The Betrayal of Christ by Unknown Byzantine artist

Unknown Byzantine artist

The Betrayal of Christ, 1439–40, Mural, Church of the Archangel Michael, North Wall, Kamiliana (Kissamos), Chania, Crete, Photo: Angeliki Lymberopoulou

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Kiss and Tell

The Betrayal forms part of the iconographic cycle of the Life of Christ in the programmes of monumental Byzantine decoration. The present scene is located on the island of Crete, in the eastern Mediterranean, which at the time of its creation was under Venetian domination (1211–1669 CE), a rule which proved beneficial for the erection of Orthodox churches especially in its rural parts.

The two main protagonists, Christ and Judas, are placed in the centre of the scene. Judas approaches Christ from the left, his great haste visually communicated by the wide stride he takes to reach his master. He puts his right hand on Christ’s left shoulder and is about to kiss him. Christ tilts his head to the left, to facilitate its delivery. He is standing in the middle of the scene, holding a closed scroll in his left hand and is blessing with his right hand. Christ’s serenity reflects the fact that earlier in the garden of Gethsemane he accepted his imminent fate.

Judas and Christ are surrounded by soldiers, following the narrative of John (18:3) who mentions that the disciple was accompanied by Roman soldiers with weapons and lights against the dark. The artist has depicted the soldiers dressed in a contemporary Western armour, with which he would have been more familiar, and this has the added effect of bringing the scene into the artist’s present.

They all hold spears and the soldier standing first on the right carries a flaming torch. The soldier standing directly behind Christ, also to the right, places both his hands on Christ, which signifies His arrest (Matthew 26:50; Mark 14:46). At the lower right, Saint Peter has pinned Malchus—the High Priest’s servant—to the ground and has placed his knife on the servant’s ear, while the latter tries to prevent its inevitable cutting off with his left hand.

Despite its paramount importance in Christ’s life cycle, the scene exudes a ‘calmness’ further reflected in the muted brown tones of its palette. And just as calmness precedes a storm, this treacherous Betrayal is the introductory act to Christ’s forthcoming Passion.

 

References

Lymberopoulou, Angeliki. 2006. The Church of the Archangel Michael at Kavalariana: Art and Society on Fourteenth-Century Venetian-dominated Crete (London: Pindar Press), pp. 71–75


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