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Title: Giotto and his works in Padua - An Explanatory Notice of the Series of Woodcuts Executed for the Arundel Society After the Frescoes in the Arena Chapel
Author: Ruskin, John, 1819-1900
Language: English
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Library Edition









NEW YORK             CHICAGO











The following notice of Giotto has not been drawn up with any idea of
attempting a history of his life. That history could only be written
after a careful search through the libraries of Italy for all
documents relating to the years during which he worked. I have no time
for such search, or even for the examination of well-known and
published materials; and have therefore merely collected, from the
sources nearest at hand, such information as appeared absolutely
necessary to render the series of Plates now published by the Arundel
Society intelligible and interesting to those among its Members who
have not devoted much time to the examination of mediæval works. I
have prefixed a few remarks on the relation of the art of Giotto to
former and subsequent efforts; which I hope may be useful in
preventing the general reader from either looking for what the painter
never intended to give, or missing the points to which his endeavours
were really directed.




Towards the close of the thirteenth century, Enrico Scrovegno, a noble
Paduan, purchased, in his native city, the remains of the Roman
Amphitheatre or Arena from the family of the Delesmanini, to whom
those remains had been granted by the Emperor Henry III. of Germany in
1090. For the power of making this purchase, Scrovegno was in all
probability indebted to his father, Reginald, who, for his avarice, is
placed by Dante in the seventh circle of the _Inferno_, and regarded
apparently as the chief of the usurers there, since he is the only one
who addresses Dante.[1] The son, having possessed himself of the
Roman ruin, or of the site which it had occupied, built himself a
fortified palace upon the ground, and a chapel dedicated to the
Annunciate Virgin.

[Footnote 1:

    "Noting the visages of some who lay
    Beneath the pelting of that dolorous fire,
    One of them all I knew not; but perceived
    That pendent from his neck each bore a pouch,
    With colours and with emblems various marked,
    On which it seemed as if their eye did feed.
    And when amongst them looking round I came,
    A yellow purse I saw, with azure wrought,
    That wore a lion's countenance and port.
    Then, still my sight pursuing its career,
    Another I beheld, than blood more red,
    A goose display of whiter wing than curd.
    _And one who bore a fat and azure swine
    Pictured on his white scrip, addressed me thus:_
    What dost thou in this deep? Go now and know,
    Since yet thou livest, that my neighbour here,
    Vitaliano, on my left shall sit.
    A Paduan with these Florentines am I.
    Ofttimes they thunder in mine ears, exclaiming,
    Oh! haste that noble knight, he who the pouch
    With the three goats will bring. This said, he writhed
    The mouth, and lolled the tongue out, like an ox
    That licks his nostrils."

    _Canto_ xvii.

This passage of Cary's Dante is not quite so clear as that
translator's work usually is. "One of them all I knew not" is an
awkward periphrasis for "I knew none of them." Dante's indignant
expression of the effect of avarice in withering away distinctions of
character, and the prophecy of Scrovegno, that his neighbor Vitaliano,
then living, should soon be with him, to sit on his left hand, is
rendered a little obscure by the transposition of the word "here."
Cary has also been afraid of the excessive homeliness of Dante's
imagery; "whiter wing than curd" being in the original "whiter than
butter." The attachment of the purse to the neck, as a badge of shame,
in the _Inferno_, is found before Dante's time; as, for instance, in
the windows of Bourges cathedral (see Plate iii. of MM. Martin and
Cahier's beautiful work). And the building of the Arena Chapel by the
son, as a kind of atonement for the avarice of the father, is very
characteristic of the period, in which the use of money for the
building of churches was considered just as meritorious as its unjust
accumulation was criminal. I have seen, in a MS. Church-service of the
thirteenth century, an illumination representing Church-Consecration,
illustrating the words, "Fundata est domus Domini supra verticem
montium," surrounded for the purpose of contrast, by a grotesque,
consisting of a picture of a miser's death-bed, a demon drawing his
soul out of his mouth, while his attendants are searching in his
chests for his treasures.]

