Art by Duccio
Presentation by Grace Kerr and Kate Kelley
At first glance of this piece entitled “Jesus Taken Prisoner” by Duccio di Buoninsegna, I was pleased with the connection it appeared to have with the recent conversations we’ve been having in class about the betrayal, as well as our plan to read the gospel of Judas for our next class. Upon closer look, my first main question was about Jesus’ portrayal of apparel – it is not normal for Jesus to appear in a black robe. Even a dark colored robe (besides purple, referencing royalty) would be controversial in the time this piece was created.
Duccio di Buoninsegna created this image in 1308 A.D. in Siena, Italy. Duccio, however often commissioned to paint in multiple cathedrals across Italy, was fined and punished many times throughout his life for varied reasons. His violations included illegal political actions, refusing military service, and even one having to do with sorcery. Although unexplained, I think that Duccio’s possible involvement in sorcery may explain the black robe clothing Jesus in this piece. Placing the son of God in a color most often associated with death and evil would appear to many viewers as sacrilegious.
Duccio, from Siena himself, probably created this work on commission from the Roman Catholic Church, as most of his works were. In fact, Duccio is accredited for painting the High Altar of the Cathedral in Siena, and most of his works are collected there still, although the building is now called the Cathedral Museum. Duccio’s Italian heritage is reflected in the piece as all of the characters painted seem to be Caucasian, even though if portrayed accurately, they would be dark and of Jewish heritage.
This piece contains three main scenes. In the center, Judas is seen giving Jesus the kiss of betrayal. One might notice the three trees in the background; it is said that these three are supposed to be pointing directly towards the main scene. To the left, Peter is seen cutting off the ear of the priest’s servant. To the right of the piece, the rest of the disciples are seen fleeing the area.
The scene of Jesus being taken as prisoner is described with most detail in Matthew chapter 26. Visually, “Christ Taken Prisoner” is quite representative of the bible passage. Nothing from the story seems to be misrepresented or distorted any way. The only thing that differs slightly is the assumed intentions of the disciples that are on the right side of the piece. The rest of the twelve seem to be fleeing from the situation, although this idea was never directly presented within the gospels.
There are a few unanswered (and unanswerable, most likely) questions that presented themselves while I was examining “Christ Taken Prisoner.” I am intrigued by the use of halos within this piece. As in tradition, Jesus has a halo, as do many of the disciples. There are, however, a few disciples, including Peter on the right, who do not have halos. Why? Are they being presented as less holy? If so, why would Judas have one? Or is he not even painted in this piece at all? The use of the color orange also struck my interest, as did the clothes that Jesus was painted in. These questions may have plausible answers, or the explanations may have been lost in history.