Joachim Among the Shepherds

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Giotto, Joachim Among the Shepherds, 1304-1306
by ETHAN DOSKEY

Joachim, having been denied entry to Jerusalem by the high priest for his childlessness, skedaddles to the country. Here, he embraces a shepherd's lifestyle and fasts. Receiving a message from angels promising them a child after forty days of his exile, his wife, Anne, gets a bun in the oven (that bun being Mary, Jesus' eventual mother).  

Depicted in fresco in the Arena Chapel, Giotto portrays Joachim's humble request to join the Shepherds of the desert. In the style he became known for, Giotto creates a set, placing emotionally vivid characters into their manipulated environment. Similarly to his other works, Giotto's choice of story is lesser-known — Joachim's not appearing at all in the bible. 

A dream-like cliff face draws Joachim and the shepherds away from the setting in a disproportionate fashion. The tower of rock in the top right section of the painting along with the "sheep" and cave/hut/dwelling facility, causes the right half of the panel to seem weighted, offsetting the open space around Joachim. The placement of the two shepherds is striking; the "is this guy for real?" look combined with the fact that the other man is facing away, draws focus and intrigue from the viewer while further adding dramatics. An aspect I do not quite comprehend or suggest an explanation of, the dog at Joachim's feet appears to be the only thing in motion. Additionally, although this may have changed through time, the dog's light coat demands attention compared to the gorgeous indigo sky and the overwhelmingly neutral tones of the rest of the painting. 

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