One of the main features of Giotto’s paintings is his focus on revealing human emotion through facial expressions. Along with the naturalistic beauty of the blue sky offsetting the human drama, this piece by Giotto from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua eloquently and intentionally captures the amazement, grief, and reverence undergirding the effects of Jesus’ actions directing the Biblical story. Focusing on the figure representing Jesus, the stern expression on his face has immediate impact. This expression helps to convey the determination of Jesus in the story to show the glory of God through his miraculous act. His expression also sets him apart from the others participating and witnessing the event.
For example, the group to the left of the raised Lazarus, representing the Jews in the narrative, has raised hands and mixed expressions of curiosity and disbelief, whereas the two figures kneeling at the lower portion of the painting embody and convey acceptance of Jesus as the Son of God. Mary of Bethany, one of Lazarus’ two sisters, communicates through her eyes an ambiguity and multiplicity of emotions. There is an indication of intense grief and concern along with a glimmer of astonished gratitude, like a mother who, believing her child to be in imminent danger, has just realized her child is safe and protected.
Through Giotto’s art, the presence of God’s actions upon the human world are powerfully expressed. The artist embeds a theological understanding that, although there are many ways to respond to God and to Jesus, Lazarus was dead but now is risen.