The main scene on f. 4v shows Christ’s arrest. The Lord serenely receives a kiss and embrace from Judas, shown smaller than Jesus, with red hair and a vermilion tunic, whilst the soldiers, armed with lances, pikes and a rope to tie him up with, prepare to arrest him. One seizes a lock of the Saviour’s hair whilst a man carrying a pitchfork illuminates the scene with a torch. In the foreground, St Peter with a nimbus is about to cut Malchus’s ear off with a large sword or cutlass. Malchus kneels on the floor holding a lit lamp in his hand.
The betrayal was one of the first scenes of the Passion to be portrayed. It appeared in the 4th century never to disappear from medieval cycles. It often features together with the Arrest, in which case the kiss of Judas is the main motif and Christ’s arrest is merely suggested. On other occasions, both scenes are represented separately. The formula of the kiss of Judas varied little from the fourth century. The Gospels of St Augustine, written in Italy circa 600 (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, Ms. 286, f. 125r), depict the guard with torches clustered on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. One of the illustrations in the Syriac Gospels of Rabula dated 586 (Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, Cod. Plut. I, 56, f. 12r), began to depict Judas as being shorter than Christ, and the guard wearing short tunics as in western images moving in the same direction as Christ as if they had taken him prisoner. This is, therefore, one of the earliest formulae to combine the betrayal with the arrest. The Stuttgart Psalter, dated circa 820-830 in Saint-Germain-des-Prés (Stuttgart, Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Cod. 23, f. 8r), depicts the embrace that was to be so important in the future iconographic evolution of this scene. It no longer shows the Lord in profile but walking forwards with his head turned slightly towards Judas who approaches from the front, as in the Golf Book. This suggests, therefore, another ancient pictorial tradition of eastern origin, whose earliest extant forerunner is to be found in one of the Sant’Apollinare Nuovo mosaics in Ravenna, dating from the early 6th century. This mosaic depicts Christ facing forwards and alludes to St Peter attacking Malchus (Luke 22: 51) by the sword being sheathed by the apostle, a reference which was to appear subsequently in the Gospels of St Augustine in order to highlight the Lord’s humility by showing him opposing St Peter’s instinctive reaction. In the High Middle Ages he came to form part of the combined scene of the betrayal and arrest of Christ who looks at St Peter and stretches his hand out to stop the apostle. By the late Middle Ages, this scene showed an increasingly large guard consisting of soldiers in the garb of that period bearing different sorts of weapons. The arrest was usually depicted in a dynamic, violent manner. In the Golf Book, however, this violence is suggested by the rope, the weapons and the action of the soldier seizing the Lord’s hair. In this instance, Simon Bening may have based his work on an earlier image and combined it with the one showing St Peter violently attacking Malchus in the foreground. The figure of the soldier seizing the Lord by the hair alludes to the forthcoming torture which, according to late medieval literature on the Passion, consisted of throwing him to the ground and violently tearing out his beard and his hair, along with his scalp, as depicted, furthermore, in many miniatures such as one in a Rhine prayer book (Hanover, Kestner-Museum) and another in an early-sixteenth-century Meditaciones dominicas manuscript from Poland (Cracow, Carmelite Convent, MS. 287). It is also to be found in an engraving of Christ’s Passion by Martin Schongauer, circa 1480.
The painting in the bottom border portrays Judas giving back the thirty coins he received for betraying his Master. The scene is set inside the Sanhedrin and a highly stylised, conventional landscape can be seen through an open door. On the far left are two priests in conversation, one of whom points at the traitor. In the centre are three more and, on the far right, Judas dressed in yellow (the colour of the evil and the jealous and, in the framework of ecclesiastical anti-Semitism, the Jews) places the bag of money on the table of the high priest, who gestures eloquently at him. This iconographic subject had appeared since the early 6th century as can be seen in the Sant’Apollinare Nuovo mosaic in Ravenna. The image in the Codex Purpureus Rossanensis, made in Constantinople or Antioch in the third quarter of the 6th century (Rossano, Museo dell’Arcivescovado, Ms. 50, f. 8r) shows the priest already seated refusing to accept the coins being returned to him by Judas standing before him. This subject is, however, usually accompanied by Judas’s suicide, it being rare in the Middle Ages to see just the coins being returned.
Carlos Miranda García-Tejedor
Doctor in History