The Great Lamentation

1267–1337 • EARLY RENAISSANCE


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The Lamentation

1304–6 FRESCO

200 × 185 CM (78¾ × 73 IN)

CAPELLA SCROVEGNI (ARENA CHAPEL), PADUA, ITALY

In contrast with the flat, expressionless paintings of Byzantine art, Giotto created a more realistic style that made the biblical events seem more real to viewers. The diagonal rock focuses attention on the group of mourners. Christ’s body has been taken from the Cross and disciples cluster round in grief. Mary cradles her son on her lap; Mary Magdalene holds his feet; John the Baptist throws out his arms in anguish and mourners weep on the ground, while angels weep in the sky. In front of Christ’s body are two cloaked figures, their backs toward us—this draws viewers into the picture.

Giotto lived and worked in Florence during a period when religious subjects and styles had been laid down by centuries of tradition. As the first artist to depict human emotion, his influence set Western art on a path to the Renaissance. Other artists at this time copied their compositions and figures from earlier paintings, but Giotto moved away from the static, two-dimensional images of Byzantine and Gothic art.

 

One of Giotto’s innovations was the placing of characters in natural-looking locations that depicted the real world; he also replaced traditional gold backgrounds with blue skies. Another revolution was the introduction of secular life into religious themes. He also emphasized physical characteristics in his figures, portraying the shape and weight of bodies under heavy clothing using light and shadow.

 

 

Although, like other contemporary artists, he lacked specific knowledge of anatomy and perspective, his figures looked substantial and worldly, rather than decorative and symbolic. More than those of any other artist of his time, Giotto’s figures seemed alive, physically and emotionally, and because his methods told biblical stories in this new, humanist way, his works became a source of education, enlightenment and entertainment.

 

 

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