Bible moralisée of Naples

Bible moralisée of Naples f. 168r: Judas' Kiss (Matt. 26, 47-52)


f. 168r: Judas' Kiss (Matt. 26, 47-52)

“This is the story: How Judas Iscariot betrayed Our Lord by kissing him as the sign he had given the Jews. And how Our Lord was then seized by these Jews. And how Saint Peter cut off the ear of the highest priest of the Jews. Thus says Saint Matthew in his Gospel in the twenty-sixth chapter.”

The next part of the illustration of Christ’s last days is based on the account of his arrest by Matthew. Jesus and his apostles are suddenly surrounded by an armed group. The text mentions swords and staffs but painter A preferred to portray the long, pointed iron pikes with handles often used by medieval infantry. They appear along the horizon in the background like a jagged row with vertical slots through which the curves of a mountain can be seen. The decor is completed by burning flares and lanterns which situate the episode at dusk. The different sorts of helmets are typical of fourteenth-century, Italian military equipment. The Jews (high priests, scribes and elders of the people) have dispatched to the garden a special squad of temple guards depicted by the illuminator as soldiers from the 1350s.
A long sword grasped by an iron gauntlet forms an aggressive diagonal over the crowd, whilst a man in armour places one hand on Jesus’s head and shakes his other fist at him. The Lord shares the centre of the composition with Judas who is shown behind with his right arm around Christ and about to kiss him. The way Judas Iscariot approaches Christ from behind reflects his treachery well but because Jesus is busy rebuking Peter who just cut Malchus’s ear off with the words, “Put up again thy sword into its place: for all that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matt. 26: 52), the scene is not as powerful as the face-to-face encounter in Giotto’s painting in the Arena chapel. Only John the evangelist mentions the first apostle’s attack on the high priest’s servant. It does not appear in the synoptic Gospels although the scene is portrayed in Christian iconography. Christ does not, however, want to be defended by force for “Now all this was done that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Matt. 26: 56). A bearded individual’s finger points Jesus out to a young man wearing a helmet who grabs him by his cloak. The accuser appears in the fresco in Padua, which shows the high priest himself to be in charge of the operation. The soldier sitting on the edge of the frame in the lower right corner of the image seems to contemplate the scene. This contemporary of the scene, and also of the beholder at the time the manuscript was made judging by his Gothic soldier garb, provides a link between the moment of reading and the arrest, thereby updating the religious contemplation of the scene.
The painting is distressed. The decorative border around the miniature has flaked off in parts and the rusted silver on the spears has stained the gold leaf.

Yves Christe
University of Geneva
Marianne Besseyre
Illuminated Manuscripts Research Center, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Fragment of the Bible moralisée of Naples commentary volume

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