The Proto-Renaissance artist Giotto was well known for his extensive activity, and his works were in high demand throughout his life. However, it is shocking to know that despite the immense reputation of the artist, very few undisputed paintings survived to date, which further document his life. Hence, it is not fallacious to state that very little is known of Giotto’s life, and that too through his paintings. These artworks which survived to date consist of the Arena Chapel frescoes and Crucifix in Padua, the Ognisssanti Madonna in the Uffizi, the Bardi and Peruzzi Chappel in Santa Croce in Florence, and a Dormition of the Virgin in Berlin. Interestingly, these belonged to the Paduan cycle, which can be dated close to the 1305 or 1306, that is ten to twenty years later of Giotto’s life. Hence, we are not sure of his earlier works. In addition to these paintings, we know that Giotto worked for Robert of Anjou in Naples and Azzone Visconti in Milan and executed the mosaic of Navicella in Rome (possibly before 1313). Now, among all these paintings, the most precious ones, regarded as significant to learning Giotto’s style, belong to the Arena Chapel. By now, you might have known the relevance of studying the work Kiss of Judas by Giotto, which lies in the same chapel. But there is still a question: Why study Giotto’s style at all?
The answer is that humanist writers were beginning to relate Giotto’s achievements in painting to the Italian Renaissance’s overall view of history from the fourteenth century till the sixteenth century. It emerged early in the fourteenth century in Italy and crystallized toward the end of that century and the beginning of the next. For instance, in 1310, Dante mentioned Giotto in Purgatory to illustrate his medieval outlook, illustrating the concept of earthly fame, a Christian moral concept, by citing Giotto, whose fame overshadowed that of Cimabue. Hence, history traces the origin of Giotto through his paintings and the meanings behind them, which encourages us to study even more about him. By this, I am ending the introductory part of the article, so that we can begin our journey towards learning about the painting, Kiss of Judas by Giotto.
General Information About the Painting.
1. Artist’s Statement.
“The sincere friends of this world are as ship lights in the stormiest of nights.”
2. Subject Matter.
In the painting Kiss of Judas, there is a presence of frenzied activity where the massive figure of Judas dominates the scene, which becomes Giotto’s most incredible creation. One of the most impressive visualizations of the painting is the use of the sweep of Judas’ cloak as he reaches out to embrace Christ. Through the facial expression of Judas, we can clearly see how guiltless he is as he turns down Jesus, as the feeling of satisfaction spots on his face. As the focus point of the painting resides in the sweeping cloak of Judas over Jesus, the foreground consists of soldiers, priests, and apostles of Jesus, dealing with the dramatically tense situation of Christ’s arrest. One can also see the yellow halo behind Christ’s head, which reveals the spirituality and the connection to God amidst the betrayal through Judas.
In later sections, I will explain the entire subject matter by breaking it into parts.
Giotto changed the language of art from Greek to Latin, yet inspired by Byzantine art. Approaching a totally different method of art, he successfully created a breakthrough in Western Art. While he made his journey of craftsmanship to Rome when he was young, he developed a crystal clear and personal interpretation of ancient art, seen as a model of restraint and harmony to fuse it with the subtle and acute understanding of nature and human sentiments. The artworks of the artist were spread throughout Assisi, Rome, Rimini, Padua, Naples, and Milan, which also led to many artists turning into his followers and opening his schools in almost all parts of Italy. He was always acknowledged as a strong intellectual, who has been thought of as a modern man for over seven hundred years, due to the fact he lived and acted as a man of his age.
The Kiss of Judas painting dates back to the years 1304-1306.
This painting has a little provenance: Giotto was nearly forty when he began to work on it. His Padua patron was Enrico Scrovegni, a wealthy and politically ambitious merchant who in 1300, acquired the ruins of the old Roman arena for his palace and adjacent chapel. Documents on the subject are somewhat vague, but it appears the chapel was built and consecrated between 1303 and 05. Various dates are given for the Frescoes, ranging from 1304 to 1312/13, but an approximate date of 1305 seems most acceptable to current Giotto authors. I intend to provide you with the entire historical context of the Chapel, as well as the fresco painting, but you will find it in upcoming sections of the article.
The painting has been restored completely and is on exhibition at the Arena Chapel, Padua.
