Book of Hours of Louis of Orleans

Book of Hours of Louis of Orleans  f. 100r, Judas's kiss

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 f. 100r, Judas's kiss

It is possibly one of the best illustrations in the Book of Hours of Louis of Orleans, and shows the good use Jean Colombe made of what he learnt from the Limbourgs about depicting night time scenes, such as the ones they painted in the Très riches heures du duc de Berry (ff. 142r and 153r), and the one by Jean Colombe himself in a miniature in this manuscript (f. 157r). It represents an event that took place at night: the purple colour of the sky, against which trees and dark architectural forms stand out, and the scant light coming from the candles reflected on the bodies contribute to endow the scene with dramatic force. The main actors are slightly off centre towards the right - Christ, considerably larger in size than Judas, who gives Christ the kiss of peace typical in Italian art upon his lips. On the right hand side, the traitor holds the bag of coins for which he has sold his master. The other characters revolve around them: St Peter, on the left, vigorously raises his right arm holding the sword with which he is about to strike Malchus, depicted as a soldier standing behind Judas waiting to arrest Christ. Behind the Lord another apostle can be seen, recognisable as such only because of his halo. The rest is a mass of heads with torches and lances rising above them. Incidentally, except for the representation of St Peter and Malchus and a few unimportant details, the composition of this miniature is almost the same as La Vie de Nostre benoit Sauver Jesus Christ, La Sainte Vie de Nostre Dame, L’Exposition du Miserere mei Deus (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. fr. 992, f. 95v). The betrayal was one of the first scenes of the Passion to be depicted. The earliest extentextant examples date from the 4th century and from then on it never ceased to be portrayed throughout the Middle Ages. The betrayal and capture of Christ are often combined with Judas’s kiss the main motif - while the arrest is merely suggested. Judas’s kiss made its appearance in the reliefs on sarcophagi around the year 400, with a very simple model consisting of the two main characters in profile approaching each other with their faces almost touching while the traitor has his hand on the Lord’s shoulder. Few variations or additions were made to this basic archetype subsequently. In St Augustine’s Gospels, from around 600 (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, ms. 286, f. 125r), it is Christ who has his hand on Judas’s shoulder during the kiss. The guards with burning torches crowded on the slopes of the Mount of Olives is probably a reference to St John’s Gospel. In the 586 Rabula Gospels from Syria (Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, Cod. Plut. I, 56, f. 12r), Judas is much smaller in size than Our Lord due to hierarchic perspective and, much later, in the late 13th century, in accordance with the revelations made by St Bridget of Sweden, who received this information from the Virgin Mary herself: “When the traitor drew close, my son bent down towards him, because Judas was short in stature”. The two members of the guard move in the same direction as Christ, as though they were already holding him prisoner. This is a primitive formula that combines the betrayal and the arrest with few figures. In the Early Middle Ages, the Malchus scene, which could have been included as a separate episode, was added to the rest, as can be seen in St Augustine’s Gospels mentioned above and late Carolingian reliefs. In all these representations, Judas approaches Christ from the right. The ones in which he approaches from the left, as in the Book of Hours of Louis of Orléans, probably stem from a convention that originally depicted Judas’s kiss without Malchus being present. An eleventh-century Byzantine gospel book (Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, ms. 5, f. 90r) shows Malchus taking Christ prisoner and Christ walking towards the traitor who embraces him. Malchus catches him from behind, while Peter cuts off his ear without the Lord noticing. Giotto reflects all these aspects in one of the frescoes at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua. At the end of the Middle Ages, Judas’s kiss and the arrest of Our Lord are very seldom missing from Passion altars. In that period, this scene, like the rest of the Passion, was portrayed with increasing naturalism and the guard was depicted with an increasing number of contemporary soldiers with a great variety of weapons. Finally, it is worth mentioning the heraldic appearance of the border with cut branches forming lozenges upon an azure ground with a gold fleur-de-lis: an indication of the rank of the owner of this book of hours. The remaining triangles are filled with flowers or golden monsters. This endows the Book of Hours of Louis of Orléans with a rather political character, fleurs-de-lis were a sign of family and hereditary recognition in a society where abstract ideas could as yet only be successful when expressed in images. Gold and azure had been the colours of royalty since the early 12th century. The fleur-de-lis emblem, featured only on occasions at first, became firmly established around 1250, during the reign of Louis IX (1226-1270), in the heraldic form consisting of three petals and no pistils, a horizontal bar and the ends of the three petals extending below it. The coat of arms of France then assumed its definitive form, thickly charged with fleurs-de-lis. However, under the reign of Charles V the Wise (1364-1380), a shield with three fleurs-de-lis was preferred, although minor branches retained the full version until the mid 15th century.

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