Judas Iscariot – A Masterpiece from the Vaux Passional

This is an illuminated folio from the Vaux Passional, an exquisite late 15th century manuscript in the National Library of Wales. The illustrator is an unnamed master of the Flemish School, though the manuscript has strong and fascinating royal connections with the Tudor dynasty, specifically with Henry VII. This page is a masterpiece, one of my favourites of its type, of synoptic narrative. Boadly speaking, that means when you see the same person doing several different things in the same image – a convention that at worst can seem irritating or naive but at best creates a powerful and unsettling feeling that one is witnessing – and to a certain extent participating in – the entire sum of a subject’s life in a single moment (memory can sometimes, though not always, have this synoptic quality). In this case, Judas is the subject, appearing three times. First we see him in a pavilion, standing by as Christ warns Mary of events to come.

Then we see him making his way to town, about to cross a bridge over a river in full torrent. Finally he meets his paymasters and the deal is done. He appears to be looking back at his former self, making its way towards the fatal meeting. One can almost hear the torrent of water, the jingle of silver.

Meanwhile, on the left margin of the image, an unnamed nobleman enjoys the beauties of his garden. Below, on the lower edge, his childhood self plays happily with a hobby horse.

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