This chapel, built in or about the year 1303,[2] appears to have been
intended to replace one which had long existed on the spot; and in
which, from the year 1278, an annual festival had been held on
Lady-day, in which the Annunciation was represented in the manner of
our English mysteries (and under the same title: "una sacra
rappresentazione di quel _mistero_"), with dialogue, and music both
vocal and instrumental. Scrovegno's purchase of the ground could not
be allowed to interfere with the national custom; but he is reported
by some writers to have rebuilt the chapel with greater costliness,
in order, as far as possible, to efface the memory of his father's
unhappy life. But Federici, in his history of the Cavalieri Godenti,
supposes that Scrovegno was a member of that body, and was assisted by
them in decorating the new edifice. The order of Cavalieri Godenti was
instituted in the beginning of the thirteenth century, to defend the
"existence," as Selvatico states it, but more accurately the dignity,
of the Virgin, against the various heretics by whom it was beginning
to be assailed. Her knights were first called Cavaliers of St. Mary;
but soon increased in power and riches to such a degree, that, from
their general habits of life, they received the nickname of the "Merry
Brothers." Federici gives forcible reasons for his opinion that the
Arena Chapel was employed in the ceremonies of their order; and Lord
Lindsay observes, that the fulness with which the history of the
Virgin is recounted on its walls, adds to the plausibility of his

[Footnote 2: For these historical details I am chiefly indebted to the
very careful treatise of Selvatico, _Sulla Cappellina degli Scrovegni
nell'Arena di Padova_. Padua, 1836.]

Enrico Scrovegno was, however, towards the close of his life, driven
into exile, and died at Venice in 1320. But he was buried in the
chapel he had built; and has one small monument in the sacristy, as
the founder of the building, in which he is represented under a Gothic
niche, standing, with his hands clasped and his eyes raised; while
behind the altar is his tomb, on which, as usual at the period, is a
recumbent statue of him. The chapel itself may not unwarrantably be
considered as one of the first efforts of Popery in resistance of the
Reformation: for the Reformation, though not victorious till the
sixteenth, began in reality in the thirteenth century; and the
remonstrances of such bishops as our own Grossteste, the martyrdoms of
the Albigenses in the Dominican crusades, and the murmurs of those
"heretics" against whose aspersions of the majesty of the Virgin this
chivalrous order of the Cavalieri Godenti was instituted, were as
truly the signs of the approach of a new era in religion, as the
opponent work of Giotto on the walls of the Arena was a sign of the
approach of a new era in art.

The chapel having been founded, as stated above, in 1303, Giotto
appears to have been summoned to decorate its interior walls about
the year 1306,--summoned, as being at that time the acknowledged
master of painting in Italy. By what steps he had risen to this
unquestioned eminence it is difficult to trace; for the records of his
life, strictly examined, and freed from the verbiage and conjecture of
artistical history, nearly reduce themselves to a list of the cities
of Italy where he painted, and to a few anecdotes, of little meaning
in themselves, and doubly pointless in the fact of most of them being
inheritances of the whole race of painters, and related successively
of all in whose biographies the public have deigned to take an
interest. There is even question as to the date of his birth; Vasari
stating him to have been born in 1276, while Baldinucci, on the
internal evidence derived from Vasari's own narrative, throws the date
back ten years.[3] I believe, however, that Vasari is most probably
accurate in his first main statement; and that his errors, always
numerous, are in the subsequent and minor particulars. It is at least
undoubted truth that Giotto was born, and passed the years of
childhood, at Vespignano, about fourteen miles north of Florence, on
the road to Bologna. Few travellers can forget the peculiar landscape
of that district of the Apennine. As they ascend the hill which rises
from Florence to the lowest break in the ridge of Fiesole, they pass
continually beneath the walls of villas bright in perfect luxury, and
beside cypress-hedges, enclosing fair terraced gardens, where the
masses of oleander and magnolia, motionless as leaves in a picture,
inlay alternately upon the blue sky their branching lightness of pale
rose-colour, and deep green breadth of shade, studded with balls of
budding silver, and showing at intervals through their framework of
rich leaf and rubied flower, the far-away bends of the Arno beneath
its slopes of olive, and the purple peaks of the Carrara mountains,
tossing themselves against the western distance, where the streaks of
motionless cloud burn above the Pisan sea. The traveller passes the
Fiesolan ridge, and all is changed. The country is on a sudden
lonely. Here and there indeed are seen the scattered houses of a farm
grouped gracefully upon the hill-sides,--here and there a fragment of
tower upon a distant rock; but neither gardens, nor flowers, nor
glittering palace-walls, only a grey extent of mountain-ground, tufted
irregularly with ilex and olive: a scene not sublime, for its forms
are subdued and low; not desolate, for its valleys are full of sown
fields and tended pastures; not rich nor lovely, but sunburnt and
sorrowful; becoming wilder every instant as the road winds into its
recesses, ascending still, until the higher woods, now partly oak and
partly pine, drooping back from the central crest of the Apennine,
leave a pastoral wilderness of scathed rock and arid grass, withered
away here by frost, and there by strange lambent tongues of earth-fed
fire.[4] Giotto passed the first ten years of his life, a
shepherd-boy, among these hills; was found by Cimabue near his native
village, drawing one of his sheep upon a smooth stone; was yielded up
by his father, "a simple person, a labourer of the earth," to the
guardianship of the painter, who, by his own work, had already made
the streets of Florence ring with joy; attended him to Florence, and
became his disciple.

