Activity - Action and narrative

Look at Giotto's depiction of Judas's Kiss (c. 1304): click here (external link). The painting depicts the moment when Christ was betrayed by Judas, who kissed him to reveal his identity to the soldiers who are about to arrest him. Which precise moment is being depicted here? How does Giotto convey the chaos of the scene? Think about composition, the ways the figures are depicted, the colour, the use of light and dark, the postures.

The action of the scene is conveyed in many ways. There is a striking contrast of light and dark, with the soldiers' helmets forming a dark backdrop for the action taking place. Giotto has depicted a very precise moment, and invites us to anticipate what is about to take place as the soldiers close in, whilst highlighting the small-scale action of the kiss itself. Whilst the composition draws our attention to the two central figures, there is also a suggestion of action taking place beyond the picture frame, in the form of figures moving in and out of the frame, only partially shown. The figures' postures are generally dynamic, suggesting movement: the same scene, witnessed a second or two later, would look different as the figures move on.


Look at Boccioni's painting, La città che sale (1910). How does this painting create an impression of movement? Consider the composition, the force lines, the outlines of objects and figures, the colour, the brushwork.

There is a very strong diagonal, moving from the right to the left of the painting, which is evident both in the actual lines of the painting, and in the force lines suggested in the movements of the horses and the human figures. Movement is also suggested by the often blurred outlines, which reflect the perception of movement by the human eye. Moreover, the brushwork is loose, which means that the brushstrokes can also suggest this broad movement from right to left. This diagonal movement contrasts with the static vertical lines of the buildings in the background, setting up a contrast between movement and stasis which heightens our sense of the dynamism in the foreground here. A broad palette of colours has been used, including several complementary pairs, which adds to the sense of motion and instability.

Boccioni was at the heart of the Italian Futurist movement in the early decades of the twentieth century. Futurism was concerned with engaging with the industrial world and, in particular, with the velocity which industrialisation had introduced into life.  



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© Matthew Treherne, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT.