Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holy Week with Giotto – Judas’ Betrayal I

Giotto, Judas Accepts Payment
Italian, 1304-1306
 Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel
"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 26:14-17)

This is the Gospel for Wednesday of Holy Week, in tradition known as “Spy Wednesday”. It records the deal made by Judas with the Temple authorities. For what must have been, at the time, a considerable, though not outrageous, amount of money, Judas was prepared to hand over the Master, the Rabbi he had been following for months, possibly for fully three years. What could have induced him to act this way? Giotto had an answer. 

In his Arena/Scrovegni Chapel fresco of the scene, Judas has a non-human companion or coach. At his back is a demon urging him on, even gripping his arm in encouragement.  Indeed, it appears that he may even be pushing Judas slightly. The demon wants to make sure that Judas closes this deal. While Judas closes the deal with the Chief Priest, two other Elders stand to on side, although their gestures and postures make it clear that they are aware of what is happening.

Detail showing the heads of the demon and of Judas.

Again, Judas’ head is wreathed by that odd dark translucent or “smokey” halo. And, here, we may be seeing its source, for it bears a resemblance to the top knot of the demon. Whatever his human motivation may have been, Judas is clearly shown here as an instrument of the demonic forces that are the ultimate cause of the Crucifixion -- going all the way back to the very beginning, in the Garden of Eden.

© M. Duffy, 2011