Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Christ Taken Prisoner

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.

1 comment:

  1. 1) Orange ... that is probably a faded red or a red that just isn't a bright red in our day. Check out the "tomato soup" reds of Paul Uccello nearly a century later.

    2) Black ... black is not normal for this scene. But it could be as it signals the impending death of the Christ. But there could be three more reasons it appears black: A) Like the red above it could be an aged color. Remember, 800 years have elapsed. Certain yellows pigments from our recent past (Strontium Yellow) and from this late medieval period also turn black over time. Poland's "Black Madonna comes to mind. B) Black and white were the official colors of the city of Siena ... and could have been used in that way. C) Have you researched who the the patron is who paid for the this panel of Maesta? If the color really was black could it have had significance for the patron.