If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Giotto, Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel (part 3)

Part 3: The Lamentation from Giotto's Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel, Padua, c. 1305 Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris, Steven Zucker, and Smarthistory.

Want to join the conversation?

  • mr pants teal style avatar for user Wiebke Janßen
    Can someone explain to me the parallel between Jonah swallowed by the whale and Jesus crucifixion?
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • leaf green style avatar for user juufa72
    If the blues were derived from the expensive lapis lazuli, what stone / plant did artists use to get the greens of the figure whose back is turned to us and the figure on the far right?
    (5 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user Michel Rondeau
    Why does christian iconography always so sad? Nobody is ever smiling or laughing (a sin, according to the name of the Rose) in all of these paintings. And it seems that this is a tradition throughout the whole europeen art history (medieval Renaissance, Baroqur, etc..). And it is certainly not because there is no place for Positive emotions in the chridtian mysteries. It is like the focus as always been more on the death of Christ than on the joy and hope of his/our resurrection. Why?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • piceratops tree style avatar for user Arthur Smith
      In the early renaissance emotions were expressed through the poses of the figures - their arms, etc. Donatello and Da Vinci were two of the first to focus on realistic facial expressions. Look at the faces of Raphael's Mary and Child. You'll find a perfect representation of joy.
      (7 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Jon Dough
    At about how do we know we're not reading into what the tree symbolizes? If it even symbolizes anything. Before I heard the comment I was thinking Giotto added it there to take up space and because it looks cool or right. I kept straing at it and it now looks too big for being on a far off mountain. If It's almost Easter wouldn't it be Spring, but still, the leaves wouldn't necessarily be sprouting yet... At , In the next scene you'd think the trees (if that's what they are in the background) would be full of leaves.
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leafers seed style avatar for user kitty06mom
      That is a good question for which I don't believe there is a definitive answer. Symbolism in art is very important. Then as now. It conveys meaning in a non verbal way. When Dr. Zucker mentions the tree he is interpreting what he believes the tree is meant to symbolize by the artist. Sometimes artists leave notes or journals talking about the creation of their artworks and so we can sometimes be more certain. I do not know if Giotto would have done that. If he did then he may have indicated why he painted the tree.
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user cag25426
    You can either say "giant fish" or "whale", but they are not the same thing.
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user Marcos Bardagi
    I've seen a lot of signs evidencing that Giotto mastered at least some aspects of perspective (e.g., figures in the front are bigger, the three seems to be smaller due to distance, the diagonal created)...So, question is how much can we attribute to the Renascence in terms of the dramatic change in respect to linear perspective?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • aqualine tree style avatar for user SavannahRW01
    Why is Mary Magdalene typically depicted with red hair ()? Also, why is she traditionally associated with the sinful woman that anointed Jesus's feet in Luke 7? Biblically, Magdalene's only described as someone who was once possessed by seven devils--the sinful woman is unnamed.
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • blobby green style avatar for user drszucker
      From the author:Legends and traditions surrounding many aspects of the Bible have developed over the years for many reasons. Sometimes the original motivation for an extra-Biblical story is lost yet we have become accustomed to it and have come to expect it. The late Medieval text, The Golden Legend is an example of people wanting to fill in details that are left out of the Bible itself and may provide at least part of the answer you seek about Mary Magdalene.
      (2 votes)
  • leaf blue style avatar for user Jesse
    Could jesus' placement ( on the left in the first and on the right in the second) be a metaphor for the sun rising in the east and setting in the west for life and death?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • mr pink red style avatar for user GeocachingGolly
    about 45 seconds in way is the robe of Mary faded?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • blobby green style avatar for user Chema Gala
    It is noticeable that there is a clear evolution from the abstraction, representing the divine, to a much more realistic and humanistic portrayals in Giotto’s work. If real representations were forbidden and only mere icons or symbolic depictions were allowed at that time. How did the establishment (mostly the church) react to these changes?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

