The Hanging of Judas: Medieval Iconography and the German Peasants’ War
Sullivan, Lee R.
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 15 (1998)
Figure 1 is a reproduction of a painted glass panel depicting the hanging of Judas, currently found in the Art Institute of Chicago. In the panel we are shown the loosely robed, muscular corpse of Judas, hanging by a rope from a tree. His belly has been ruptured, and a bat-winged, speckled demon is extracting Judas’s soul, in the form of an infant, from amongst his entrails. In the background is a deserted landscape of rolling hills and sparse trees.
The panel is a specimen of a type of glass painting developed around 1500 in Switzerland, along the Rhine, and in the Netherlands. Glass painters used black, brown, and yellow stains to paint their subject matter on white glass. The outlines of the design were done in black enamel, and yellow stain in varying shades, derived from sulphide of silver, was used for the coloring. In the only other published article devoted to the panel Oswald Goetz suggests that it was created in Alsace or southern Germany between 1520 and 1530. Unfortunately, we have no information on the purpose or original context for which the panel was intended. We know neither who commissioned it nor who created it. Goetz notes that an independent representation of the hanging Judas was uncommon in the Middle Ages; usually the scene appeared as a subordinate episode in a Passion narrative. While it is possible that the Chicago panel was only one of a series of images (perhaps depicting the Passion), Goetz speculates that the panel, alone or with an accompanying inscription warning against despair, might have been intended for a church or a private chapel in the residence of a wealthy bürgher or noble.