Religious Art: Judas’ Kiss

Paul Lisak (1967-present), ‘Judas’ Kiss’, Oil on Linen.

Instead of offering what I think are the important qualities of this painting, I want to leave its interpretation more open.  Therefore I invite you to engage with this piece and share with us your thoughts about what you like or dis-like.  I do this intentionally because though I find this painting moving its force is almost inexplicable for me at this point in time, though I have still tried to share some of my thoughts here.

There is something strangely unnecessary in the armed response to Jesus in this painting; he is the calm center of this piece.  Yet, this is not a wholly adequate explanation; the deep sadness of betrayal, the violence of Judas’ kiss and (from a Mormon context) the pain of Jesus’ suffering have seemingly rendered the Saviour passive.

Perhaps referring to Jesus as the Saviour is not accurate for he is clearly not represented as divine; his humanity is unmistakable and insightful.  It is possible that following Gethsemane Jesus was at his most human in descending below us all.

What of the armed arrest or the adolescent Judas?  The anonymised police give this arrest an unsavoury feel and yet I am not entirely clear what the artist is hoping to articulate in using a contemporary context for this scene? Perhaps, Lisak is raising questions about the status of religious criminals in Western society.

Finally, though the center points of the image are the red shirt Jesus is wearing and the yellow torch one of the guards is holding, I do not feel that I can clearly express what these are doing in this image.

Please feel free to share your thoughts, for my benefit if not for yours?


  1. D. Fletcher says:

    For such a super-naturalist, the painter has not caught the light of the flashlight properly.

    This seems to be a gay bar. Perhaps that is the subtext of Judas’ Kiss?

  2. the source of hte light is interesting to me…not from the man held flashlight, but behind them..showing judas’ money. is the light what the apostle? is covering his eyes from?

    I’m still thinking

  3. D. Fletcher says:

    Yes, there is a primary source of light coming from behind the soldier’s back, and this seems to be lighting everything. The flashlight’s light is…wrong.

  4. this image has too much darkness. I don’t mean that symbolically or metaphorically. I mean literally. I can’t see the guns or what is in the upper right corner at all. There seems to be a different version which has more light on it.

    As far as my tastes are concerned, I’m not a fan of the gas mask. I never liked it in art. It brings a sense of claustrophobia and facelessness. I’ve felt it was the easy way out to draw something sinister and evil.

    Jesus submitting to the will of man in this scene is fantastic however. He is portrayed quite well as actually the one in charge of the situation.

    I’ve never thought much of the event we call “Judas’ kiss” as it’s really not that important in the whole scheme of things. Playing it up only riles up anger and vengeance which is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The only individual who ought to be angry at Judas is the Savior himself. The rest of us need only feel sadness at the fate of the soul of Judas. Thus portraying Judas in this light is not something I would put on my wall.

  5. Daniel,
    I agree that the image seemed to appear much darker than the original once inserted into the post. I have subsequently changed the image to another version. I hope this has more clarity.

    I agree that the source of light is interesting, though I must confess that I just assumed it was a searchlight.

  6. D. Fletcher says:

    Oh, interesting. I don’t like the lighter version nearly as well as the darker one!

  7. Aaron,

    Thanks for the change. I was meaning this version seems to be the different one.

  8. I don’t know what I think of this painting, but I do know that if it were part of a travelling exhibit at BYU, said exhibit would be shut down.

  9. Mommie Dearest says:

    I can’t read this painting without referring a great deal to the Caravaggio work on which it is clearly based, The Taking of Christ, which was thought lost for centuries, and now hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland.

    Lisak has a lot of nerve to take on Caravaggio so directly, and he has the technical prowess to support such audaciousness. But it’s impossible (at least for me) to analyze such a blatant homage as this without comparing it to the original. And when you’re a Caravaggista, as I am, there simply are (almost) none who can match his visual communication skills.

    I opened this link in an adjacent tab and click-enlarged it to the max that my screen would allow, and compared what Lisak is saying about this episode in the life of Christ with what Caravaggio said in 1602. (Filtered through my own beliefs about the subject, of course.) Caravaggio continues to have me firmly in thrall. I could list a few specifics why, starting with the multi-layered emotions clearly visible on the face of the Lord, but then I’d be talking about the wrong painting. There are some elements that both paintings share: the undercurrent of institutional violence that permeates both, the gripping hand of Judas as he tries to force the Lord to do it his way. Interesting that the modern painter hides the faces which are easily readable in the muse.

    I googled up Lisak’s website and looked at his other paintings and drawings, and I understand him a lot better. He’s a fellow admirer of Caravaggio (and other old masters), probably far more than I am, and his modern sensibility and understanding of Christ are clearly and intriguingly displayed in his work.

  10. The contemporary setting of this painting gives a reality to the Saviour that maybe be need to embrace. If He was born today would the same sacrifice be necessary? Would He be betrayed by a disciple, claiming to love Him, with a symbolic kiss? There are many people today who claim to love Jesus but do they really follow his teachings? How many have already betrayed Him for 30 pieces of silver?

