Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Judas’ Betrayal II, the Kiss

Giotto, Betrayal of Jesus
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel
“ While he was still speaking,
Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived,
accompanied by a large crowd, with swords and clubs,
who had come from the chief priests and the elders
of the people.
His betrayer had arranged a sign with them, saying,
“The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him.”
Immediately he went over to Jesus and said,
“Hail, Rabbi!” and he kissed him.
Jesus answered him,
“Friend, do what you have come for.”
Then stepping forward they laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.
And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus
put his hand to his sword, drew it,
and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear.
Then Jesus said to him,
“Put your sword back into its sheath,
for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father
and he will not provide me at this moment
with more than twelve legions of angels?
But then how would the Scriptures be fulfilled
which say that it must come to pass in this way?”

(Matthew 26:47-54) Gospel for Palm Sunday 2011

Probably the best known, and most dramatic, of the scenes from the Passion of Christ in the Arena/Scrovegni Chapel, is that of the Kiss of Judas. It is frequently reproduced in general art history surveys, as well as in more specialized works. It is truly one of Giotto’s most masterful paintings, both as a work of art and as a work of drama.
Giotto, Betrayal of Jesus
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel
In spite of its inclusion of many of the details from the Gospel story, such as the cutting off of the ear of the servant (on the left side of the picture), our attention is drawn irresistibly to the central figures – Jesus and Judas. Our attention is drawn to them by Judas’ great yellow cloak, which isolates the two figures from the rest of the scene. And this is reinforced by the sight lines of most of the spectators, as well as the lines of the clubs and torches that form a sort of spikey arc around them.

Isolated in this field of yellow, and silhouetted against a dark background, the two protagonists of the story confront each other, eye to eye. The intensity of the gaze draws and holds us, Jesus grave and sorrowful, Judas seemingly angry, as evidenced by the line of his jaw. Although surrounded by other faces, it is the drama of this confrontation that captures us, as well as its psychological truth. For Judas, it may be his confrontation with a man by whom he may have felt betrayed and angry, for Jesus may not have been the Messiah Judas was looking for.  This was not a warrior king, like David, who would lead the Jews to overthrow their oppressors. For Jesus, it is the calm acceptance of the will of His Father, following His impassioned prayer in the same garden. Whatever the reasons, the two men gaze into each others eyes, oblivious to the tumult around them and we are caught up in that electric gaze one of the most dramatic encounters ever painted.

It can be seen that in this picture, Judas no longer appears to have any kind of halo, even a smokey one. However, is it possible that the dark background of the picture is, not the rocky ground and trees of Gethsemene, but an expansion of that darkness. For, as Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke “this is your hour, the time for the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53).

© M. Duffy, 2011