Click on the image to activate control panel

The Torture of the Jew

Following Constantine’s conversion, his mother, the Empress Helena, also became a devoted Christian and traveled to Jerusalem to search for the True Cross. There she learns that only one man, ironically named Judas, knows where the Cross is hidden, and when he refuses to give up the secret, Helena’s men throw him into a dry well. After seven days of torture, Judas relents and is taken to Helena where, reluctantly, he indicates the whereabouts of the Cross. The next chapter of the story begins on the left side of the chapel on the altar wall.

Judas Pulled out of the Well

Two rather fancily dress youths pull down on the rope of a pulley, hoisting Judas to ground level. Another official forces him to take the last step by pulling his hair. While the scene may at first strike one as rather bizarre, a deep meaning soon becomes clear. The Old Testament high priest Habakkuk was taken forcibly by the hair by an angel when he refused to deliver food to Daniel (in the lion’s den). Thus, like Habakkuk, Judas was taken where he did not wish to go and ended by performing deeds of a higher good. Judas soon understood his mission, and for his devotion, he was later named bishop of Jerusalem. This scene, like its partner on the opposite side of the window, is often attributed to one of Piero’s assistants, Giovanni di Piamonte, who followed the master’s style closely, but in a slightly cruder version called for by his subjects. The clouds that seem to be in front of the pulley supports were painted in fresco. After the plaster was dry, the stakes were painted over the clouds in tempera, some of which has flaked off.