Friday, April 29, 2011

Thoughts on a Royal Wedding

OK.  It's a bit off topic for me, but obviously a lot of people are interested in this.   And, being that my parents were born as subjects of the British crown, albeit unwillingly, under Queen Victoria (my father) and King Edward VII (my mother), it is of some passing interest to me too.  There was much to appreciate in the day:
1.  The celebration of family, not so easily come by these days, even if one of the families involved has not had the best of track records in this or any other century.  I greatly appreciated the sermon by the Anglican Bishop of London.  You can read it here.
2. The connections with the past.  After all, a continuous, if sometimes convoluted, descent from Alfred the Great is nothing to be sneezed at.  Most of us are lucky if we can trace their ancestors back a couple of hundred years or so.  I can get to the last decades of the 18th century, but not beyond.

3.  The music.  The entrance piece "I Was Glad" by Parry is one of my all-time favorite anthems.  Indeed, it is the piece I hoped to have for my own entrance, had I been fortunate enough to marry .  I've been lucky enough to get to sing it twice. It is one of the greatest of those grand Anglican church pieces that the English choral tradion has produced.  The rest of the music was nice too.  I've always thought it is a pity that "Jerusalem" is so specifically English, as it has wonderful imagery.  I especially liked the "Ubi Caritas" by Paul Mealor.  The Westminster Abbey and Chapel Royal boys and men sounded great.

4.  The dress.  Actually, I'm more a shoe person myself and was trying very hard to catch a glimpse of the new Duchess of Cambridge's shoes.  But aside from a brief glimpse of the front of one I couldn't really see them.  The dress was OK enough, though a little too austere for my taste.  But then, I never really got over Diana's dress.  THAT was a dress!  A funny thing is that just yesterday I was viewing a retrospective video of Alexander McQueen's work that is online (link) at the Metropolitan Museum website.  A McQueen retrospective is opening at the Met's Costume Institute next week.  He is not a designer I've ever followed, although I've seen some of his work previously at the Met (as part of an earlier show) and in the windows of his shop in the Meatpacking District downtown.  Mostly they have seemed to me to be extreme, even weird, statements.  However, the video revealed that he (or his assistants working under his name) have been capable of producing pretty clothes.  Duchess Katherine's dress was certainly pretty.  So, I'm a bit more interested in seeing the Met's show.
5.  The place.  Westminster Abbey is, of course, a magnificent building.  But it's only partially English.  Although founded as a Benedictine abbey under the last Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, the current building was built not only by English but also by French masons brought over by King Henry III.  It was added to over the centuries by subsequent kings, up till the time of the Reformation.  Finally, following a building hiatus caused by the upheavals associated with: the Reformation (1533-ca. 1600), the Civil War (1641-1649), the Commonwealth (1649-1661), the Restoration (1551-1689) and the Glorious Revolution (1689), the finishing touch of the west towers was completed under George II in 1745 by Nicholas Hawksmoor.  Consequently, as for so much of England's ecclesiastical patrimony, it is a Catholic building adapted to Protestant use. 

I do wish their Royal Highnesses every good wish and God's blessings on their marriage.

Iconography of the Resurrection – Noli Me Tangere

Master Henri, Noli Me Tangere
from Livre d'Images de Madame Marie
Flemish (Hainault), 1285-1290
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquistion francaise 16251, fol. 45v

“Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he had told her.”
(John 20:11-18)

This dramatic scene between the Risen Jesus and Mary Magdalene from John’s Gospel has given rise to the Resurrection iconographic type called the “Noli Me Tangere”, the words “Do not touch me” from the Latin Vulgate, the standard translation of the Bible into Latin, made at the end of the fourth century by St. Jerome. More recent translations, held to more accurately translate the original Greek, such as that from The New American Bible quoted above, translate this phrase as “Stop holding on to me...” or "Stop clinging to me...".
Noli Me Tangere
from a Gospel Book
German, c. 1015
Hildesheim, Hildesheim Cathedral Museum
MS DS 18, fol. 75v

As with much of the iconography of the Resurrection the "Noli Me Tangere” seems to have begun to appear in the middle ages in Western Europe.

