Lamentation by Giotto

Describe the Painting

This 7' 7" x 7' 9" fresco can be seen in the Arena Chapel in Padua.  It was created by Giotto and dated 1305-1306.  The work depicts the Lamentation or Mourning of Christ.  In the foreground of the work the viewer finds five figures surrounded the dead body of Christ.  The body of Christ is held by three of the figures-three women that wear halos and biblical costumes.  The body of Christ does not touch the ground but is gently held by the three women.  There are two other figures with their backs turned toward the viewer.  We can not see into their faces and do not know if they are male or female.  The female figure at the far end of the Christ figure appears to have the attributes of Mary Magdalene-that is, red hair and touching the feet of Christ.  The young woman who cradles the head of Christ is most likely Mary.  In the middle ground of the painting, the viewer finds 5 figures.  At the center of this group is a young man who bears the iconographic symbols of St. John.  His hair is cut short, into a pageboy, he has a halo similar to the 3 women in the foreground who hold the body of Christ, and his is clean shaven, giving a very youthful appearance.  His arms are outstretched and he bends slightly toward the body of Christ.  He has a look of deep sorrow.  Behind him to our right two men are standing looking very calmly at the scene.  They are disciples who also wear golden halos.  In this middle ground area there are also a group of mourners (a crowd) to our left.  Just behind the middle ground there is a sharp mountain ridge that divides the composition.  Just behind the mountain ridge is a tree and vast sky with 11 angels.  The angels are in various states of emotion.   

Formal Analysis-Discuss Line, Texture, Space, Color, and Shape

The mood of the painting is that of extreme sadness.  The jagged strong diagonal line of the mountain ridge leads us down to the Christ figure who is surrounded by an implied circular shape created by the heads of the 3 female mourners and 2 anonymous figures in the foreground.  Spatially the viewer looks on and enters the painting through the center (we are the figure in green).  In western art we read objects that are low on the compositional plane as closer to us and objects that are high on the compositional plane such as the angels as farther away.  The artist has used foreshortening to create the angels, thereby creating a sense of deep space. 

The colors the artist uses are pastel and are complementary in nature.  This creates a sense of movement within the pictorial plane.  The textures of the clothing appear soft, and smooth against the contrasting rough bumpy rock surfaces surrounding them. 

Interpretation-What Does the Painting Say to You

Giotto has opened a door into a new style that will be know as Early Renaissance painting.  He creates a world that is voluminous, 3-dimensional, and symbolic.  The figures in the foreground are clearly human.  His understanding and appreciation of human form is expressed through free flowing clothing that reveal volumesque bodies.  There is a clear distinction between the human forms and the angelic and saintly counterparts.  He is revealing his skill as an artist, an artist that wants to be remembered for his work.  The angelic hosts are individuals, each conveying their sense of grief in the tragedy that they see but are not physically a part of.  Heaven and earth are joined in the mourning of the Savior but separated spiritually.  A wall defines heavenly from earthly.  The body of Christ is elevated, protected from the earth.  The tree of knowledge stands firmly as a symbol of original sin.  The disciples look on calmly, with a peace that goes beyond any human understanding.  This frescoe served as a palette for Giotto to express the new views of painting, and as a religious symbol.  The Arena Chapel would host the events of the Life of Christ-Birth, Death and Resurrection through painted frescoes.

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