The Agony in the Garden
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Simon Bening
Flemish, Bruges, about 1525 - 1530
Tempera colors, gold paint, gold leaf, and ink on parchment
6 5/8 x 4 1/2 in.

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Through the dramatic miniatures in the prayer book he illuminated for Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, Simon Bening encouraged the viewer to identify with Jesus in his Passion. The Agony in the Garden opens the sequence of devotional texts interspersed with Passion miniatures. To heighten the emotional tension, the artist compressed three events into one scene. In the foreground the apostles have fallen asleep despite Jesus' request that they keep watch. In the center of the image, Jesus prays to God, while in the background the soldiers already approach to arrest him. Bening emphasized Jesus' emotional isolation as he prays by showing him separated from the apostles by a fence and a fallen tree. Before Jesus, an angel kneels, offering the cup that symbolizes his acceptance of death on the cross.

The naturalistic depiction of the dark night sets the mood, creating a dramatic setting for the events. The glow from Jesus' halo in the center provides a spotlight on his face, while in the background the soldiers' torches--painted with tiny dots of gold paint--draw attention to the imminent danger. Even the naturalistic trees flanking the central action increase the drama as they restrict the space around the central figure of Jesus.