Friday, April 3, 2015

Giotto: Good Friday

Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was morning. And they themselves did not enter the praetorium, in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring against this man?” . . . Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged. And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck him repeatedly. Once more Pilate went out and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” (John 18:28-29, 19:1-4)

We see here Pilate, protesting to that same figure--almost surely a chief priest--that we saw in the Garden of Olives yesterday. He is clearly very unhappy about what he feels forced to do. Instead of the purple cloak that is described in the scripture, Giotto portrays Jesus in a very finely-worked gold cloak. What strikes me the most is the contrast to Fra Angelico's image of the same scene. Giotto's mockers are very much flesh-and-blood with a schoolboy nastiness. Fra Angelico paints disembodied, anonymous hands and head, prompting us to see that they could have very well been ours had we been there.

So they took Jesus, and, carrying the cross himself, he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. (John 19:16-17)
Jesus carries his cross to Calvary followed by the crowd of people. We see many different classes of people in this group. The first person looks quite wealthy and is carrying something mysteriously blurry. There are soldiers, the high priest, and a man who looks like a laborer. And then we see his mother, her face filled with grief. It looks as if the soldier is trying to turn her back. Perhaps he wants to spare her the sight of her son suffering so much. It reminds me very much of the time that my comatose three-year old daughter had to have a spinal tap. I wanted to stay with her, but the nurse took me very firmly by the shoulders, turned me around, and said, "You don't need to see this." And Jesus is looking over his shoulder as though he realizes something is happening to his mother.

Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear. Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses. (Isaiah 53:11-12)
The face of Jesus has always troubled me in this picture because it looks so crudely executed when some of the other faces are so finely drawn. I wonder if it is a later restoration.

Here we see several elements that are frequently found in pictures of the crucifixion: the skull under the cross, Mary Magdalene in her traditional position at Jesus's feet, the sorrowing mother, and the soldiers arguing over the garments. And then there are those grieving angels. Three of them are catching the blood from his hands and side and one is rending its garments at the blasphemy of the murder of God in the same way that yesterday we saw the high priest rending his at the perceived blasphemy of Jesus's "I Am." But look at the difference in the expressions on their faces--Caiaphas so smug--the angel in true anguish.

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body. Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by. (Isaiah 53:11-12)
Lamentation. It's such a perfect word. Here are the steadfast few: his mother, of course, and all the faithful women, Mary Magdalene at the feet of her beloved master, John, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea, and the grieving angels. Are they thinking about the fact that man has killed God, or are they just missing the one they love, wondering how they will be able to go on without him?

All pictures are from the Web Gallery of Art.



  1. Thanks for this I really like this but please let know what is good friday

  2. You're welcome. It's the day that Jesus was crucified.