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Video transcript
(piano playing) Narrator: One of the most powerful scenes in the chapel is The Lamentation. Christ has been crucified, has been taken down off the cross, and he's now being mourned by his mother, by his followers. Female: And that word that we use for this scene lamentation, comes from the word to lament, to grieve. Narrator: 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 is 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. Female: On her lap, the way she does as a mother when he's a child. Narrator: The idea of representing Christ as dead is a modern idea. Putting emphasis on Christ as physical, as human. Female: I think we're struck by the simplicity of the composition. Giotto is placing all of this emphasis on the figures. He's simplified the background, but where we might expect to see, the most important figure, Christ, in the center Giotto has moved him off to the left. The landscape is in service of drawing our eye down toward Christ, that rocky hill that forms a landscape that moves our eye down to Mary and Christ. Narrator: 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. Female: It's not just that the dead Christ is on his mother's lap. Look at how she's raised her right knee to prop him up. Look at how she bends forward with ... Narrator: And twists her body. Female: 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. Narrator: At Christ's feet we see Mary Magdalene with her typical red hair, who is attending to his feet and, of course, that's appropriate given the biblical tradition as well because she had anointed Christ's feet and there's a real sense of tenderness there. You know, Giotto is so interested in naturalism that he's willing to show two figures where we only see the backs. There's no representation of their faces at all and we would never have seen this in the medieval period. Female: 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. Narrator: We look at Christ and Mary as they're looking at Christ and Mary. Female: Exactly. We become like them, surrounding the body of Christ, but 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 an in to look into. There's space here for the human figures to occupy. Narrator: 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 rent their clothing. They tear at themselves. They pull their hair. They are in agony. Female: And therefore shortened. 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 kind of keep to themselves, other figures throw their arms out. There's a real interest in individuality, in the different ways that people experience emotion. I always like to look at the feet and 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. Narrator: Well, that ground is used for several purposes, to root those figures, but also to draw our eye down to Christ or, in another sense, to allow us to move out of the picture because as we move from the Lamentation, we move to the next image, which is the scene where Christ says, "Do not touch me." Where 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. Female: And here we see Jonah being swallowed by the whale and we see water. Narrator: Well, it is a giant fish. Female: Well, throughout the chapel we see this. An Old Testament scene being paired with a New Testament and specifically Old Testament scenes that in some way prefigured the life of Christ. Narrator: So 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 his late medieval period, his moving towards what we will eventually call the Renaissance. (piano playing)