[Footnote 3: Lord Lindsay, _Christian Art_, vol. ii. p. 166.]

[Footnote 4: At Pietra Mala. The flames rise two or three feet above
the stony ground out of which they spring, white and fierce enough to
be visible in the intense rays even of the morning sun.]

We may fancy the glance of the boy, when he and Cimabue stood side by
side on the ridge of Fiesole, and for the first time he saw the
flowering thickets of the Val d'Arno; and deep beneath, the
innumerable towers of the City of the Lily, the depths of his own
heart yet hiding the fairest of them all. Another ten years passed
over him, and he was chosen from among the painters of Italy to
decorate the Vatican.

The account given us by Vasari of the mode of his competition on this
occasion, is one of the few anecdotes of him which seem to be
authentic (especially as having given rise to an Italian proverb), and
it has also great point and value. I translate Vasari's words

"This work (his paintings in the Campo Santo of Pisa) acquired for
him, both in the city and externally, so much fame, that the Pope,
Benedict IX., sent a certain one of his courtiers into Tuscany, to see
what sort of a man Giotto was, and what was the quality of his works,
he (the pope) intending to have some paintings executed in St.
Peter's; which courtier, coming to see Giotto, and hearing that there
were other masters in Florence who excelled in painting and in mosaic,
spoke, in Siena, to many masters; then, having received drawings from
them, he came to Florence; and having gone one morning into Giotto's
shop as he was at work, explained the pope's mind to him, and in what
way he wished to avail himself of his powers, and finally requested
from him a little piece of drawing to send to his Holiness. Giotto,
who was most courteous, took a leaf (of vellum?), and upon this, with
a brush dipped in red, fixing his arm to his side, to make it as the
limb of a pair of compasses, and turning his hand, made a circle so
perfect in measure and outline, that it was a wonder to see: which
having done, he said to the courtier, with a smile, 'There is the
drawing.' He, thinking himself mocked, said, 'Shall I have no other
drawing than this?' 'This is enough, and too much,' answered Giotto;
'send it with the others: you will see if it will be understood.' The
ambassador, seeing that he could not get any thing else, took his
leave with small satisfaction, doubting whether he had not been made a
jest of. However, when he sent to the pope the other drawings, and the
names of those who had made them, he sent also that of Giotto,
relating the way in which he had held himself in drawing his circle,
without moving his arm, and without compasses. Whence the pope, and
many intelligent courtiers, knew how much Giotto overpassed in
excellence all the other painters of his time. Afterwards, the thing
becoming known, the proverb arose from it: 'Thou art rounder than the
O of Giotto;' which it is still in custom to say to men of the grosser
clay; for the proverb is pretty, not only on account of the accident
of its origin, but because it has a double meaning, 'round' being
taken in Tuscany to express not only circular form, but slowness and
grossness of wit."

Such is the account of Vasari, which, at the first reading, might be
gravely called into question, seeing that the paintings at Pisa, to
which he ascribes the sudden extent of Giotto's reputation, have been
proved to be the work of Francesco da Volterra;[5] and since,
moreover, Vasari has even mistaken the name of the pope, and written
Boniface IX. for Boniface VIII. But the story itself must, I think, be
true; and, rightly understood, it is singularly interesting. I say,
rightly understood; for Lord Lindsay supposes the circle to have been
mechanically drawn by turning the sheet of vellum under the hand, as
now constantly done for the sake of speed at schools. But neither do
Vasari's words bear this construction, nor would the drawing so made
have borne the slightest testimony to Giotto's power. Vasari says
distinctly, "and turning his hand" (or, as I should rather read it,
"with a sweep of his hand") not "turning the vellum;" neither would a
circle produced in so mechanical a manner have borne distinct witness
to any thing except the draughtsman's mechanical ingenuity; and Giotto
had too much common sense, and too much courtesy, to send the pope a
drawing which did not really contain the evidence he required. Lord
Lindsay has been misled also by his own careless translation of
"pennello tinto di rosso" ("a _brush_ dipped in red,") by the word
"crayon." It is easy to draw the mechanical circle with a crayon, but
by no means easy with a brush. I have not the slightest doubt that
Giotto drew the circle as a painter naturally would draw it; that is
to say, that he set the vellum upright on the wall or panel before
him, and then steadying his arm firmly against his side, drew the
circular line with one sweeping but firm revolution of his hand,
holding the brush long. Such a feat as this is completely possible to
a well-disciplined painter's hand, but utterly impossible to any
other; and the circle so drawn, was the most convincing proof Giotto
could give of his decision of eye and perfectness of practice.