Video transcript

(jazzy piano music) - [Steven] One of the most powerful scenes in the chapel is The Lamentation. Christ has been crucified, he's been taken down off the cross and he's now being mourned by his mother, by his followers. - [Beth] And that word that we use for this scene, lamentation, comes from the word to lament, to grieve. - [Steven] This is one of the saddest images I've ever seen. We have Mary holding her dead son and it reminds us of a scene that's across the wall of the Nativity, where there is this tenderness and this relationship between Mary and her infant son. And now we see Mary again holding her adult, now dead son. - [Beth] On her lap, the way she does as a mother, when he's a child. Look at how she's raised her right knee to prop him up. Look at how she bends forward. - [Steven] And twists her body. - [Beth] And puts her arms around him, one hand on his shoulder, another on his chest. She leans forward as if to plead with him to wake up, as if in disbelief that this could have happened. - [Steven] The idea of representing Christ as dead is a modern idea, putting emphasis on Christ as physical, as human. At Christ's feet we see Mary Magdalene with her typical read hair, who is attending to his feet and there's a real sense of tenderness there. Giotto is so interested in naturalism that he's willing to show two figures where we only see the backs. We would never have seen this in the Medieval period. - [Beth] And that's because those figures provide no information to the narrative. All that they do is frame Christ and Mary. They draw our eye to those most important figures. - [Steven] We look at Christ and Mary, as they're looking at Christ and Mary. - [Beth] They also help to create an illusion of space. It's amazing to me how close they are to us. Their bottoms almost move out into our space. Giotto makes it clear that these figures are looking in, and therefore there's space here for the human figures to occupy. - [Steven] But there are other than human figures here, as well. There are angels. But these angels are not detached figures. They mourn as we mourn. They rend their clothing, they tear at themselves, they pull their hair. They are in agony. - [Beth] And they're foreshortened, so like the figures with their backs to us, they assist in Giotto's creating an illusion of space. And like the angels above them, the human figures display their grief in different ways. Some are sad and resigned and keep to themselves. Other figures throw their arms out. There's a real interest in individuality in the different ways that people experience emotion. The feet of the figure on the far right, that sense of gravity and weight of a figure really standing on the ground, just like the figures who are sitting. Not the Medieval floating figures that we've come to expect. We're struck by the simplicity of the composition. Giotto's placing all of this emphasis on the figures. He simplified the background. But unlike a Medieval image where we might expect to see the most important figure, Christ, in the center, Giotto's moved him off to the left. The landscape is in service of drawing our eye down toward Christ. That rocky hill that forms the landscape, that moves our eye down to Mary and Christ. - [Steven] And at the top, there's a tree. And the tree might look dead, but of course, it might also be winter. And that tree might grow leaves again in the spring, and it is an analogy to Christ and his eventual resurrection. That ground is used for several purposes. To root those figures, but also to allow us to move out of the picture. As we move from The Lamentation, we move to the next image, which is the scene where Christ says do not touch me, when Mary Magdalene recognizes him as he has been resurrected. And you'll notice that Giotto has continued that mountain. Our eye then moves down, and so there is this visual relationship that is drawn between Christ's death, Christ's mourning, and Christ's resurrection by the landscape that frames them. In the trompe l'oeil depictions of inset stone, there is another painted scene in the little quatrefoil. - [Beth] Throughout the chapel we see this. An Old Testament scene paired with the New Testament, specifically Old Testament scenes that in some way prefigured the life of Christ. And here we see Jonah. - [Steven] Jonah is swallowed by this giant fish, by this whale, prays for forgiveness, having betrayed God and is delivered from this fish. It is a perfect Old Testament analogy to the New Testament story of Christ's crucifixion and ultimate resurrection. It's a tour de force of emotion. It's such an expression of this late Medieval period that is moving towards what we will eventually call the Renaissance. (jazzy piano music)