of the Arena or Scrovegni Chapel in Padua I had not been aware of how extensive his selection of scenes was. The number of scenes from Palm Sunday through Good Friday equals a full 50% of the scenes Giotto painted from the entire life of Christ. For Good Friday they include every event recorded in the Gospels, so that we can follow the narrative closely.  

"Jesus before Caiaphas” visualizes the moment, described by St. Matthew, in which the High Priest “tore his robes” in dramatic response to Jesus’ identification of Himself as “the Son of Man”, therefore claiming for Himself identification with the figure described by Daniel to whom everlasting dominion is given (Daniel 7:1314).

The execution of this painting does not appear to have been by Giotto himself. It lacks the fluidity of painting that characterizes his own paintings; it is surely his composition, probably executed by an assistant or assistants. Comparison of this painting with those painted primarily by Giotto himself makes this easy to see. This painter, who is very good at recording certain minute details (such as the lacing of the leggings of the soldier at the left side of the picture), is not so comfortable with giving life to the figures in this dramatic scene. However, the space in which the figures are set and the believable way in which the rather clumsy figures sit within it, reveal the authorship of Giotto himself.

© M. Duffy, 2011