[Footnote 5: At least Lord Lindsay seems to consider the evidence
collected by Förster on this subject conclusive. _Christian Art_, vol.
ii. p. 168.]

Still, even when thus understood, there is much in the anecdote very
curious. Here is a painter requested by the head of the Church to
execute certain religious paintings, and the only qualification for
the task of which he deigns to demonstrate his possession is executive
skill. Nothing is said, and nothing appears to be thought, of
expression, or invention, or devotional sentiment. Nothing is required
but firmness of hand. And here arises the important question: Did
Giotto know that this was all that was looked for by his religious
patrons? and is there occult satire in the example of his art which he
sends them?--or does the founder of sacred painting mean to tell us
that he holds his own power to consist merely in firmness of hand,
secured by long practice? I cannot satisfy myself on this point: but
yet it seems to me that we may safely gather two conclusions from the
words of the master, "It is enough, and more than enough." The first,
that Giotto had indeed a profound feeling of the value of _precision_
in all art; and that we may use the full force of his authority to
press the truth, of which it is so difficult to persuade the hasty
workmen of modern times, that the difference between right and wrong
lies within the breadth of a line; and that the most perfect power and
genius are shown by the accuracy which disdains error, and the
faithfulness which fears it.

And the second conclusion is, that whatever Giotto's imaginative
powers might be, he was proud to be a good _workman_, and willing to
be considered by others only as such. There might lurk, as has been
suggested, some satire in the message to the pope, and some
consciousness in his own mind of faculties higher than those of
draughtsmanship. I cannot tell how far these hidden feelings existed;
but the more I see of living artists, and learn of departed ones, the
more I am convinced that the highest strength of genius is generally
marked by strange unconsciousness of its own modes of operation, and
often by no small scorn of the best results of its exertion. The
inferior mind intently watches its own processes, and dearly values
its own produce; the master-mind is intent on other things than
itself, and cares little for the fruits of a toil which it is apt to
undertake rather as a law of life than a means of immortality. It will
sing at a feast, or retouch an old play, or paint a dark wall, for its
daily bread, anxious only to be honest in its fulfilment of its
pledges or its duty, and careless that future ages will rank it among
the gods.

I think it unnecessary to repeat here any other of the anecdotes
commonly related of Giotto, as, separately taken, they are quite
valueless. Yet much may be gathered from their general _tone_. It is
remarkable that they are, almost without exception, records of
good-humoured jests, involving or illustrating some point of practical
good sense; and by comparing this general colour of the reputation of
Giotto with the actual character of his designs, there cannot remain
the smallest doubt that his mind was one of the most healthy, kind,
and active, that ever informed a human frame. His love of beauty was
entirely free from weakness; his love of truth untinged by severity;
his industry constant, without impatience; his workmanship accurate,
without formalism; his temper serene, and yet playful; his imagination
exhaustless, without extravagance; and his faith firm, without
superstition. I do not know, in the annals of art, such another
example of happy, practical, unerring, and benevolent power.

I am certain that this is the estimate of his character which must be
arrived at by an attentive study of his works, and of the few data
which remain respecting his life; but I shall not here endeavour to
give proof of its truth, because I believe the subject has been
exhaustively treated by Rumohr and Förster, whose essays on the works
and character of Giotto will doubtless be translated into English, as
the interest of the English public in mediæval art increases. I shall
therefore here only endeavour briefly to sketch the relation which
Giotto held to the artists who preceded and followed him, a relation
still imperfectly understood; and then, as briefly, to indicate the
general course of his labours in Italy, as far as may be necessary for
understanding the value of the series in the Arena Chapel.

The art of Europe, between the fifth and thirteenth centuries, divides
itself essentially into great branches, one springing from, the other
grafted on, the old Roman stock. The first is the Roman art itself,
prolonged in a languid and degraded condition, and becoming at last a
mere formal system, centered at the feet of Eastern empire, and thence
generally called Byzantine. The other is the barbarous and incipient
art of the Gothic nations, more or less coloured by Roman or Byzantine
influence, and gradually increasing in life and power.

Generally speaking, the Byzantine art, although manifesting itself
only in perpetual repetitions, becoming every day more cold and
formal, yet preserved reminiscences of design originally noble, and
traditions of execution originally perfect.

