Lamentation of Christ by Giotto
Interpretation of Fresco Mural in the Arena Chapel, Padua

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Lamentation of Christ (detail)
By Giotto.
Regarded as one of the
Greatest Paintings in the
history of Western art.

Lamentation of Christ (1305)


Giotto's Legacy
Analysis of Other 14th-Century Paintings


Name: "The Lamentation of Christ"
Date: 1305
Artist: Giotto di Bondone (1270-1337)
Medium: Fresco mural painting
Genre: Biblical art
Movement: Proto-Renaissance
Location: Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua

For analysis and explanation of other important pictures from the Renaissance, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).

For analysis of paintings by
14th century painters
like Giotto, see
our educational articles:
Art Evaluation and
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Analysis of the Lamentation of Christ by Giotto

After the Betrayal of Christ (Kiss of Judas), the Lamentation of the Death of Christ is the most famous of the Scrovegni Chapel frescoes painted by Giotto in the first decade of the 14th century. The frescoes were commissioned by the wealthy Scrovegni family for their private chapel in Padua. (It is also known as the Arena Chapel because it was built on the site of an ancient Roman arena.) Recognized immediately as a masterpiece of Pre-Renaissance painting, Giotto's fresco cycle introduced a revolutionary style of naturalism with more realistic figures and more realistic emotions. Suddenly the conventional style of medieval painting - as practised, for example, by the Sienese School of painting - appeared wooden and old-fashioned.

The Scrovegni Chapel murals consist of 39 sequential scenes pictorializing the Life of the Virgin Mary and the Life of Christ. The overall iconographic theme is Christian Redemption - probably because the chapel was intended to expiate the sins accumulated by the Scrovegni family as a result of their moneylending activities. In addition, the wall around the chapel's entrance is decorated with the Last Judgment.

In the scene of the Lamentation, Christ's body has been cut down from the cross and is surrounded by his weeping family and friends. His head is cradled in the arms of his mother, the Virgin Mary - who is the focus of the picture - while Mary Magdalene grieves at his feet, and John the Evangelist opens his arms wide in shock and anguish.




The emotions of the mourners are expressed largely through their hands and faces, especially their mouths which seem to tremble with grief. Their bowed heads and hunched bodies add to the overall impression of misery. The human figures are given much greater three-dimensionality than normal, while Giotto also creates a convincing impression of space which lends an additional sense of reality to the picture. These three factors - (1) the naturalness of Giotto's faces and expressions; (2) the sculptural nature of his figures; and (3) the "depth" he creates in his pictures - marked a revolutionary turning-point in painting, and signalled the demise of the old traditions of Byzantine art, with its flat one-dimensional imagery. This traditional style might have been ideal for mosaic art - see, for instance, the awesome Ravenna mosaics - but Europe was developing fast and its art needed to change, too. As it was, Giotto's innovations provided huge inspiration for Proto-Renaissance artists in Italy and France, and formed the foundation for the Florentine Renaissance and ultimately Renaissance art throughout Europe.

Giotto's Legacy

Without Giotto it is difficult to see how this could have happened. None of the other Old Masters of the 14th century - including Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255-1319), Ambrogio Lorenzetti (c.1290-1352), Pietro Lorenzetti (c.1280-1348) and Simone Martini (1284-1344) - had managed to free themselves from the constraints of Byzantine painting, and thus the first important generation of Florentine painters - Tommaso Masaccio (1401-1428), Piero della Francesca (1420-92) and Andrea Mantegna (1430-1506) - would have had little if anything to build on. The Renaissance in Florence would not therefore have happened during the 15th century, and so artists in Rome and Venice would not have developed as they did. The history of art would therefore have evolved quite differently.

Analysis of Other 14th-Century Paintings

For an interpretation of other trecento paintings, see the following articles:

Allegory of Good and Bad Government (1338-40)
By Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

Maesta Altarpiece (1311)
By Duccio di Buoninsegna.

Stroganoff Madonna (1300)
By Duccio di Buoninsegna.

Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus (1333)
By Simone Martini.


• For the meaning/interpretation of other Proto-Renaissance paintings, see: Homepage.

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