Early examples come from the hands of the illuminators of medieval manuscripts.

Noli Me Tangere
from Miniatures of the Life of Christ
France (Northeast), 1170-1180
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 44, fol. 12r
Noli Me Tangere
Nine Leaves from a Psalter
German (Augsburg), 1225-1250
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 275, fol. 7v 

Noli Me Tangere (top level)
Italian, c. 1250-1300
Tuscania, Church of San Pietro
Noli Me Tangere
from a Psalter
Flemish (Bruges), 1250-1270
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 106, fol. 71v

Executed in a typical Romanesque and Gothic manuscript styles, the  figures of Jesus and Mary gesture toward each other but do not touch. In the later images the risen Jesus displays his wounded hands and side and feet. Mary kneels before him.

Noli Me Tangere
from the Hours of Yolande de Soissons
France (Amiens), 1275-1299
New  York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 729, fol. 6v
Master of Roman de Fauvel, Noli Me Tangere
from Lives of the Saints
France (Paris), 1300-1350
Paris, Bibliotheqe nationale de France
MS Francais 183, fol. 60v
Noli Me Tangere and Doubting Thomas
Leaf from the Ramsey Psalter
England (Ramsey Abbey), 1295-1315
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M 302. fol. 3v
The illuminator who drew this Psalter's illustrations here puts together the two episodes mentioned in the Gospels in which someone reaches out to Jesus.  Mary tries to touch Him, while Thomas satisfies his doubts by putting his hand into Christ's side, with the guidance of the Risen Jesus Himself.

Jean LeNoir and Assistants, Noli Me Tangere
from the Breviary of Charles V
France (Paris), 1364-1370
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 1052, fol. 425

Two early examples of larger scale wall paintings come from the two “fathers” of what would become the Italian Renaissance – Giotto and Duccio.

Giotto, Noli Me Tangere
from Arena Chapel
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Arena./Scrovegni Chapel

Duccio, Noli Me Tangere
from Maesta Altarpiece
Italian, 1308-1311
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

Clearly, the overall iconography is being set in these early images. Since all Western languages are read from left to right this is the direction in which the action flows. The kneeling Mary is on the left and the Risen Jesus is shown moving toward the right. This is the layout for the majority of later images. 

Giotto, Noli Me Tangere
Italian, 1320s
Assisi, Basilica of San Francesco, Lower Church, Magdalen Chapel

Noli Me Tangere
from Fleur des histoires by Jean Mansel
French, 1450-1475
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 56, fol.57
Jean Colombe, Noli Me Tangere
from the Pontifical matutinale and missal of Jean Coeur
France (Bourges), 1460-1470
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS G 49, fol. 116v

Tilman Riemenschneider, Noli Me Tangere
German, 1490-1492
Muennerstadt, Parish Church

Bramantino. Noli Me Tangere
Italian, c. 1500
Milan, Civico Museo d'Arte Antica

However, some later artists reversed this arrangement to dramatic effect. By reversing the motion to a right to left movement the artist creates a less static composition. In some cases Jesus' motion of pulling His robe away from Mary’s grasp, is almost dancelike.

Mario Balassi. Noli Me Tangere
Italian, c. 1632
Florence, Ente Cassa di Risparmio
Francesco Albani. Noli Me Tangere
Italian, c. 1644
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museum zu Berlin

Tissot, Noli Me Tangere
French, 1884-1896
New York, Brooklyn Museum,

Closer to our own day the subject was addressed by the Franco-British painter James Tissot, who spent the last twenty years of his life in illustrating Biblical subjects after much research and visits to the Biblical lands. His interpretation, located today in the Brooklyn Museum, shows a different imagining of the subject. Here Mary lies prone before Jesus, who appears to be reaching down to her, and the motion is front to back in the pictorial space.

