Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Holy Thursday, Washing Feet

“Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had cometo pass from this world to the Father.
He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.
The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over.
So, during supper,
fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power
and that he had come from God and was returning to God,
he rose from supper and took off his outer garments.
He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet
and dry them with the towel around his waist.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,
“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus answered and said to him,
“What I am doing, you do not understand now,
but you will understand later.”
Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered him,
“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”
Simon Peter said to him,
“Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.”
Jesus said to him,
“Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed,
for he is clean all over;
so you are clean, but not all.”
For he knew who would betray him;
for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
So when he had washed their feet
and put his garments back on and reclined at table again,
he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.
If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet,
you ought to wash one another’s feet.
I have given you a model to follow,
so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
(John 13:1-15) Gospel, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper


Giotto. Washing of the Feet
Italian, 130-1305
Padua, Arena Chapel
It is the moment described in the Gospel for this evening that is imagined by Giotto in his Arena/Scrovegni Chapel painting “The Washing of the Feet”.

In what is definitely the same room setting as his “Last Supper” discussed on Tuesday (note the locations and details of the windows and the same difficulty with representing the far right support of the roof), Jesus kneels before Peter. His waist is wrapped in a towel and a small basin sits on the floor in front of him. He grasps Peter’s leg with his left hand while, with his right hand he makes an expository gesture. It is undoubtedly the moment when He says “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” (John 13:8) Peter appears to be listening intently.

In spite of the inclusion of many narrative details, such as the Apostle taking off his sandals at the far left, or the Apostle holding a water jug, who stands behind Jesus, the central image of the picture is the dramatic confrontation between two men, Jesus and Peter. This confrontation, though more benign than the confrontation between Jesus and Judas, is nonetheless intense.

Speaking of Judas, I was initially puzzled by the inclusion of twelve Apostles in this picture (count the haloes). Was Judas present at the washing of the feet? The Gospel of John clearly places this scene before the moment at which Judas leaves, so, yes he was. And there, at the left hand side of the scene, is Judas. If you look carefully you will see him. He is definitely identifiable from both is face and the fact that his halo is not identical to that of the others. It seems wavering or deformed.

With typical mastery of psychology, drama and visual clues, Giotto has created a powerful image of the Jesus’ message to His Apostles and to all His followers – “as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13:15)

© M. Duffy, 2011