Descent Into Limbo

7:00 AM

Giotto, Descent Into Limbo, 1320-1325
By MEGAN GANNON

Welcome back ladies and gents, I feel it's only fitting that my first blog post of the year hints at the dismal themes that I so adore. Today we’ll chat about Giotto’s Descent into Limbo, but to fully understand the unfortunate circumstances of our descending friends let’s return back to my first blog post last year. Rothko’s Black, Black on Wine where I conversed about the ill fate of humankind as a little line stuck between fantasy and reality. 

How does this relate to Giotto? Well, limbo of course. The space between heaven and hell... fantasy and reality. Though separated by thousands of years Giotto and Rothko capture the human condition simultaneously. In his painting, Giotto references the Black Plague which ravaged the world during the 14th century, leaving some more devoted to God and others to more likely to participate in folly. Both ended in the death. 

Returning to the painting, look for a moment at the people in the opening of the tomb. Examine their faces, feel their fear and the looming uncertainty of what happens when Christ shuts the stone vault. Today, we often take emotion for guaranteed, shedding tears over a celebrity breakup or an opened-but not responded to Snapchat.While in the early 1300s when Giotto mostly likely painted Descent Into Limbo, emotion carried a slightly different weight. 

Giotto introduced many to emotional depth and human vulnerability through his creation of a stage around his figures. He grounds and surrounds his people with shading and mountainous structures. Unlike others of his time who primarily focused on the divine, Giotto plays with other masses, indicating that humans (or the divine) are not the only thing of importance. In fact the almost blurring effect of the those entering the cave hints at our own insignificance. 

Despite it’s age, Descent into Limbo withstands the test of time through Giotto’s usage of complex emotions and nods to naturalism. There’s a beautiful uncomfortableness that I feel when I look at the people of the painting. I wonder about their “sins” and perhaps if they payed their simony, that would one day fund the great cathedrals that their terrified faces would become immortalized in. 

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