Dali, Noli Me Tangere
from Biblia Sacra, Vol. 5 No. 20,

Salvador Dali also imagined the scene in his Biblia Sacra of 1969. Here the image is at first difficult to read, but as one looks it becomes clearer. The figures of Mary and Jesus are brought together into a great curve, only their respective heads appearing as clearly defined. She really is clinging to him and appears to be trying to touch his face, while he appears to have grasped her gently around the wrist.

Clearly, through the centuries, this dramatic and personal encounter between the Risen Christ and the faithful Mary Magdalene has given artists plenty of food for their imaginations.

© M. Duffy, 2011

For a look at an additional aspect of the Noli me tangere type of image, please see Iconography of the Resurrection -- Jesus the Gardener

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday

Fra Angelico and assistants, Meditation on the Passion
Italian, 1441-1442
Florence, Convent of San Marco
The atmosphere of the church on this day is one of contemplative silence. No Mass is celebrated today, until the evening when we begin the Vigil of Easter. We enter into the mood of the disciples. We are slightly stunned, quiet, reflective. But, we know the end of the story, as they did not. So we are also filled with hope and a suppressed excitement. We visit the Confessional, prepare the altar, practice our music, clean our houses, and dye our eggs. We know that the morning to come will change our lives. For those preparing for Baptism at Easter Vigil a completely new life, in Christ, will begin this evening.

So, I will leave you with two things today.

First is an image, not by Giotto, our companion this Holy Week, but by the mid-fifteenth century Dominican painter, Fra Angelico. It is a visual meditation on all the events of the Week just passed, a “Meditation on the Passion”. It comes from the Convent (now the Museum) of St. Mark in Florence. Fra Angelico and his assistants painted it for their Dominican brethren in the early 1440s.

In it we see the Virgin Mary pondering the image of her crucified Son.  He stands (as the Man of Sorrows) in the tomb, surrounded by the instruments of the Passion (the sponge on a reed, the spear, the nails, the Cross) and by vignettes of he events (the kiss of Judas, Peter's denial, the Mocking of Christ, the exchange of the silver bribe).  At the front right we see St. Thomas Aquinas kneeling in adoration, his pen in one hand, his closed book in the other.  Thomas, in addition to his theological work (Summa Theologica) was also a poet and authored many great hymns, many still in use. 

Fra Angelico and assistants, Christ in Limbo
Italian, 1441-1442
Florence, Convent of San Marco
Second is a beautiful piece of Christian literature, which speaks of this quiet day, and another work from San Marco by Fra Angelico and his assistants, which illustrates it. The author of the “Ancient Homily on Holy Saturday” is not known, but the beauty of his words is as effective today as they were when they were first written centuries ago.  I have read it several times at a Holy Saturday morning Tenebrae service and it never fails to move me deeply.

“Something strange is happening -- there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the Cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: 'My Lord be with you all.' Christ answered him: 'And with your spirit.' He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: 'Awake, o sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.'

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in Hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I in you; together we form one person and cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, Whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on My Face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in Hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise. Let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity. “

You may also want to read my essay "Meditation on the Passion -- Waiting" (here).

Friday, April 22, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Late Afternoon, the Lamentation

Giotto, Lamentation
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel
“When it was evening,
there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph,
who was himself a disciple of Jesus.
He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus;
then Pilate ordered it to be handed over.
Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in clean linen
and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock.”

(Matthew 27:57-60)

Like the “Kiss of Judas”, this fresco of the “Lamentation” is among the most reproduced paintings in the world. It is also clearly one of Giotto’s greatest masterpieces, with a sureness of composition and execution that command attention.

The dead body of Jesus lies across Mary’s legs. Her right knee supports His torso; as she bends down to kiss Him. His head is supported by a woman seen only from behind. The rest of his body is also supported by women. Mary Magdalen supports his legs and feet, while another woman seen from behind supports the rest of his body and a woman seen in profile supports his hands. A larger group of women appear at the far left, expressing their grief in various ways. St. John stands above the woman seen in profile and he expresses his grief with hands widely spread. To the right stand two male onlookers, probably identifiable as Joseph of Arimathea, who donated the tomb and who is mentioned in all four Gospels, and Nicodemus, who is mentioned in the Gospel of John.

