Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Christ in Gethsemane

Folio 142v

In the Très Riches Heures the Hours of the Passion, painted by the Limbourgs, follow a series of short weekday services. The Passion cycle begins with matins and lauds illustrated by two facing scenes: Christ in Gethsemane and Christ Led to the Praetorium.
The first is not only one of the three brothers' most extraordinary works, but the most beautiful night scene ever painted by a miniaturist. It is striking in the moving simplicity of its composition as well as in its nocturnal effect. The midnight-blue sky is studded with stars and streaked by three mysteriously symbolic shooting stars.
On the grayish-brown earth of the Mount of Olives lie the shadowed bodies of the fallen soldiers, reflecting here and there the light of torches and lanterns.
In the middle, even darker, is Christ, His halo shining brightly against the starry sky. Of the group, only Saint Peter remains standing, bowed before his Master and ready to draw his sword to defend Him.
The scene is based on the account of Saint John, the only Evangelist to describe the moment of Christ's arrest:
Jesus therefore, knowing all things
that should come upon him, went forth,
and said to them: Whom seek ye!
They answered him: Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus saith to them: I am he. And Judas
also, who betrayed him, stood with them.
As soon therefore as he had said
to them: I am he; they went backward,
and fell to the ground. (John XVIII: 4-6)In the Très Riches Heures the Hours of the Passion, painted by the Limbourgs, follow a series of short weekday services. The Passion cycle begins with matins and lauds illustrated by two facing scenes: Christ in Gethsemane and Christ Led to the Praetorium. The first is not only one of the three brothers' most extraordinary works, but the most beautiful night scene ever painted by a miniaturist. It is striking in the moving simplicity of its composition as well as in its nocturnal effect. The midnight-blue sky is studded with stars and streaked by three mysteriously symbolic shooting stars. On the grayish-brown earth of the Mount of Olives lie the shadowed bodies of the fallen soldiers, reflecting here and there the light of torches and lanterns. In the middle, even darker, is Christ, His halo shining brightly against the starry sky. Of the group, only Saint Peter remains standing, bowed before his Master and ready to draw his sword to defend Him.
The scene is based on the account of Saint John, the only Evangelist to describe the moment of Christ's arrest:
Jesus therefore, knowing all things
that should come upon him, went forth,
and said to them: Whom seek ye!
They answered him: Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus saith to them: I am he. And Judas
also, who betrayed him, stood with them.
As soon therefore as he had said
to them: I am he; they went backward,
and fell to the ground. (John XVIII: 4-6)

Those who have come to arrest Jesus are shown lying on the ground with their lanterns, torches, and weapons, apparently struck more by the kindness of His face and the divine majesty radiating from Him than by His words.
In this strangely poetic night scene, we are touched by something more than the elegance, charm, and brilliance of the other miniatures: a profoundly religious feeling, already expressed in different ways in the Garden of Eden (folio 25v) and the Fall of the Rebel Angels (folio 64v), emanates from the painting and gives it an extraordinary grandeur.

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