Angels We Have Heard on High: Crucifixion

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Angels We Have Heard on High
The Imagery of Angels in Christian Art
Curated by Camille O'Leary

Giotto di Bondone, Crucifixion, 1305

Giotto’s Crucifixion depicts raw, human emotion in a way that simply didn’t exist in the stiff, stylized art of the prior Byzantine period. Part of a cycle of frescos depicting the life of Jesus Christ in Padua, Italy’s Arena Chapel, this work shows the crucified Jesus as the central figure, with a swooning Virgin Mary to the left and Mary Magdalene sobbing at his feet. Swirling around the cross and catching Jesus’s blood are multicolored, miniature angels, their bodies trailing off into cloud and their faces twisted in grief.

Giotto’s angels, in stark contrast to other depictions of the time, run the gamut of visible emotions, perhaps even moreso than the humans they are paired with. Here, one angel bares his breast, while another turns his face away to wail in grief. Many of Giotto’s contemporaries depicted angels as emotionless and detached - Giotto moves to the other extreme. The passionate anguish he successfully communicates signals the beginning of a new era in painting.

Editor's Note: As their final project, students created a thematic exhibit of seven works. These will each run for a week over the summer.

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