Giotto di Bondone
Chapel Scrovegni was built in the fourteenth century. A famous family funded its building. The family used to make living from money lending. The head of the family, Scrovegni, was known to have no mercy. After his death, his son asked the church for a chance to change the family’s reputation.
He then took over an old Roman site, which had been being used for theaters till then. Using Giotto di Bondone, a painter and an architect, he raised a chapel in the memory of his father.
Giotto has built the church with a unique feature. It was designed to have the sunrays traveling like a flashlight from one picture to another, as to tell the story of the pictures. Except from telling the story of a gospel, the pictures included symbolic meaning. The light rays directions were as if a “God’s permission” was given to the divine stories.
Unlike the four conventional gospels, Giotto chose to tell the gospel of James. James is telling the story of Jesus’ origins.
As for the gospel’s narrative, the father had infertility problems. It is mainly divine intervention that allowed the continuation of the holy family. Passing this fiction in the narrative was extremely important in pushing the Jewish origins outside. The divine intervention was a way of denying Christ connection to the Jewish people.
Joachim is Expelled from the Temple
Joachim, Jesus’ grandfather, suffered from infertility problems. To cure his problem, he went with his wife to the temple with a lamb to sacrifice.
In the picture, we see the Lieutenant priest expelling Joachim while the higher priest is “taking care” of his wife. Helping a couple to give birth was considered a very good deed. This is the pumping heart of James story – the Jewish father is absolutely out of the divine birth.
Not only Joachim did not find help in the temple, but was expelled for being handicapped. Consulting his peers, he was then convinced to use shepherds for an alternative help.
What I think to be a fabulous feature in Giotto’s picture is their personal anecdote. Giotto does not only deliver the stories as they are, but keep giving us his hilarious aspect. This adding of personal interpretation intensifies the tragedy.
We can say Giotto uses the humor to break the distance embracing the divine stories, making them a lot closer to the human level. It is quite riling to see the lieutenant priest expelling Joachim while the High priest is dealing with his wife. You can see Joachim is upset, maybe even oppressed. Joachim is expelled vigorously although all he wanted was to get honest help from God through his authorized representatives.
Joachim Witnesses God:
To solve his infertility problem, Joachim found an alternative help. He reaches a farm and asks the shepherds for the “maximal charity” – impregnating his wife.
When he comes to do so, he lacks the comfort to request that from the shepherds. They do not understand him and think him to be a maniac. I believe he is not only uncomfortable with what he came for, but also experiences some spiritual moment.
The interesting narrative here is the divine permission he receives for his success. First, you can notice the hidden divine epiphany: Joachim witnesses unknown signs in the shadows. These hidden signs make the shepherds considers him a maniac. In these shadows, God is revealing himself to assure Joachim his wife will give birth.
Another evidence for the hidden epiphany is the dog, which is looking straight into the shadows hidden secrets.
Only the dog and Joachim can see these hidden figures. The shadows whom they see are getting stronger as you go left and behind Joachim. I believe this distribution of the shadows is Giotto’s way of portraying the narrative of James gospel. The part of the rock behind Joachim symbolizes his Jewish origins, while the light and sanity on the right represents his future.
This ain’t the first time Giotto uses nature to portray a story. Nature is part of the picture for him.
The Burning of the Woman:
In this picture, we see Joachim has just burned a woman and the lord’s hand upraises her soul.
This sort of ritual is not acceptable in Christianity nor Judaism. The picture portrays an absurd command – God demands of Joachim to burn a human being for his request’s acceptance.
Perhaps the animals in the button of the picture are an allusion to the binding of Isaacs. This allusion does not call us to compare, but to contrast the two situations. Unlike the binding, in this ritual the lord does not stop Joachim from sacrificing the woman. This comparison intensifies the situation, bringing up the familiar emotions of the biblical story.
You can see that nature is again taking part of the picture. The slope near joachim is deteriorating very fast, as cluing for the moral deterioration.
You may take a look at the picture former to this, when Joachim first witnesses this divine command:
You can see that the animals and the shepherds does not notice the angel, but rather the shadows on the mountain. These divine shadows is a way of symbolizing that Jesus’ birth is about to accompany a terrible sacrifice. The story behind these pictures was taken off of the Holy Scriptures.
Let’s get back to the main picture:
Inside the square there are two faces –
God commands Joachim not to have other gods before him. Nevertheless, you can see that Joachim does not notice the lord’s hand as it reveals itself. Instead, Joachim is concentrated in the smoke – which reveals to him the wrong gods.
Major Depressive Joachim:
Instead of being enthusiastic about the birth of the new boy, Joachim surprises us and falls into a major depression.
Behind Mary, you can see the divine shadows again. The Lord is happy with Jesus’s birth, and somehow attends there. Nevertheless, the event is much more humanized than former pictures of Jesus’ birth.
These divine shadows are again distracting the witnesses from the angels above. The angels above are moving in line, all in the same direction. The two witnesses on the right may be peeing, what seems to distract the angel on the right. This hidden secret in the picture symbolizes some sort of repulse that accompanies Jesus’ birth. It is as if Giotto claims that this divine plan was not perfect after all.
Another interesting character is the billy goat. Out of all animal, he is the only one who does not find this birth to bee worth watching. Instead, he searches for a better show, and maybe watches the guys peeing. Giotto implies again of Christ’s imperfection. We always think of Christ as someone who came make people repent their sins. In the picture, even in his birth there were some who wished going on with their former business.
According to the catholic belief, the post death time starts with a trial. People’s souls are gathered together in the sky. The people whom were found corrupted are brought to hell, while the righteous are permitted to heaven.
In the picture “Universal Judgment”, it may look as if Giotto is only describing the catholic theme. Nevertheless, he manages to leave an opposing message!
If you look at the upper corners of the pictures, you’ll find two angels whom have been out of the bathroom just after urinating there. The flood is so vast, as the urine reaches their knees. I believe it to be an anecdote which bravely expresses Giotto’s opinion.
Expulsion of the Merchants from the Temple
The picture describes cleansing of the temple narrative. You can see Jesus expelling the money changers of the temple, as he accused them for making the temple into a den of thieves by their busniess. If you take a closer look, you’ll see non-Kosher animals on the temple’s yard. Having these animals entering the temple was unacceptable from Jesus perspective.
Focusing on the kid at the left corner, you may find him running into his father’s genital. This is Giotto’s way of implying that using force may clean the city of the religious sins, but is likely to cause a lot worse crimes.