7. Technique and Medium.
Kiss of Judas by Giotto is a fresco art. Giotto adds a cinematic movement in the fresco through the use of a semicircular turn from right to left across the picture plane. Further, he creates different kinds of unity and a dramatic quality of style that draws the viewer’s attention to the primary subject. Additionally, the artist uses a convincing three-dimensional space, occupied by the figures, so the viewer can identify the action represented in the piece. The humanist taste for art that focuses on the actions of men rather than gods distinguishes Giotto’s style from that of his more Byzantine predecessors.
|Artist||Giotto di Bondone|
|Genre||Religious Historical Art|
|Price||Not on sale|
|Where is it housed?||Arena Chapel or Scrovengi Chapel, Padua|
Now, that you know a brief account of the painting, Kiss of Judas, let us move on to learning through an in-depth analysis.
In-Depth Description of Kiss of Judas.
About the Artist: Giotto di Bondone.
Before Giotto di Bondone, the profession of painting was like a craft, a mechanical art. But after Giotto showed the world the true spirit of colours, figures, and form, he soon occupied the position of great respect in Florence, a city that was then significant for trade and commerce in Europe. He was one of the representatives of this spirit of rationality and efficiency typical of the Florentine mercantile class of the period. Though Bardi and Peruzzi families employed him mostly; he never limited his art only to Florence city, instead he held the most prestigious commissions in other parts of Italy, which led his endeavor to many parts of Europe. Giotto worked at the Basilica of San Francesco at Assisi, one of the prominent churches in Christendom; for the Pope, for Enrico Scrovegni, the riches and most influential citizen of Padua; for the King of Naples, for Azzone Visconti and the Signore of Milan. At the time, Italy witnessed a flourishing economy, Giotto transcended regional barriers and showed his impact of art throughout the peninsula.
Born in 1265, he must have been active before the last decade of the thirteenth century. As I earlier stated very little is known about Giotto’s life, so we will refer to his life through his artworks. The first clear signs of the nature of his artistic revolution were seen in frescoes in the Upper Church at Assisi: Old Testament scenes starting with Isaac Blessing Jacob, a Vault decorated with the Doctors of Church, New Testament scenes including Christ among the doctors, and the Lamentation. But these belonged from the early career of Giotto. Now, one of the things, which must be noted is that there is a huge difference between the paintings from his earlier and mature period. Hence, not everyone, after seeing them, agrees that it is the same artist, who executed the paintings and frescoes of Arena Chapel in Padua. If we have to compare the Paduan and Assisi frescoes, we see the use of softness and fluidity in the former and sharp incisiveness of the latter, which gives the drapery an almost metallic appearance in first while colors seemed to be almost transparent in the second.
Now, that we know a brief introduction to the artist’s life, let us move towards learning the artwork Kiss of Judas through historical context.
Historical Provenance of the Artwork.
There is not much known about under what conditions Giotto painted the Kiss of Judas. But I am giving you an enriched detail of the supporting incidences that can make a rough sketch for the provenance. As I stated earlier, Enrico Scrovegni, a Paduan patron, acquired the ruins of the old Roman arena at Padua as a site for his palace and adjoining chapel. Hence, we know that this chapel was built and consecrated between 1303 and 1305.
In the Arena chapel, with six windows on the right wall, Giotto was provided with a wall space that was asymmetrical and restricted. In order to complete an extensive iconographical scheme, he took the spaces between the windows as his starting point, planning to depict each scene one above the other. As a result, he divided the chapel’s walls into panels. There were four tiers provided for the scenes to be arranged on the walls, and the frames that surround them seem to be incorporated into the chapel’s architecture. Because the Paduan Chapel has modest proportions, exaggerated projections would not have been appropriate: given the framing of the Legend of St. Francis. Moreover, the mock projections of the Assisi framings are in direct contrast to the perfectly flat walls of the Arena Chapel, which have no real projections. In addition to the large, mock marble bands that separate the scenes, small, lobed panels containing representations of minor figures provide relief.
Now, since the chapel was relatively small and the right-hand wall was interrupted by the windows, Giotto had a task to divide the wall surface into smaller panels than those at Assisi. This explains why he chose different relations in the size of the figures and the space that encloses them. This may be also one of the reasons that Paduan frescoes acquired that extraordinary concentration and pictorial unity in comparison to any other fresco.
Now, the order of the drawings in the Arena Chapel is as follows:
- Joachim’s Offering rejected by the High Priest.
- Joachim retires to the Sheep-fold.
- The Angel appears to Anna..
- The Sacrifice of Joachim.
- The Angel appears to Joachim.
- The Meeting of Joachim and Anna.
- The Birth of the Virgin Mary.
- The Presentation of the Virgin.
- The Rods are brought to the High Priest.
- The Watching of the Rods at the Altar.
- The Espousal of the Virgin Mary.
- The Virgin Mary returns to her Home.