The composition of the painting is very sophisticated, while the overall effect is one of quiet contemplation. There are three interlocking triangles that create the composition. A great diagonal stone parapet or ridge creates the first, descending from right to left, reversing the normal “read” from left to right. The positions of Joseph and Nicodemus reinforce the wide edge of this triangle, while John, with his outspread arms, repeats the triangular motif. The second triangle descends from the group of women at the left down to the seated figure of Mary Magdalen. The final triangle is formed by the group around the prone figure of Jesus. It reaches its peak in the head of the woman seen in profile.

Detail.  Mourning group;
Against this complex composition the drama is played out by gesture and gaze. Although we are aware of the three triangles, it is the faces that capture our attention, especially the faces of the dead Christ and of His Mother. All the other characters gaze intently at them, with the exception of Mary Magdalen, who gazes down at the feet of Christ. Their gaze guides us and through them we become part of the story too. We are here moving into the image stream that will lead to multiple great works of art and ultimately to that most famous of all, Michelangelo’s “Pietà”.

Above the quietly grieving humans, the angels show their grief in a multitude of ways: with tears, exclamations, perhaps even screams.

Detail.  Angels at left. 

Detail.  Angels at right.

While the mood of the lower part of the painting is calm and quiet, the upper portion is very restless, with the angels posed in diverse attitudes of grief.

Detail.  Tree at upper right.

Even the bare tree branches appear agitated. The natural world too reacts to the Crucifixion. 

© M. Duffy, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Early Afternoon, the Crucifixion

Giotto, Crucifixion
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel

“After they had crucified him,
they divided his garments by casting lots;
then they sat down and kept watch over him there.
And they placed over his head the written charge against him:
This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

(Matthew 27:35-37)
“The Crucifixion” brings us to the culminating event of the Passion. Jesus is shown nailed to the cross. To his left are the soldiers and the mob, to his right are his Mother and her supporters, including the Apostle John and, at his feet, kneels Mary Magdalene.
Giotto, Crucifixion
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel
Several moments from the Crucifixion narratives appear to have been conflated here. First of all, the soldiers at the right side of the painting are holding the tunic and appear to be arguing over whether or not they should cut it up. Second, among the crowd at the right, most of whom are those who have plotted or carried out the Crucifixion, is one person with a halo. Candidates for the identity of this person may be: Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, or Longinus (the name given by tradition to the unnamed centurion). Since this figure appears to wear Roman military red, with a black helmet, just like the other soldiers, I would opt for the identification as Longinus. As this person is gesturing toward Christ, this may be the moment when the centurion declares “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54) If this is correct, then this is the moment just after the death of Jesus.

This would appear to be a correct interpretation if we look at the reactions of Jesus’ friends and of the angels who surround Him in the skies. On earth Mary, His Mother, appears to have fainted. Her eyes are closed and she is supported at each arm by a friend, John to her left and one of the several women named in the Gospels at her right. In the skies the angels dramatically express their dismay, their grief and even their anger. They exclaim, they avert their eyes, they wring their hands and one even tears his garments in the same gesture as Caiaphas in the scene of “Christ Before Caiaphas”.
Detail - Angels at the left hand of Jesus
Two angels hold bowls to catch the blood dripping from His wounded hands, while another holds his bowl to capture the blood spurting from the lance wound in His side. This detail reinforces the interpretation that this is the moment, shortly after death, when Christ’s side is pierced.

Detail - Angels at the right hand of Jesus

Detail - Angel at Christ's side
Mary Magdalene leans down to kiss His wounded feet. And we notice that, under the rock on which the cross stands, is a grave containing a skeleton. A long-standing poetic and iconographic tradition held that Golgotha, the hill of Calvary, was also the location of the Garden of Eden and that the cross was made from the wood of the Tree of Life from the Garden. This tradition also held that Adam, the first man, was buried at the foot of the Tree.

Detail - Grave under the Cross

Two earlier examples of this iconography are shown here.

