THE KISS OF BLISS: ‘The meeting at the Golden Gate’ by Giotto (1304 – 1306)

THE KISS OF BLISS: ‘The meeting at the Golden Gate’ by Giotto (1304 – 1306)

Barren! That is what they called her; for even after twenty years of marriage, they had no children. As she walked down the narrow streets of Nazareth, a town in Galilee, the side-walls often echoed scorns and despiteful whispers. Cursed! They repeated. Her husband Joaquim though perfectly pious was sterile. They were regarded childless and unfruitful. And yet, how great was their faith, for they continued to serve the Lord trusting in His greater providence and mercy. 

It was the day of solemnity in Jerusalem. All the men in the city had gathered in the Temple built by Solomon to offer their choicest gifts to the Almighty. Joaquim, blessed with riches and a generous heart, brought a double offering to the Most High. He sought forgiveness and atonement for his sins. However, how terrible was his remorse when the minister of the Temple drove him away with these words, ‘Thou art not worthy to enter into the Temple for you have not conceived a child for Israel.’

Having been insulted and shamed in the midst of a large congregation, Joaquim left the town weeping and lamenting. He went off to the wilderness to fast and pray and did not return for five months. His wife, Anna, was disconsolate. Childless, she was now at the verge of widowhood. How could the God of Sarah and Rachel, Samson and Samuel not pay heed to her exceeding distress?

Her constant knocks opened the gates of heaven. The angel of the Lord appeared to her saying, ‘Do not be afraid for a daughter will be born unto you. She will be your descendant and will be called blessed for all generations. Arise, therefore and go up to the Golden Gate. As a sign of what I have said, you will meet your husband of whom you have been so concerned.’

 Anna wept for joy! She hurried across the town towards the Golden Gate. As she raised her eyes she saw Joaquim at a distance arriving with a herd of lambs. At once, she threw off her black cloak of mourning and dressed herself with the colour of hope. Then, she ran to him and embraced him, thanking God and exclaiming, ‘I was a widow but now I am not anymore.’

The absolute bliss of the hour is captured delightfully by none other than Giotto himself!  The painting forms a part of the spectacular frescos painted by Giotto inside the Arena or Scrovegni Chapel located in Padua, Italy. It was commissioned by Enrico Scrovegni, a wealthy Italian banker in the early 1300’s. It served as restitution for his father’s involvement in unjust usury dealings.

A break from the medieval depiction of the spiritual, Giotto does justice to the era and his style of art. Against the backdrop of the brilliant blue sky, Giotto sets up a huge architectural gate, the arch of which is framed in gold. A group of medieval women huddle at its entrance. They watch with joy the tender encounter between Joaquim and Anna. As the figures embrace each other, Giotto unites their appearance through the intersection of the halos, the continuity of volumetric drapery, and of course the emergence of a third facial demeanour. This alludes to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Notice the ground on which they stand. Resembling a bridge it signifies the passage from lowliness and pain to exultation and praise. The colours of their drapery resound their joy. While pink symbolises happiness, orange exemplifies a hopeful await. The white linen held by the woman behind Anna recalls the Virgin’s purity while the three women behind her, garbed in red, green and yellow stand for the divine virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.

Of special interest is the dark hooded woman standing at the centre of the painting. Her dark clothing and gloomy appearance drastically contrasts the happy tableaux in which she is placed. Instead of rejoicing at a birth, she seems to be mourning a death. Did the woman lose her way to the right place?  Does she represent sin? Or does her appearance hint at the sorrows that would pierce the Virgin’s heart and the even darker, redeeming events of the Passion? Or perhaps she simply serves to remind us of the goodness of God who turned the mourning of St. Anne into rejoicing.

Indeed intriguing is the title and the setting of the painting. Since antiquity, Mary is often linked to architectural forms. It represents her body as a structure destined to house the Son of God. The Virgin Mary is therefore regarded as the Seat of Wisdom, the Ark of the Covenant and of course the Gate of Heaven. St. Joaquim who was driven out of the Temple was blessed with a child whose womb served as a temple for the Most High. St. Anne who was regarded barren bore the Blessed Mother of God.

Thus the meeting of the parents at the Golden gate ushers in the golden era of Divine Providence – of God made man. As St. Anne and St. Joaquim embrace, they immaculately conceive the Blessed Virgin and thus sow the early seeds of salvation! Salvation rooted in love and blissful providence!

Joynel Fernandes- Asst. Director- Archdiocesan Heritage Museum

The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday between 9am to 5pm. For a guided tour please contact: 022 – 29271557

Spread the love ♥

You might also like

2 thoughts on “THE KISS OF BLISS: ‘The meeting at the Golden Gate’ by Giotto (1304 – 1306)”

  • Such a beautiful review….

  • It was very interesting reading ” the kiss of bliss” . Being a parishoner of St. Anne Church, Bandra I often wondered but never asked why our statue portrayed such an older looking Anne while Mary looks so young …. This makes perfect sense now – Thank you 👍🏼


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *