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October 07, 2020

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

Ge Judas1.jpg

Conscience. Judas
Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge


Conscience: Judas is a beautifully tragic piece. The scene is just after Jesus Christ is arrested after his betrayal by Judas Iscariot. The dominant element with which Ge communicates his message is light. At the extreme right of the piece, a crowd walks off the edge, lit only by torches. The number of people is hard to determine. This tiny square of light only takes up a small patch of the overall canvas. The light source is just off-canvas and only lights the immediate crowd. This patch is only a tiny square but the color is so radiant that it almost dominates the work. The rest of the work is black lit by a silver-gray light. Like the orange light, the light source here is also off canvas. Judging by the angles of the shadows, the silver light is almost opposite the orange light. This invites a comparison between them, of their warm and cool hues and their brightness and dimness, and of their possible symbolism.

In the center of the dim, cool light stands a lone, shrouded figure. His cloak is wrapped tightly around his body and head. Only his back is visible to the viewer. His face is in complete darkness. This is Judas. The act of betrayal is finished and he stands in the silence of the aftermath. He watches the crowd walk away and he is left alone with his thoughts. His posture is interesting. He is closed in on himself and wraps his cloak around his head and body as though he is trying to keep warm. Compare him to the figure to the extreme right, silhouetted by the orange. He is straight up and open. There’s no chill there. So another contrast between the lights could be heat versus cold.

I like that we cannot see Judas’s face. I like that we cannot see the moment he realizes the consequences of his act. We can see it in his body language though—the slow realization as he is removed from the light. As the crowd and noise move away, the heat and energy of the event leave too. His conscience is the only thing he can hear and it chills him and begins to weigh him down. In Christian symbolism, Christ is the Light of the world, and in many examples, He has been represented by a candle or the sun. He has been depicted as glowing with a radiant light that provides the only light source in paintings. Here, I think Ge is leaving the light source ambiguous. It could be a torch or Christ himself. If the viewer chooses to make Jesus the source of the warm, orange light then Judas is outside Christ’s guiding radiance.

I think there is a case to be made about the symbolism of the moon, in relation to the orange light. IF the light is Christ, the color may allude to sunlight. The sun’s powerful light drives away the cold darkness and gives life. The moon governs the night, long believed to be the time when evil flourishes. The full moon especially has negative connotations too. That the light sources are on almost opposite sides of the canvas may allude to their opposite natures and imagery. That Judas is bathed in moonlight may hint at the state of being. He is in a dark place and evil has had its way with him. Evil continues to play on his mind and his conscience. He exists only in night and darkness and it moves him to the final act.

For me, Judas is probably the most tragic figure in the Bible. In Christian belief, he was hand-picked by God to be His friend and part of His inner circle. He walked side-by-side with God, got to talk with Him, laugh with Him, and pick His brain. He was trusted enough to be the group’s treasurer. He saw things that only eleven other people saw, and he threw it all away. Ge shows us the point where Judas realizes what he’s done. The noise has died down and he can finally hear his conscience, but it’s too late. The warmth and light of God’s presence leaves him alone in the cold, dark night—alone with his thoughts. All he had to do was ask forgiveness, but his conscience and guilt were too much for him. He talked with God Himself but heard nothing.


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posted by Open Blogger at 09:30 AM

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