Mosaic, Crucifixion
Italian, 1200-1220
Venice, Cathedral of San Marco 

Bonaventura Berlinghieri, Crucifixion
Right wing of a Diptych
Italian, 1260-1270
Florence, Galleria degli'Uffizi
The death of the new Adam, Jesus, is thus linked with the death of the first man, Adam “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life” (1 Corinthians 15:22). This is the moment when the division caused by Adam’s disobedience in the Garden is healed by Christ’s obedient death, in the same Garden, at the same tree.

© M. Duffy, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Mid-Morning, Via Crucis

Giotto, Carrying the Cross
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel

“And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him. “ (Matthew 27:31)

“A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him."
(Luke 23:27)

This painting is the most dynamic of all the pictures we have seen since Palm Sunday. Movement is dramatically conveyed by the placing of the figures. Jesus is seen slightly to the right of center. One of the two figures leading the procession appears to have partially walked “out of the picture”.
Detail.  Leading soldiers

This movement “out of the picture” implies a conceptual revolution. It implies that what we are seeing is a slice of an independently existing reality, which we are observing through a window. This concept shows how radical and advanced Giotto’s thinking was and would be the driving force of the development of art throughout the Renaissance, culminating in such grand illusions as “The School of Athens” by Raphael two hundred years later.

In addition to the dynamic interpretation of the scene, emotion is also evident. Jesus is prodded by one of the guards. And Mary stands, in an agony of motherly grief, at the far left. She appears to be restrained by another person, though it may just possibly be an action of comfort instead.
Detail.  Mary

The painting of these figures is, in the main, more assured than the painting in the “Christ Before Caiaphas” and “Mocking of Christ” and may well be by Giotto himself. However, the head of Christ seems oddly out of proportion to his body. This is especially obvious in comparison with the heads of the other figures in the scene.  This may be an indication of the hand of an assistant or the work of a restorer during the intervening centuries.

© M. Duffy, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Good Friday, Early Morning, Mocking of Christ

Giotto, Mocking of Christ
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel

“They stripped off his clothes
and threw a scarlet military cloak about him.
Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head,
and a reed in his right hand.
And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying,
“Hail, King of the Jews!”
They spat upon him and took the reed
and kept striking him on the head.”

(Matthew 27:28-30)

This scene takes place in the praetorium of Jerusalem’s Roman garrison, in a courtyard open to the sky.
Detail of Right side showing Pilate and 
group of men.

The Roman setting is implied not only by the courtyard setting, but by the interesting inclusion of a sub-Saharan African in the very center of the composition. A clean shaven Pilate appears at the right, conversing with a group of bearded men, who presumably are members of the Sanhedrin.

Left side showing jeweled cloak.

While Giotto is clearly following the Gospel text in what the Romans are doing, he does depart in one aspect. Instead of the “scarlet military cloak” he has clothed Jesus in a bejeweled cloak worthy of an emperor. This harks back to an earlier, medieval tradition of representing the crucified Christ as a king, rather than as a suffering man. Giotto stands somewhat at the crossroads between these two visual traditions. Going forward, the emotive characteristics associated with Jesus as sufferer, rather than Jesus as victor, became dominant in the art of the West.

Again, this painting appears to have been executed by an assistant. However, this assistant seems to be a bit more comfortable with Giotto’s revolutionary style than the assistant who worked on the “Christ Before Caiaphas”. His characters inhabit the space more comfortably, though they are still a trifle “wooden”, and there is less interest in minute details. There are also a few small difficulties in presenting some details in perspective (see, for example, Pilate’s foot at the right side of the picture).

© M. Duffy, 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

Holy Week with Giotto – Holy Thursday, Washing Feet

Giotto. Washing of the Feet
Italian, 1304-1306
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel
“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

It is the moment described in the Gospel for this evening that is imagined by Giotto in his Scrovegni/Arena 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.
Detail of Jesus and Peter

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.

Detail of left side.
Judas is clearly identifiable as the central figure in the
group of three Apostles.  He has a mustache and
"smokey" halo just as he does in other paintings in the
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

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