    We have been taught that seeing the Christ as human is incompatible with his divinity. I couldn’t disagree more. His humanity helps us to see our own divinity. How can we be sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father and be less than divine?

    Here is another painting by the same artist on the same subject matter. Would it also be censored at BYU? Does the posted work really offend us or does its contemporary setting make us afraid that we could become a Judas?

  11. #10 – “We have been taught that seeing the Christ as human is incompatible with his divinity.”

    By whom and where? That certainly is something I’ve heard from lots of my Protestant friends, but I can’t recall ever hearing it at church. In fact, our emphasis on his humanity and physicality is something we get criticized heavily for teaching by many.

    There are a lot of things I like about the painting, but the inconsistencies stand out more for me. The lack of light from the flashlight – the lack of weapon(s) held by the only disciple shown (when Peter’s sword plays such an important part in the Biblical narrative) – the disciple turning from the light (perhaps symbolic of the still future denial, but not in harmony with the narrative) – etc. I like it, overall, but I just can’t get past the “issues” right now.

  12. These are all great comments about a well composed painting.

  13. Thank you for the thoughtful comments.

    Daniel, your correct in pointing out that there are a number of different versions. In fact there is a whole series of paintings based upon the relationship between Judas and Jesus. I think part of the reason I have identified with this painting is because of I have a great affection for a collection of poems by Morri Creech entitled ‘The Testament of Judas’.

    MD, your comments have been very helpful to me. I am not an expert in Art History and had not picked up upon the connection Caravaggio.

    Larry, I considered including that image as well, though I decided against it because the stylistic qualities of this piece are decisively more in tune with the tensions that I believe the artist is trying to explore.

    Ray I wonder whether these are intentional. I suggest that only because the artist does not seem to be a novice. Consequently, I agree that there are certainly issues in the painting that require further examination but I do not think they are signs of inadequacy.

  14. This is great, thank you. With art I typically appreciate the aesthetic more, but here I’m distracted because it is obviously very didactic. The credibility of force is portrait but it has no shirt or protection of the torso. It has no face either, just masks. I can guess, but I’m not sure what the artist is doing there. Perhaps the juxtaposition of unprotected force and authority is actually a reflection of a way that Christ himself viewed the Roman soldiers–all temporal force and authority is illusory.

    The modern clothing they wear makes the situation more visceral to me. It hits closer to home, like a scene outside a show or something. I’ve been present during episodes that look like this, at about the same distance and perspective as the artist chose to portrait. This brings the whole Biblical episode much “closer” to my experience, which goes into a a number of other dynamics.

    And then there is, who I am guessing, is Peter. He hides his face from the spotlight, which is juxtaposed with his standing behind Christ–a position showing support for those who lead ahead. So the artist captured his self-conflict. He shows us the “shame” of being associated with the an alleged criminal while knowing that the accused is not just your loyal, innocent friend but also Christ. I could go on and on with thoughts, but I’ll just say thanks again.

  15. Mommie Dearest says:

    Aaron, the subset of people who would recognize the Carravaggio in the OP painting is very narrow indeed. We are used to being alone in our art history obsessions. I’m just delighted that BCC posts about art at all.

  16. Julia Thomas says:

    Red is the color of passion and death. Christ is wearing the colors symbolizing his upcoming passion.

    The bare back of the assailant (compared to the other assailants) could symbolize the flesh turning away from the spirit.

    The flashlight, a fake imitation of the true light, which the assailants hold in their hand and have turned away from. Notice how the light from the flashlight does not shine at all on Christ’s face. Very enlightening, as the false light can not shine upon Him.

    The helmets could symbolize our current society’s acceptance of the attack, which is what occurred during Christ time.

    The guns held so firmly toward Christ could symbolically stand for society’s disdain and hatred for all Christ stands for. Consider the elite in society today and their opinion of Christ today, this image is not far from the truth.

    The far right person appears to be reacting to the light rather than being affected by what is happening to Christ.

    The painting is definitely an imitation of Carravaggio’s style and rather than mock the artist, praise him for his attempt. I am a devote catholic but also an art teacher. Artists learn from other artists’ styles and this clearly is an attempt to learn from Carravaggio while updating the symbolic imagery more in line with today. In Carravaggio’s painting, we see clothing of his day, not necessarily the clothing of Jesus’s day.

  17. julia Thomas says:

    One more thing…

    A blogger saw the gas mask on the men arresting Christ. Awesome symbolism. The assailants have not only turned away from Christ’s light, but they don’t even want to breathe the same air he breathes.

    Wow! What extremes some will go to…you can sense the hatred for what is truth. What arrogance and what conceit… just like the Sanhedrin…no tolerance! Arrest him. Crucify him. Hah! Those who speak of tolerance are the last to act it.

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