Anthony van Dyck painted this subject three times (the other two are in Minneapolis and in Madrid). Here, the artist has placed Christ slightly off-centre, to the right, allowing Judas to have centre stage.
Judas approaches his master from the left and with his right hand clutches Christ’s right hand. The disciple gingerly leans towards Christ to deliver his kiss, while Christ tilts his head to the left to receive it. Christ and Judas stand still in contrast to the surrounding mob’s agitated commotion.
Despite being placed off-centre, Christ remains the first figure that captures the viewer’s eye: he is the only one visible in full, frontal view—a frontal view, typically reserved for the figure of Christ in the iconography of this scene—and has a red mantle wrapped around His left arm, a direct reference to the colour of blood, which he will shed for the salvation of the world. At the same time, Judas is but a yellow ‘mass’, seen from behind; only his wild hair and bushy beard are discernible.
The mob around them is closing in, waiting impatiently for the signal of the kiss to arrest Christ. Just behind Christ, two raised hands holding a piece of rope are visible with the implied intention of placing it around Christ’s neck. The crowd here is formed of people holding spears and lanterns. Neither soldiers nor the figure of Peter cutting off Malchus’s ear are present in this version—possibly because this is the smallest of the three versions of the subject Van Dyck painted (and thus, there was limited space). However, a closer look reveals a sheathed sword at the lower left corner, which could be a visual reference to either or both.
Van Dyck cleverly ‘spills’ the agitation of the gathering into the background: instead of a landscape the artist explores darkness and light, the black colour behind Christ reflecting the ‘darkness’ of the act unfolding before our eyes.
Gowing, Laurence. (ed.). 1995. A Bibliographical Dictionary of Artists (Windmill Books Andromeda International)
Russell, Peter. 2019. Anthony Van Dyck, Masters of Art (Hastings: Delphi Classics), (the Bristol ‘Betrayal’ is reproduced wrongly here, showing Christ to the left)
47 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him.” 49And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Hail, Master!” And he kissed him. 50Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here?” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. 51And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear. 52Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” 55At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. 56But all this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples forsook him and fled.
43 And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. 44Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him and lead him away under guard.” 45And when he came, he went up to him at once, and said, “Master!” And he kissed him. 46And they laid hands on him and seized him. 47But one of those who stood by drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. 48And Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? 49Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” 50And they all forsook him, and fled.
51 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they seized him, 52but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
47 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him; 48but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?” 49And when those who were about him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? 53When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
18When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas, procuring a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6When he said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7Again he asked them, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he; so, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9This was to fulfil the word which he had spoken, “Of those whom thou gavest me I lost not one.” 10Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. 11Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?”