The Arrest of Jesus

In The Garden of Gethsemane
Like the fresco shown above, images of Jesus' sojourn in the garden follow the gospel texts faithfully, with particular attention to Jesus on his knees 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, sometimes seated atop the hill and at other times carried to Jesus by an angel (example). The latter is a way of making it clear that the cup is the Father's answer.

Sometimes the cup 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.


  • Late 4th century: Sarcophagus panel with two soldiers leading Jesus away.
  • 6th century: Mosaic panels in Ravenna – Kiss of Judas and Jesus being led away.
  • 11th century: The left side of the "Latin Diptych" in the museum of Milan's cathedral pictures the arrest as part of a sequence of images of the Passion and Resurrection.
  • 1280-85: The arrest is among the events pictured in the great central tympanum on the façade of Strasbourg Cathedral.
  • 1303-1305: Giotto's fresco in the Scrovegni Chapel.
  • 14th century: painting (Kiss of Judas).
  • 14th century: In the south aisle at St. Mark's, Venice, three mosaics picture Jesus in the garden with the Apostles, Jesus telling Peter to "remain here and watch with me," and Jesus chiding the Apostles for falling asleep.
  • First half of the 14th century: Relief sculpture on the façade of Orvieto Cathedral (Kiss of Judas).
  • 1344: Detail from Guariento di Arpo's Coronation of the Virgin altarpiece.
  • 15th century: Statuary group in Alsace (Jesus praying in the garden).
  • 1441-43: Fra Angelico's Kiss of Judas in San Marco Convent, Florence.
  • Early 1500s: An engraving of the arrest episode, based mostly on John's gospel.
  • 1502: The Lackner Epitaph pictures the Agony in the Garden and the approach of Judas.
  • 1500-1510: Unlike most images of the arrest, this glass roundel pictures the soldiers leading Jesus away and tormenting him as they go.
  • 1512-31: A panel in the main retable at Oviedo Cathedral.

Prepared in 2016 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University


Fresco in the church at Pomposa Abbey. See the description page for details.

This fresco in a Croatian church is unusual in picturing an enclosed garden, with Judas climbing over the fence rather than entering by the gate. See the description page for an explanation and a large image of the fresco.

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.
39And going a little further, he fell upon his face, praying, and saying: My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. [Luke 22:43-44 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed the longer. And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground.] 40And he cometh to his disciples, and findeth them asleep, and he saith to Peter: What? Could you not watch one hour with me? 41Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak.
42Again the second time, he went and prayed, saying: My Father, if this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, thy will be done. 43And he cometh again and findeth them sleeping: for their eyes were heavy. 44And leaving them, he went again: and he prayed the third time, saying the selfsame word. 45Then he cometh to his disciples, and saith to them: Sleep ye now and take your rest; behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46Rise, let us go: behold he is at hand that will betray me.
47As he yet spoke, behold Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and clubs [John 18:3 a band of soldiers and servants…with lanterns and torches and weapons], sent from the chief priests and the ancients of the people. 48And he that betrayed him, gave them a sign, saying: Whomsoever I shall kiss, that is he, hold him fast. 49And forthwith coming to Jesus, he said: Hail, Rabbi. And he kissed him. 50And Jesus said to him: Friend, whereto art thou come? Then they came up, and laid hands on Jesus, and held him.
51And behold one of them that were with Jesus [Mark 15:47 one of them that stood by, Luke 22:50 one of them (the disciples), John 18:10 Simon Peter], stretching forth his hand, drew out his sword: and striking the servant of the high priest, cut off his ear. 52Then Jesus saith to him: Put up again thy sword into its place: for all that take the sword shall perish with the sword. 53Thinkest thou that I cannot ask my Father, and he will give me presently more than twelve legions of angels? 54How then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that so it must be done? [Luke 22:51b And when he had touched his ear, he healed him.]
55In that same hour Jesus said to the multitudes: You are come out as it were to a robber with swords and clubs to apprehend me. I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you laid not hands on me. 56Now all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then the disciples all leaving him, fled. [Mark 14:51-52 And a certain young man followed him, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and they laid hold on him. But he, casting off the linen cloth, fled from them naked.] 57But they holding Jesus led him to Caiphas the high priest, where the scribes and the ancients were assembled.


St. Peter's denial of Christ and the rooster's crow