Raising of Lazarus

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Giotto, Raising of Lazarus, 1305

Jesus knew God would vindicate him. He heard of the illness of Lazarus, Mary’s brother. Mary entreated him to cure Lazarus, but he chose to wait two days to go to Bethany. He allowed Lazarus to die to display his divinity to the people of Bethany by enacting a miracle. After confusing his disciples by telling them Lazarus slept, he clarified: “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him” (John 11. 14-15). He arrived four days after the man’s death. The townspeople wept; Mary scolded Jesus for letting her brother die. Jesus wept, too. It seems he tricked the entire village; despite his weeping he never once doubted the miracle. He went to the tomb and opened the door, commanding Lazarus to come forth. Lazarus emerged, covered in cloth, but revived four days after his death.

Giotto’s Raising of Lazarus, painted between 1304 and 1306, depicts Lazarus when he exits the cave. In the foreground, two jubilant boys deposit the stone that covered the cave in which Lazarus was put to rest. In the middle ground, Jesus and his followers on the left watch as Lazarus emerges. Lazarus’ friends bear astounded expressions. In the background, a mountain with three trees pushes the piece upward, even though all the action takes place in the lower half of the painting. The line of the mountain points directly to Jesus, making Jesus the focal point of the piece. Giotto creates life-like clothing with realistic, intricate shading on the folds of the fabric. While the sky has obviously fallen victim to time, a whisper of Giotto’s recognizable deep blues remains. In the shading and the unique expressions, this work displays Giotto’s mastery of fresco.

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