Thirteen has always been considered an unlucky number – unless you’re a baker, of course, in which case a baker’s dozen is a good thing – and quite lucky: thirteen buns for the price of twelve. I’m certainly looking forward to my hot cross buns when this Lenten blog is all over, not that I’ll be eating thirteen of them. But that’s beside the point. Of course the reason why thirteen is seen as an unlucky number is that there were thirteen people sitting down to dinner at the Last Supper, and shortly after two of them died. Only one came back to life. I’ve had problems with groups in Italy: there are many restaurants that will not take a booking for a group of thirteen, so I got into the habit of booking for fourteen, and then apologising that someone had had to drop out by the time we got there. At the Last Supper, the thirteenth ‘unlucky’ person was, of course, Judas.
It’s just as well that we identified the figure waiting outside the Garden of Gethsemane and pointing to Jesus as Judas (Lent 11), given that he was wearing the red robe and blue cloak we would usually associate with Jesus. Here he is still wearing the red robe, which is open to reveal a white undershirt, which is open to reveal his stomach, which is open… It’s probably just as well that this isn’t the clearest part of the painting. That is probably because it appears to be an afterthought. Just as Judas himself repented, the artist has left us a pentimento… or so it appears. The hill is clearly visible through Judas’s skirts, and the sky through his torso – the brow of the hill cuts across at waist level. There are two things that give me pause. First, there are sketchy lines to the left, and under, his right foot, which could be underdrawing, which would imply that the figure was always meant to be there – although I suppose the ‘under’ drawing could have been painted ‘over’ the grass. Second, this is the perfect tree for despair: angular, pointed, thorn-like – the sort of tree you would expect Judas to seek out.
There is, of course, biblical precedent for what has happened. Having betrayed Jesus, Judas was seized with guilt, and tried to return the blood money (Matthew 27:3-5):
Then Judas which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.
With the money they bought ‘the potter’s field’, which became known as ‘the field of blood’. It is mentioned again in the Acts of the Apostles, 1:18:
Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out.
This is problematic, as Matthew says that the priests bought the field. Although Acts isn’t explicit that ‘this man’ is Judas, he was the subject of the previous sentence, so who else could it be? It’s one of those biblical contradictions which, on the whole, gets ignored, but it does explain what has happened to him in this detail. Giotto shows Judas just like this, hanging among the damned in the Last Judgement in the Scrovegni Chapel, although I may have failed to mention that (despite the many blogs and many more words…). I would show you a detail, but you might be having your morning coffee. Seek it out in Day 38 – Enrico Scrovegni if you have the stomach for it. He’s the one hanging against the black background underneath the red rocks furthest to the left of hell, with ‘all his bowels gushed out’. Enough of this, though: tomorrow we must head back to the palace. But before then, I’m looking forward to talking about Crivelli’s fantastic Annunciation at 2pm and 6pm – maybe I’ll see some of you there!