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.
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
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?”