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Painting

a page from Les Tres Riches HeuresThe Duke of Berry was a great comissioner of illuminated manuscripts, the most important of them being the Tres Riches Heures. It is a book of hours, meaning that it was a book people would use as a daily aid to prayer. It took almost a century to complete and was painted by the Limbourg brothers, Barthelemy van Eyck and Jean Colombe. Many books of hours survive from this period, but it is the most important. In its 416 pages, it includes 131 large paintings and very beautifully crafted text. From a historical viewpoint, it is an important resource for those interested in life of this time. Since it wasn't comissioned by the church, the illustrations are not of Saints and Jesus, they are of everyday life in the Middle Ages. Scenes of the rich such as banquets, hunts, hawking and marriage are shown. Equally important are the scenes of the poor. They are shown shearing sheep, harvesting, warming themselves in front of the fire and feeding animals. Peasants were, for obvious reasons, not usually the prime subject of artwork so this is a rare peek into what their lives would have been like.

 

 

 

 

The Lamentation
The Lamentation
Giotto di Bondone
fresco
200 x 185 cm
1304-06, Late Middle Ages
Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

Subject: The Lamentation, or mourning over the dead Christ is a very common theme of Christian art. It is the fifteenth stage of the Passion of Christ, so the Lamentation is usually presented along with the other parts of the Passion or even the entire Life of Christ. Usually Mary is given a special place and is often holding Jesus. Usually, people who were crucified were further humiliated by being left to rot and be eaten on the cross. However, according to the Bible, Jesus was taken down in order to be respectfully buried. The lamentation is the time just after he is taken down where everyone now sees that he truely is dead and they all grieve. This is one of the most emotional themes in Christian art as Jesus is show lifeless and we have to watch his family, friends, and supporters at their weakest moment. Mary, Joseph, Apostles, Angels and the people who fund the art are generally all shown, or alternately just Mary and Jesus are shown.

Artist's Work: In this piece, Giotto chooses to fill the scene with people. However, unlike earlier work, it is not a meaningless jumble. Each character has meaning and purpose. Mary, in blue, cradles Jesus, Mary Magdelane is at His feet, and various other apostles such as John gather around in great sorrow. Angels fill the sky, each in different stages of grief: some pull hair, some scream, some weep. Though the faces are not completely realistic yet, they are still each different and extremely expressive. One lone dead tree tops a cliff which sweeps our eyes straight down to Mary cradling Jesus. Dispite being crucified, the wounds of Christ are not emphasized but it is very clear that he is dead.

Reaction: I think my reaction to this piece is typical, and likely what Giotto intended. I feel immediate sadness. Faces range from anger, to shock, to disbelief, to desperation, to sadness and when I look at them I feel like I take on a small amount of this emotion as well. The relationship between Mary and her son looks real, and this portrayal of the greatest of all tragedies feels sincere to me. Everyone's coordinated looks and the landscape make it difficult to look away from mother and child, but when I do I notice that the angels, though not entirely realistic, do look like they have some 3-dimensionality to them. I would very much like to see the rest of the frescoes depicting the entire Passion of the Christ as painted by Giotto.