Giotto’s Angel

Joachim’s Dream

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Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337)

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I’ve recently been reading T.J. Clark’s book Heaven on Earth, published in 2018 by Thames & Hudson. Chapter 1 is on a painting by Giotto called Joachim’s Dream. Clark carries out an extended mediation on the work he chose (or that chose him) from Giotto’s larger series of narrative paintings in Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy.

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Clark notes how the land of earth is grey, and that heaven is represented by blue. The shape of the angel repeats itself in the shape of the mountain landscape beneath it. The angel is crossing the threshold from Heaven into Earth, the land of material. This idea is articulated in Giotto’s brushwork; the depiction of the angel transitions from perfect material coherence to a blurry disappearing into an immaterial state.

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Joachim’s sleeping body is tripled in pyramid-form by the house and then the mountain. The black square over Joachim’s shoulder adds another dimension to the painting, it seems to open into a metaphysical void. In the narrative of this painting, the Angel is appearing to Joachim in his dream to tell him to return home. This is the Angel’s second appearance to Joachim. Joachim needs to return home because his wife has become pregnant with a child that will be Mary who will later give birth to Jesus.

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