Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spy Wednesday -- Thirty Pieces of Silver

Judas Receives the Silver
from the Huntingfield Psalter
English (Oxford), 1210-1220
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M43, fol. 22r
One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said,
“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.
Matthew 26:14-16 
(Extract from the Gospel for Wednesday of Holy Week)

When I was a child my mother often spoke about the Wednesday of Holy Week as “Spy Wednesday”.  This was the day on which the church remembers the treachery of Judas, who approached the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem for a bribe in exchange for guiding them to a time and place for the capture of Jesus.  The day had already begun to fade from popular notice when I was a child and for the last few decades seems to have gone totally off the radar.  But, two items viewed on the internet today have brought it back to my mind.  One, which gives a nice explanation, is a popular blog by a local NYC (diocese of Brooklyn) deacon.  You can read it here.

Giotto, Judas Accepts the Bribe
Italian, 1300-1305
Padua, Arena Chapel
This reminded me of the series of posts that I wrote several years ago, called generically, “Holy Week with  Giotto”.  There is a wonderful portrayal of the event in Giotto’s paintings of the Life of Christ from the Arena Chapel in Padua.  In it we see Judas being encouraged, even pushed, into his betrayal by a demon standing behind him.  Giotto calls this action to our attention by the fact that he presents the demon as a coal black creature, whose hand on the yellow cloak of Judas draws our eyes.  In subsequent images in the same series in the Arena Chapel we can see that the blackness of the demon has entered into Judas, shown by the fact that, alone of all the disciples, a circle of what looks like black smoke appears over his head, while the other disciples have golden halos.  This is a feature that is almost entirely unique to Giotto's work in Padua (I believe I have seen the smokey halo only one other time, in a manuscript that may have used Giotto's work as a model).

There are other examples of this scene as well, though, with one exception, all the illustrations I could find belong to the medieval and early Renaissance period.  

Duccio, Judas Accepts the Bribe
Italian, 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Lippo Memmi, Judas Accepts the Bribe
Italian, ca. 1340
San Gemignano, Collegiata Santa Maria Assunta

Master of Peter Danielsson, Judas Accepting the Bribe
from Spiegel van den leven ons Heren
Flemish, 1450-1460
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M868, fol. 26r

Simon Bening, Judas Accepting the Bribe
from Book of Hours
Flemish (Brussels), 1535-1545
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M696, fol. 96v

Simon Bening, Judas Accepting the Bribe
from the Hours of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenberg
Flemish (Brussels), 1525-1530
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
MS Ludwig IX, fol. 94

James Tissot, Judas Negotiates with the Priests
French, 1888-1896
New York, Brooklyn Museum

© M. Duffy, 2015

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