Giotto’s Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

January 29th 2022

“The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple”, (top) and “The Betrayal of Judas” (below),  Giotto, c. 1303 -5, Scrovegni  Chapel, Padua. 

In the Scrovegni Chapel scenes from the lives of Jesus and Mary are arranged in chronological order in three horizontal rows, moving from the left to the right.  The narrative within each scene usually unfolds from the left to the right also. However, in these two scenes, which are positioned one above the other, the main movement is from right to left.  It is as if he wants us to stop and take notice. Below, Judas approaches Jesus from the right and almost completely covers him with his cloak.   In the scene of the Presentation above Mary has handed the child Jesus to Simeon.  However, the child seems afraid of this stranger and reaches back towards his mother.  By including this very natural reaction of a child, Giotto is emphasising the humanity of Jesus, but also by the placing the scene of the kiss of Judas directly below, Giotto, wants us to see how the Passion is prefigured in the Presentation.  In the scene of the Presentation the old woman Anna stands on the right, dressed like an ancient sybil and holding a scroll of prophecy. She points us back to the centre as does a bearded man in the scene below.   Above both the angel concurs.  As in other scenes in the Chapel,  the Temple is shown just as an altar with a canopy over it, fashioned in the contemporary style of the Cosmati.  By angling the canopy and letting it catch the light, Giotto gives the scene credible depth but also draws our attention to the altar as the place of sacrifice and so to the Passion, now beginning to unfold in the scenes below.  In both scenes Christ is handed over.  Above his mother has handed him over to Simeon with open arms.  Below Judas, whose arms seem to embrace, but actually engulf Jesus, hands him over to death.  Giotto’s simple addition of the child’s very natural reaction of fear points us to the way the grown man will allow the kiss of Judas and embrace his sacrifice.  


Giotto’s Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

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The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.

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