Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel (part 2)


Voiceover: But the narrative cycle begins on the right altar
side in the top register. It introduces Yoakim and Anna, the grandparents of Christ. Voiceover: Mary’s parents. Voiceover: Yoakim begins by being thrown out of the temple – Voiceover: For his childlessness. Voiceover: That’s right. He’s grown old without children. Don’t take this too literally. It’s not in the Bible. These are the extra
stories that were added to the Biblical narrative
because people wanted to know what happened
in between the events that really are mentioned in the Bible. Voiceover: Much of this is from a book called The Golden Legend that
filled in that narrative. Voiceover: Let’s focus on the last scene on the right side of the upper register which is the meeting at the Golden Gate. To get here, what’s happened is that Yoakim has prayed to God,
really wanting a child. Anna, his wife, has done the same and they’ve both been
visited and been told that there is hope and they’re shown^ coming together for the first
time in front of Jerusalem, in front of the Golden Gate. Voiceover: Each now with the awareness that their desire for a child, this wish, has been fulfilled. Voiceover: And we have
this wonderful example of the humanism of Giotto. We see their faces together, it is a kiss, it is incredibly intimate, so personal. Their faces come together, they touch, and almost become a single face. Voiceover: That makes sense. The warmth of their embrace, the warmth of the figures
around them who watch, and something that we
see throughout the cycle, figures who have mass and
volume to their bodies, who exist three dimensionally in space. Gone are the elongated, swaying, ethereal bodies of the Gothic period and Giotto gives us figures that are bulky and monumental where drapery
pulls around their bodies and taken together with
the emotion in their faces, it’s almost like we have
real human beings in art for the first time in more
than a thousand years. Voiceover: Giotto, we
think, was Cimabue’s student and learned from that great master who had begun to experiment
with the chiaroscuro that you’re speaking of,
this light and shadow, this ability to model
volume, and form, and mass, but nothing like what
Giotto has achieved here. And you’re right, it
is the coming together of both the chiaroscuro
as well as the emotion as well as the human
interaction that creates this sense of the importance of our existence here on earth. Voiceover: And I would
also add the clarity of the gestures and the narrative. Voiceover: Look at the way in which the city is not rendered
in an accurate way. We have a schematic view and yet it’s everything we need. We have the gate of Jerusalem. Now, of course, Giotto had no idea what the architecture of
Jerusalem looked like, yet from legend he has
created this golden arch and this medieval looking fortified city. Voiceover: But the forms are simplified. Voiceover: It’s a stage set and he wants those figures to be front and center. They are what’s most important. If we move across to the other wall, the upper register
continues the narrative. Mary is born, she’s
presented in the temple, she’s married, and then we get back to the altar side of the chapel and there we reach the triumphal arch and we’re back to God the Father now, but below that we have the enunciation. Voiceover: In the register below now, we see scenes from Christ’s
childhood, including – Voiceover: The circumcision,
the flight into Egypt. Voiceover: The massacre of the innocents and then moving to the next wall we begin the story of the ministry
of Christ and his miracles. Voiceover: As the story
unfolds from scene to scene, Christ is often shown in profile, which is derived from the
Roman tradition of coinage, which is the most noble way
of representing a figure and he’s shown moving from left to right, which is the way that we’re
meant to read the scenes. Voiceover: So Giotto is helping us to move through the narrative
from one scene to the next and here we see Christ on a donkey with the apostles behind him. Voiceover: You’ll notice
that Giotto does not really care to depict every
single one of the 12 apostles. He’s really giving us
only three or four faces and the rest are just an
accumulation of halos. Voiceover: There’s that legacy
of symbolic representation that we think of as more medieval. Voiceover: Look at the way in which the figures in the lower
right, there are three of them, begin to pull off their outer garment. One man is pulling his
arm out of his sleeve. The next is taking the
garment off his head. And the final one is placing that garment at the feet of the donkey
in an act of respect, but it is almost cinematographic. There is this idea that is, I think, part of the chapel as a
whole that it is about the movement of time. This is one of the most innovative aspects of the entire chapel, I think. One technical issue. If you look at Christ,
there is a blue garment that’s wrapped around his waist, but the blue is almost entirely missing and that’s because the Arena Chapel is painted in bone fresco, true fresco. That is, pigment is
applied to wet plaster. Voiceover: And when that happens, the pigment binds to the plaster and the paint becomes
literally part of the wall. Voiceover: That’s right,