- The Annunciation- the Angel Gabriel.
- The Annunciation- the Virgin Mary.
- The Marriage of the Virgin.
- The Salutation.
- The Nativity.
- The Wise Men’s Offering.
- The presentation in the Temple.
- The Flight into Egypt.
- The Massacre of the Innocents.
- The Young Christ in the Temple.
- The Baptism of Christ.
- Marriage in Cana.
- The Baptism of Lazarus.
- The Entry into Jerusalem.
- The Expulsion from the Temple.
- The Hiring of Judas.
- The Last Supper.
- The Washing of the Feet.
- The Kiss of Judas.
- Christ before Caiaphas.
- The Scourging of Christ.
- Christ bearing His Cross.
- The Crucifixion.
- The Entombment.
- The Resurrection.
- The Ascension.
- The Descent of the Holy Spirit.
Now, that we have the historical information about the Chapel and painting, let us move to the next sections.
Understanding the Meaning of Betrayal of Christ.
The meaning of the painting is best explained through the Bible verse, hence I am adding them below to display the entire conversation behind the excellent artwork.
“47 While He was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, suddenly arrived. A large mob, with swords and clubs, was with him from the chief priests and elders of the people. 48 His betrayer had given them a sign: “The One I kiss, He’s the One; arrest Him!” 49 So he went right up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.
50 “Friend,” Jesus asked him, “why have you come?”
Then they came up, took hold of Jesus, and arrested Him. 51 At that moment one of those with Jesus reached out his hand and drew his sword. He struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his ear.
52 Then Jesus told him, “Put your sword back in its place because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword. 53 Or do you think that I cannot call on My Father, and He will provide Me at once with more than 12 legions of angels? 54 How, then, would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?”
55 At that time Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs, as if I were a criminal, to capture Me? Every day I used to sit, teaching in the temple complex, and you didn’t arrest Me. 56 But all this has happened so that the prophetic Scriptures would be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted Him and ran away.”
Subject Matter Analysis.
Before we learn thoroughly about the subject matter of the painting, let me first tell you something really significant about the Kiss of Judas. Now, Giotto usually arrests a movement in the painting by arranging figures in such a way that the viewer’s eye is forced in the opposite direction of the sight, which we call the left-right flow of the narrative. Adding on, due to this technique, he showed groups appearing frequently, which tends to have the greatest visual impact at points of the dramatic climax or heightened activity, which we see here in the artwork. Now, let us look at the painting through an extensive approach.
As you can see in the painting, there are three nearest figures- the man who is pointing on the right, Judas in the center, and the executioner figure on the left, who are so arranged that they occupy three different positions in the same spatial right-left turn. When one sees it from the perspective of the twentieth century, the viewer is tempted to describe it as a cinematic movement, because of its similarity with the film strip. When you look at the point of view of movement, all these three figures look as if they are single figures at different stages of the same action, i,e, a semicircular turn from right to left across the picture plan and thus corresponding to the principles of movement on which cinema depends. You have to understand that in addition to the horizontal narrative coherence, which is enhanced by architecture and landscape further, the Arena Chapel frescoes have a visual unity through a meaningful excellent vertical alignment (first described by Alpatoff in 1939). Here, Giotto used his promising techniques to create different types of unity in his fresco cycles, dramatic quality with a subject of much recent attention. As a result of the dramatic rendering of a situation, the impact on the observer is greater than it would normally be. Due to Giotto’s figures’ convincing three-dimensional space, the observer can identify with the action represented. Embracing the humanist taste for art that deals with the actions of men rather than gods, Giotto’s style distinguishes himself from his Byzantine predecessors.
