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Giotto’s Christ Entering Jerusalem
Giotto’s Christ Entering Jerusalem demonstrates an accurate portrayal of the biblical parable. It must be said that Giotto was one of many artists of his time to paint these biblical parables to function in such a way that its observers would comprehend the story completely at a glance as most could not read. To understand this fresco it is important to have a good understanding of the story. Mathew 21:1-11 gives one Gospel account that will be used for reference in this paper. Indeed, Giotto makes an impeccable transition from this parable and its meaning to the actual fresco. Giotto transformed a complex story into a simple, clear image, creating a coherent piece and a coherent connection to the story. In fact, to make the image even more precise Giotto painted the fresco with regard to its observers, creating a relationship in which they feel a part of the action. Furthermore, Giotto painted the forms in the foreground, drawing the eye to a specific scene.
From the left, a mass of disciples, or apostles, stands behind Jesus, looking stoic and grave. They are dressed in light and dark rose-colored robes, which fall with perfect folds, adding to the sculptural, three-dimensional quality of the disciples. Each disciple is topped with a halo, representing purity and faith in God. A cult peers through two of the disciples, brushing up against Christ’s cloak, bringing the eye to the main attraction of the painting: Jesus perched on a donkey. He sits gracefully, with a sanguine presence, hand raised, greeting the people of Jerusalem. Here, Giotto was able to capture a moment frozen in time, as seen in Christ’s active, yet stoic state. Christ wears rose- colored robes, detailed in gold. He also wears a lighter-colored cloth tied at his waist. The over-sized donkey, upon which Jesus sits, seems gleeful as he walks into Jerusalem, with a divine being on his back. The donkey’s legs suggest movement as one knee is bent, with one leg raised while the other stays heavily on the ground. Jesus and the donkey are centered in the picture, connecting the disciples before them and the people of Jerusalem in a straightforward and obvious manner.
Jesus greets the people and the city as the “Messiah” and an example of pure humility. The disciples, who follow behind Jesus, dramatize this notion as they exclaim, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” According to the parable, the entrance of Jesus stirs the people of Jerusalem and the crowds shout, “Who is this?” The disciples respond, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.” Giotto paints an accurate picture of this exchange between the three parties: the apostles, Jesus and the donkey, and the people of Jerusalem. It is evident that the people on the right side are much more expressive than the apostles are in terms of stance and facial expression. Some children kneel, spreading garments on the road, some gesture with their arms held high, one child covers her head with a sheet, and a few adults stand still, staring in awe at Jesus. The facial expressions imply that they did not know who this man was entering their city—some people appear shocked, some appear in awe, and some appear fearful.
Although there is much action in the foreground of this fresco, there is a clear picture of what is going on. Giotto planned his idea almost like a list: first, the disciples; then Jesus and the donkey; then the people of Jerusalem. His blueprint is simple and to the point; therefore, it does not muddle with the story itself. It seems as though Giotto does not stray from the story at all; in fact, we only get a taste of the architecture, as it is pushed all the way to the right of the painting. This was done purposefully to illuminate the characters and lessen the importance of the gate to the city, as it is not a significant element of the story. In addition to the architecture, the rest of the background is made obscure as well.
Giotto paints two children swinging from respective trees, which are most likely olive branches, symbolizing peace, which, perhaps, enhances that fact that Jesus Christ comes in peace. The children are dressed in matching white dresses symbolizing purity; the similarities of their bodies and faces are daunting; the gender of the two children is unclear, suggesting an angelic quality. In fact, both children surround Jesus, possibly foreshadowing his imminent death. An additional possibility is that the left angel, who climbs the branches, has a goal in mind, symbolizing Jesus’ nature to strive for salvation, while the right angel greets Jesus calmly, with open arms, possibly welcoming him to the foreseeable heavens. Underneath the feet of the right “angel” appears a dirty, gray cloud of smoke. This cloud adds to the intensity and eerie air of the painting; it disrupts the image, straying from its clear-cut surroundings. This blob makes the viewer aware of the hardship that comes with Jesus’ entrance to Jerusalem, for this is the place that he will be murdered. The power that comes with this splotch of gray paint is impressive; Giotto is truly a genius.
Christ Entering Jerusalem is a poignant piece, which captures a comprehensive story all on a deep-blue backdrop, possibly lapis lazuli. Giotto proves his impeccable talent through this fresco, due to his skill of simplifying and abstracting images to correspond to a complicated parable. Giotto was able to stress the important figures and abridge the background without compromising any aspect of the story. Because the fresco was painted with regard to its audience, it is an interactive piece, making the observer feel part of the painting.