the wall is stained. The problem is that blue
was really expensive. Ultramarine blue came from Lapis Lazuli, which was a very expensive
semiprecious stone, and Enrico Scrovegni, when he drew up the contract with Giotto,
did not want the blue’s brilliance to be diminished by being mixed with the plaster so he asked that it be applied as secco fresco. Voiceover: Dry freso.
Voiceover: That’s right. On top of the wall and the
result is it didn’t last. Voiceover: Right, it
didn’t adhere to the wall as well as the paint that was
applied to the wet plaster and so sadly that’s been flaked off and we really have to use our imagination to fill in a brilliant
blue on that drapery. Voiceover: Let’s move on
to the bottom register, to the end of Christ’s life. On the lowest register, the register that’s devoted
to the scenes of the passion, is the arrest of Christ also
known as the kiss of Judas. Voiceover: So this is
the moment when Judas leads the Romans to Christ
and they arrest him, and take him away, and torture him, and ultimately crucify him. And remember, Judas is
one of the 12 apostles, one of those considered closest to Christ. He betrays him for 30 pieces of silver. Voiceover: And so it is
all the more horrific, it’s all the more a terrible betrayal because this is one of the people that Christ trusted most and Judas has betrayed Christ, not by pointing at him
from afar but with a kiss. Voiceover: There’s chaos here. Voiceover: Well, that’s right. That idea of the embrace is
really important, I think, because look at the way that Giotto has the figure of Judas’ arm and cloak wrapping around him, embracing him, enveloping him and
importantly stopping him. Remember that in almost every scene we have noticed Christ moving from left to right in profile, but here Judas is an impediment. His progress is stopped. This is literally arresting
his movement forward. Voiceover: If we compare
this, for example, to Duccio’s Betrayal of Christ, there Christ is frontal. Here he’s in profile, you’re right, but it makes it so that Judas and Christ look at one another, look at each other in the eye. Judas is a little bit shorter. He looks up at Christ as a sense of, to me, determination but
also at the same time maybe a hint of beginning to be sorry for what he’s done. Voiceover: But still
corruption in that face versus the nobility of Christ’s. Voiceover: And the sense that Christ knew that this would happen, right? At the Last Supper, he said, “One of you will betray me,” and an acceptance of his destiny that we often see in images of Christ. Voiceover: Let’s go back to that idea of chaos that you raised before. Giotto has created this sense of violence and one of the ways that he’s done that is by reserving half
the painting, the sky, just for those lances, for those torches, for those clubs, and the way in which they’re not held in an orderly way, but they are helter-skelter
crossing at angles. They create this almost
violent visual rhythm that draws our eye down to Christ, down to Judas, but also feel dangerous. Voiceover: But there’s this sense of Judas and Christ anchoring the composition down as that chaos takes place around him. The most remarkable figure to me though is the figure who leans
his left side of his body and his elbow out of the composition, almost right into our space. Voiceover: It’s amazing actually and it almost prefigures
the way that Caravaggio, who, centuries later,
will master this idea of breaking the picture plane. Voiceover: And then we
also see another device that Giotto employs
often in the Arena Chapel and that is a figure with his back to us and that figure seems
to be pulling something that’s out of the space of the panel. But look at his feet, perfectly foreshortened, grounded. There’s that sense of Giotto-esque weight and monumentality to the figures, all of that modeling as we can follow the forms of the body underneath. Voiceover: And Giotto is giving us this full sensory experience. We have this crowd of figures, the sense of violence. The crowd is multiplied because we can see numerous helmets, which by the way would have originally been
silver but have oxidized. Voiceover: And there’s a
sense of a crowd pressing in, of all these faces watching
what’s going to happen. Voiceover: And there’s one man on a horn who’s blowing, creating
the sense of energy, this audio that goes with this painting that finishes the whole scene and it’s chaos and it’s drama. Voiceover: Giotto is a
master of the dramatic.

10 thoughts on “Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel (part 2)

  1. Marvelous! The contrast between the noble indignation on Christ face and the repugnant face of Judas encapsulate, in a small space, the best and the worst humans are capable off! Many thanks!

  2. Thank you for your explanation of the first painting in the video, I've seen it many times in art history books, specialy when you bring us to contemplate the intimate kiss and the embrace. !
    I was almost in to tears. !
    We are lucky we can go and see Giotto's exemplary works of art. !

  3. hey, i find those videos great. but i can't stand the way the narrators speak. very annoying, trying too hard to sound pleasant but instead just piss me off.

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