Like the fresco shown above, images of Jesus' sojourn in the garden follow the gospel texts faithfully, with particular attention to Jesus' anguished prayer, the sleeping disciples, the comforting angel, the "cup" that Jesus wishes could be taken from him, the crowd arriving with torches and weapons to arrest him, the kiss of Judas, Peter cutting off a servant's ear, and Jesus reaching out to heal that ear. Matthew's narrative of these events is in the text box below right, with some of the variants from Mark, Luke, and John that influence the iconography.
Luke sets the garden on the Mount of Olives, so some images have a hilly background with olive trees (example), or there will be a small hill within the garden, as in the picture at right, which also follows Luke in showing Jesus sweat blood as he prays. The "cup" that is his metaphor for the coming torments is conventionally pictured as a medieval chalice with a broad base. Sometimes it will be replaced a cross, as in this panel from The Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary.
In images of the arrest the group apprehending Jesus usually consists of soldiers, a detail found only in John's gospel. The images almost always include Judas kissing Jesus and Peter cutting the servant's ear, as in the picture at the top of this page. The picture also shows Jesus gesturing to Peter, representing his command to "put up again thy sword." The healing of the ear, mentioned only in Luke, is represented in this sculpture group from Amiens and in this fresco by Vincent de Kastav.
The Kastav fresco is like the one at right in giving Judas a halo. The picture atop this page also seems to have a halo behind Judas's head. The halos may be due to a sense in some of the commentaries that Jesus has not yet given up on Judas. Remarking on his words, "Judas, dost thou betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48), Ambrose writes, "Our Lord kissed him, not that He would teach us to dissemble, but both that he might not seem to shrink from the traitor, and that he might the more move him by not denying him the offices of love" (Catena Aurea, III, ii, 728).
In Mark's account, a young follower of Jesus wearing only a linen cloth is grabbed by the soldiers but runs off naked, leaving his cloth behind him. I have seen this pictured in only one image, but presumably there are others.
Some images, especially in sequential treatments, focus on the exit from the garden when "they holding Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest." We see this among the New Testament frescos at Müstair and the tympanum reliefs in Trogir, Croatia. It is an independent subject in this painting in the Cinque Piaghe in Urbino and in this Easter candle in Rome.
Prepared in 2016 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University
Fresco in the church of Pomposa Abbey. See the description page for details.
MATTHEW 26:36-57 — Then Jesus came with them into a country place which is called Gethsemani [John 18:1 over the brook Cedron, where there was a garden, Luke 22:39 to the mount of Olives]. And he said to his disciples: Sit you here, till I go yonder and pray. 37And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to grow sorrowful and to be sad. 38Then he saith to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death: stay you here, and watch with me.