Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Two Frescoes

I spent most of my college career taking “practical” courses, geared directly toward jobs in government service.  But my junior year I signed up for an art history class because I needed a three credit class, and it fit into my schedule.  The class was called, “Medieval Art and Architecture.” Heavy on the architecture, light on the art.  Later in the semester, we spent a class learning about the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy, and about Giotto’s frescoes therein.  The professor flicked slide after slide onto the screen of Giotto’s depictions of Christ’s life.  The frescoes were beautiful.  Elegant and yet full of force.  I was transfixed. That day, I made it a goal to see the frescoes in person.
Several years later, I traveled to Padua.  As I wandered around the Arena Chapel, I could not beIieve I finally was seeing Giotto’s frescoes in person.  I wish I could share pictures of the interior, but the Chapel doesn’t allow you to take photos inside. 
I was struck by the similarity between two of the frescoes.  One depicts Jesus’s maternal grandparents, Joaquim and Anne, meeting at The Golden Gate, overjoyed upon learning that they are with child.  They are embracing, holding each other, on the cusp of a kiss. And then, Giotto’s portrayal of Judas betraying Christ. Judas is embracing Jesus.  In fact, Judas’s robe completely envelops Jesus.  There is a great deal of activity in the painting, but it all fades away, as though the only two figures in the fresco are Jesus and Judas.  I found the similarity between the two paintings troubling.  Giotto portrayed love and betrayal with the same intimate embrace.   This embrace makes sense with Joaquim and Anne, as they were husband and wife.  But a betrayal?  How could one stand to be so close to someone who just harmed them? And yet, true betrayal requires intimacy.  

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