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An Analysis of Giotto’s Masterpiece The Kiss of Judas and his Artistic Styles
A few days ago, I went to Metropolitan Museum of Art where I saw the copy of
Giotto’s Masterpiece The Kiss of Judas. The original manuscript was painted by the
famous Italian artist Giotto di Bondone in 1305, which was a fresco and oil painting
of 200×185 cm that was stored in a chapel in Padova (Derbes & Sandona, 1998). This
painting is regarded as one of the representative works of Giotto. The following
description will analyze the details of the artwork and the painting styles of Giotto in
his age.
An Analysis of the Concrete Details of the Artwork
The painting The Kiss of Judas was actually the extension of Leonardo da Vinci’s The
Last Supper, telling the story of what happened after the supper. After supper, Judas
came in with lots of armed soldiers, and gave Jesus “a kiss of death”, because there
was a secret signal between Judas and the captain beforehand — Jesus was the person
that Judas kissed, so that Jesus was easily caught by the soldiers (Edwards, 1982).
There was a moment that Judas, together with a team of soldiers, rushed in and Judas
gave Jesus the kiss, which was completely depicted by Giotto with his wonderful
painting skills. In the processing of characters, Giotto depicted Judas with a large and
bright golden cloak so that Judas could be extremely eye-catching in the complex
background. Judas raised his left hand to form a complex pattern in order to attract the
attention of the audiences. Giotto made the painting a success in the virtual level of
different characters in order to achieve a sense of the screen space (Petrarch, 1999).
Figure 1 The Kiss of Judas
The Subject of the Artwork
The work highlighted the hypocrisy of Judas, as well as the mercy of Jesus and the
indignation of the saints, which means that there was a distinct personality for
different characters. The painting was based on the Bible, showing the breathtaking
moment that the Roman soldiers arrested and executed Jesus, as well as Judas coming
to clasp and kiss Jesus to identify him (Stokes, 2013).
There were many characters in this artwork and the artist just only highlighted the
several front major characters through the perspective of treatment. The side-face of
Jesus resembled an ancient Roman statue and did not seriously denounce Judas. There
were sharp contrasts between the mercy, majesty, loftiness of Jesus and the fright,
hypocrisy of Judas, the indignation of the saints and the bustling soldiers (Renn,
2014). Although it is a religious painting, it still vividly showed the intertwined and
opposing good and evil in the world, expressing the pious religious faith and strong
sense of justice.
In terms of the composition of the painting, Giotto employed the shaky torch and
weapons to break the symmetrical composition in order to create a tense atmosphere
of the struggle. In terms of the use of color, the whole painting were full of heavy
colors, the upper dark blue and the lower brown formed a strong contrast, resulting in
a heavy sense of oppression. As for the performance of the theme, he showed the
struggle between darkness and light, justice and evil, noble and selfish (Szajnberg,
2013). Judas was an incarnation of dark, evil and ugly; while Jesus was just
awe-inspiring, full of the atmosphere of compassion and kindness, therefore, Jesus
was the symbol of benevolence and beauty. From the composition of the painting, we
can strongly feel Giotto’s stance that he expressed the sympathy for justice and hatred
for evil.
An Analysis of Giotto’s Styles
The characteristics of The Kiss of Judas are highly related to the area he lived in and
his unique composition styles. Giotto’s artistic achievements in painting are mainly
composed of the three important elements.
The first is about the ancient Roman sculpture art. The nation of ancient Roman is a
calm and pragmatic agricultural nation and their art has the characteristics of realism
and narrative, which is mainly reflected in the portrait sculpture (Berrie, Leona, &
McLaughlin, 2016). Most of the artworks at that time have distinct features about
realism. The artists not only pay attention to the realistic shape of the object, but also
pay attention to the psychological portrayal of characters. Secondly, Giotto’s painting
artworks has the elements of the Gothic sculpture art. Gothic is the Christian art in the
late Middle Ages, representing the peak of the development of medieval art, with the
most obvious artistic innovation that the sculpture began to show features of
humanization (Benelli & Giotto, 2012). Thirdly, Giotto was greatly influenced by the
Italian artist Cimabue who formed his unique artistic understandings on the basis of
inheriting the Byzantine style, which brought new space consciousness and sculpture
style to the Italian art field (Collard, 2015). It was of great value in the late Byzantine
area that it became the turning point from Byzantine painting to the Renaissance,
greatly influencing many artists including Giotto in the later ages.
Comments about the artist of The Kiss of Judas
In the Middle Ages, artists were strictly constrained by the Christian doctrines, and
they were only able to depict various religious figures and storylines in basically fixed
routines. They are in this atmosphere of ideological imprisonment, almost never
caring about the real life or even concerning about the inner feelings of the truth.
Giotto examined the religious subject matter with humanist spirit and led to a
revolution in the concept of painting. Giotto created the principle of centralized and
unified composition, which has laid a solid foundation for the development of the art
of painting (Lubow, 2015).
Giotto is an artist with ideals and achievements who dares to deny the traditional
customs and boldly loyal to reality. Although Giotto’s realistic technique was not yet
mature, this bold attempt itself revealed a valuable spirit. Giotto’s humanistic feeling
was a breakthrough of the fact that the medieval painting art lacked of vitality of the
stereotype and he created a lot of paintings with vivid religious themes. He thought
and proposed many suggestions in the painting practice, such as screen composition,
space level, color and shade, character expression and the relationship between man
and the environment, and so on, which were all major themes in techniques and
theories of realistic art. It is a better demonstration of Giotto’s splendid artistic
Benelli, F., & Giotto. (2012). The architecture in Giotto’s paintings. Cambridge
University Press.
Berrie, B. H., Leona, M., & McLaughlin, R. (2016). Unusual pigments found in a
painting by Giotto (c. 1266-1337) reveal diversity of materials used by
medieval artists. Heritage Science, 4(1), 1.
Collard, J. (2015). Images-within-Images in Italian Painting (1250–1350): Reality and
Reflexivity by Péter Bokody (review). Parergon, 32(2), 268-269.
Derbes, A., & Sandona, M. (1998). Barren metal and the fruitful womb: The program
of Giotto’s Arena Chapel in Padua. The Art Bulletin, 80(2), 274-291.
Edwards, M. D. (1982). A Possible Vitruvian Intrusion into the Painting of
Giotto. Source: Notes in the History of Art, 1(4), 6-8.
Lubow, R. E. (2015). Giotto’s applications of embodied perception: Lateral and
vertical dimensions of space. Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and
Cognition, 20(6), 642-657.
Petrarch, F. (1999). The Judas kiss of Giulio Andreotti: Italy in purgatorio. Paranoia
Within Reason: A Casebook on Conspiracy as Explanation, 6, 299.
Renn, M. (2014). Within Their Walls: LIFE Magazine’s “Illuminations”. Archives of
American Art Journal, 53(1/2), 30-51.
Stokes, J. C. (2013). Framing Pictures: film and the visual arts. Historical Journal of
Film, Radio and Television, 33(3), 516-518.
Szajnberg, N. M. (2013). Caravaggio Four Centuries Later Psychoanalytic Portraits of
Ambivalence and Ambiguity. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic
Association, 61(2), 311-332.

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