I have already explained the three figures in the painting. Now, if you look closer, there is an erotic embrace of Judas over Christ, through cloaking his robe and kissing on his cheek. This is unquestionably a dramatic climax of the scene, showing the life of Christ and an entire narrative. The only difference which this embrace makes unlike the normal, is that it portrays the betrayed love. The kiss is not a mark of modesty and respect, but a perverted use of Judas’ character in the agitated and anxiety-ridden terror of the painting. Giotto used dramatic elements, for instance, the hand of Judas over Christ’s shoulder shows the intense confrontation between Christ and Judas while contributing to a sense of agitation. Following the preceding scenes, Christ’s left-right movement is suddenly arrested by the angry crows on the right, the three foreground figures in a right-left turn, and Judas, the powerful figure on the left. In the foreground are hostile soldiers, their black helmets creating anonymity, which emphasizes Christ’s individuality and the loneliness he is experiencing. In the entire fresco, St. Peter is the only figure who provides moral support for Christ by cutting off Malchus’ ear. If one manages to learn from the psychoanalytic point of view, this act of cutting the ear is the act of symbolic castration. Though it is a part of the Biblical account, Giotto’s portrayal shows the frustrated rage of St. Peter in a more emphasizing, forceful, and dramatic manner. An executioner figure pulls on a cloak behind Peter, counteracting the forward curve of Peter’s arm. A motif that repeats throughout the fresco is the thrust and counterthrust of their arms. Malchus stretches his arm forward, resting his hand below Christ’s shoulder. Judas, coming from the opposite direction, places his hand on Christ’s shoulder, causing a movement that results in Christ’s cloak covering him. Peter’s knife moves downward diagonally simultaneously, mirroring the unpraised club aimed straight at Christ’s head. Following the arrangement of helmets, which is the basis for the organization of clubs themselves, this club marks the beginning of a circular arrangement of raised clubs. A counteraction pushes Peter back when he moves forward; as he attacks Christ’s enemy with a knife, Christ is threatened by a club behind his back. The hostile crowd behind Christ turns around to face Peter in profile, further aligning Peter with Christ. As Peter is focused on his aggressive act, their eyes do not meet due to the greater space between their profiles than there was between Christ and Judas in the secondary confrontation. Nevertheless, this second confrontation reinforces the main confrontation, which represents the cycle’s climax.
On the picture’s right side, beyond Judas, there exist additional striking reinforcements of the central occurrence. The soldier in red, with his slightly pursed lips, replicates the diagonal alignment of Judas’s body. Furthermore, the two flaming torches and the loosely hanging knife from the soldier’s waist serve as further diagonal repetitions of Judas’ form, which starkly contrasts with the knife aggressively wielded by St. Peter. The curving contour of Judas’ cloak finds its reflection in the upraised horn, blown by a figure in the background. Each of these elements that reinforce the scene – clubs, torches, knives, horns, the gesticulating figure in the foreground on the far right, and the prevailing motif of outstretched arms and hands – carries the potential to evoke anxiety-inducing aggression. The formal arrangement of these components, which invigorate both the sky and the crows, contributes to the overwhelming sense of agitation and anxiety that permeates the scene, further accentuating the ironic distortion of this specific embrace.
This completes the subject matter analysis of The Kiss of Judas.
Formally Analysing Kiss of Judas by Giotto.
As I already explained the movements and agitated signs of the painting, all that is left is witnessing them in the picture. You see there is a profuse use of diagonal lines in the entire fresco painting. For instance, all the sticks with fire you see are in diagonal posture and the posture of Judas. The knife that St. Peter holds, and the stretched hand of the man on the right are further additions of diagonal movements. However, there is also a usage of circular curves through the halo and posture of figures (as I earlier stated), representing unity in Kiss of Judas.
2. Light and Value.
There is a lesser use of chiaroscuro techniques but we can see a striking colour contrast to depict the usage of light and shadows.
3. Colour Analysis.
Using a darker blue background with black helmets, Giotto showed a danger in general. However, he manages to highlight the damages through red shades. However, he also used yellow colours for spirituality. In addition to lime-based plaster, Giotto used specific colours for the details, all of which worked well with the lime-based plaster. For this reason, Giotto chose tones such as blue, copper green, red lead, and lake red, rather than to express himself creatively. In order to embellish the key details of each fresco, the top would be covered with tin, gold, resin, and oil.
Opinions and Conclusions.
Giotto attempted to show a difficult correspondence in Kiss of Judas through extensive use of symbolism, colour contrasts, and space. The artist managed to portray the Christ penetrating divines in Judas’ eyes, the fatal conclusion of his terrestrial life. The Biblical painting is much more than just a fresco as Giotto used his own style and techniques to make it an excellent work of the Renaissance.
1. Giotto: complete works by Luciano Bellosi.
2. Giotto by by Harry Quilter and Ambrogiotto Di Bondone.
3. Giotto by Stefano Zulfi.
4. Giotto in perspective by Laurie Adams and Laurie Schneider.
Frequently Asked Questions.
The Kiss of Judas, according to the Biblical verse, is the act Judas followed to guide the mob of chief priests and elders of the people to arrest Christ. In simple words, a kiss that was a betrayal of Christ.
The Kiss of Judas by Giotto resides in Arena Chapel, Padua.
Giotto di Bondone painted the Kiss of Judas under the commission of Enrico Scrovegni in 1300. It was one of the artworks that decorated the walls of what used to be the ruins of the old Roman arena.