Palm Sunday. A World-Class Artist Portrays Jesus Entering Jerusalem--The Painting And an Explanation of Its Dimensions of Meaning

–An even better image of this artist’s portrayal is at:

(This portrayal is by Giotto, a famous artist of the Italian Renaissance.)

The artist has placed Jesus in the centre of the composition with the disciples on the left and the crowd flowing out of the city of Jerusalem on the right. In the brilliant blue sky behind him two eager people from the crowd sway in the trees picking branches to honour him, while one man rolls out his cloak in a gesture suitable only for royalty. The artist has included all the key elements of the Matthew narrative including not only the donkey, but also the colt. The other gospels, Mark 11:1-11 and Luke 19:28-41, mention only a colt, and add ‘which no one has ever ridden.’ John 12:12-19 says merely that Jesus found a young donkey.

The disciples appear to be jammed together on the left hand side of the painting and we can only clearly see the faces of four of them. The rest of the twelve are suggested by the tops of their heads and a swath of rich golden halos. They stand behind Jesus, stock still, shoulder to shoulder, forming a tight mass. They are alert, sober, and they are watching the crowd carefully and cautiously. And, well they might. They have heard from Jesus three times that he would be arrested and killed in Jerusalem. They are no doubt afraid for him as well as for themselves. What lies ahead is unknown. This outburst of praise and shouting was no doubt both hopeful and unsettling for them.

The welcoming crowd positioned on the right is quite different. It includes both men and women, there is space around them and we can see each person and each face clearly. Luke 19:37 gives us more information about the crowd. It states they ‘began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.’ The John passage, 12:17-18, further elaborates: ‘Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him.’

(Together they were larger than the allowed size here)

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There is a tremendous sense of movement and action as they surge out of the city gates to greet this coming King. People are climbing trees and ripping off branches, one man with grave solemnity lays down his coat on the road, an improvised ‘red carpet’ marking the arrival of a great dignitary, while two others are pulling off their cloaks and another waves his palm branch. Their mouths are open and we can almost hear them shouting ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ For Matthew and for his Jewish readers these terms would be full of historical and theological significance. By these declarations it is clear that the crowd understands that Jesus is the promised King.

Giotto draws our attention to the main figure in this narrative in a variety of ways. As has been observed, Jesus is placed in the centre of the composition. He is also the largest figure in the whole painting. His head is surrounded by the clear blue sky and positioned between the vertical lines of the slightly swaying trees. There is also a strong line which points to Jesus created by the donkey and the crowd as they pour out of the Jerusalem gates. In addition Jesus is painted with a kind of three dimensional reality so forceful that he seems as solid and as tangible as sculpture in the round.

However, also the donkey plays a special role in this fresco. Relatively large and in the very middle of the painting she steps forward boldly and obediently with her colt at her side, mirroring Jesus as the faithful servant of God. With her eyes full of goodness and intelligence, she is apparently – in contrast to the disciples and the crowd – fully aware of what is going on, like the donkey in Isaiah 1:3 knowing her master while ‘Israel does not understand.’ With one ear pointing backward and one pointing forward, one ear attuned to her master and one to the crowd, she seems to function as a kind of bridge between what is past and what lies ahead.

He has the entire scene take place in the foreground. The painted space is somehow continuous with our space as beholders. It seems as if Jesus is passing in front of us and we find ourselves drawn into the swoosh of palm branches and the shouts of praise.

While the crowds surge and shout in the streets, Giotto captures the one still point: Jesus with messianic dignity sitting in the midst of it all, offering a gesture of peace and blessing. As he does so we see again what the nature of his kingdom will be: ‘The Son of Man comes not to be served but to serve.’ On the cusp of all that will be revealed in Jerusalem of lies and hostility, abandonment, brutality, ridicule, senseless violence and gruesome death, Jesus’ focus is not on himself. He reflects peace and extends blessing to others. The two fingers pointed upwards traditionally also suggest his divinity and humanity (one person, two natures).

–This explanation of this painting is provided by Artway, at

I like the painting. Beautiful art work and illustration. Thank you for sharing.

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