Generally speaking, the Gothic art, although becoming every day more
powerful, presented the most ludicrous experiments of infantile
imagination, and the most rude efforts of untaught manipulation.

Hence, if any superior mind arose in Byzantine art, it had before it
models which suggested or recorded a perfection they did not
themselves possess; and the superiority of the individual mind would
probably be shown in a more sincere and living treatment of the
subjects ordained for repetition by the canons of the schools.

In the art of the Goth, the choice of subject was unlimited, and the
style of design so remote from all perfection, as not always even to
point out clearly the direction in which advance could be made. The
strongest minds which appear in that art are therefore generally
manifested by redundance of imagination, and sudden refinement of
touch, whether of pencil or chisel, together with unexpected starts of
effort or flashes of knowledge in accidental directions, gradually
forming various national styles.

Of these comparatively independent branches of art, the greatest is,
as far as I know, the French sculpture of the thirteenth century. No
words can give any idea of the magnificent redundance of its
imaginative power, or of the perpetual beauty of even its smallest
incidental designs. But this very richness of sculptural invention
prevented the French from cultivating their powers of painting, except
in illumination (of which art they were the acknowledged masters), and
in glass-painting. Their exquisite gift of fretting their stone-work
with inexhaustible wealth of sculpture, prevented their feeling the
need of figure-design on coloured surfaces.

The style of architecture prevalent in Italy at the same period,
presented, on the contrary, large blank surfaces, which could only be
rendered interesting by covering them with mosaic or painting.

The Italians were not at the time capable of doing this for
themselves, and mosaicists were brought from Constantinople, who
covered the churches of Italy with a sublime monotony of Byzantine
traditions. But the Gothic blood was burning in the Italian veins; and
the Florentines and Pisans could not rest content in the formalism of
the Eastern splendour. The first innovator was, I believe, Giunta of
Pisa, the second Cimabue, the third Giotto; the last only being a man
of power enough to effect a complete revolution in the artistic
principles of his time.

He, however, began, like his master Cimabue, with a perfect respect
for his Byzantine models; and his paintings for a long time consisted
only of repetitions of the Byzantine subjects, softened in treatment,
enriched in number of figures, and enlivened in gesture. Afterwards he
invented subjects of his own. The manner and degree of the changes
which he at first effected could only be properly understood by actual
comparison of his designs with the Byzantine originals;[6] but in
default of the means of such a comparison, it may be generally stated
that the innovations of Giotto consisted in the introduction, A, of
gayer or lighter colours; B, of broader masses; and, C, of more
careful imitation of nature than existed in the works of his

[Footnote 6: It might not, I think, be a work unworthy of the Arundel
Society, to collect and engrave in outline the complete series of
these Byzantine originals of the subjects of the Arena Chapel, in
order to facilitate this comparison. The Greek MSS. in the British
Museum would, I think, be amply sufficient; the Harleian MS. numbered
1810 alone furnishing a considerable number of subjects, and
especially a Death of the Virgin, with the St. John thrown into the
peculiar and violent gesture of grief afterwards adopted by Giotto in
the Entombment of the Arena Chapel.]

A. _Greater lightness of colour._ This was partly in compliance with a
tendency which was beginning to manifest itself even before Giotto's
time. Over the whole of northern Europe, the colouring of the eleventh
and early twelfth centuries had been pale: in manuscripts, principally
composed of pale red, green, and yellow, blue being sparingly
introduced (earlier still, in the eighth and ninth centuries, the
letters had often been coloured with black and yellow only). Then, in
the close of the twelfth and throughout the thirteenth century, the
great system of perfect colour was in use; solemn and deep; composed
strictly, in all its leading masses, of the colours revealed by God
from Sinai as the noblest;--blue, purple, and scarlet, with gold
(other hues, chiefly green, with white and black, being used in points
or small masses, to relieve the main colours). In the early part of
the fourteenth century the colours begin to grow paler; about 1330 the
style is already completely modified; and at the close of the
fourteenth century the colour is quite pale and delicate.

I have not carefully examined the colouring of early Byzantine work;
but it seems always to have been comparatively dark, and in
manuscripts is remarkably so; Giotto's paler colouring, therefore,
though only part of the great European system, was rendered notable by
its stronger contrast with the Byzantine examples.

B. _Greater breadth of mass._ It had been the habit of the Byzantines
to break up their draperies by a large number of minute folds. Norman
and Romanesque sculpture showed much of the same character. Giotto
melted all these folds into broad masses of colour; so that his
compositions have sometimes almost a Titianesque look in this
particular. This innovation was a healthy one, and led to very noble
results when followed up by succeeding artists: but in many of
Giotto's compositions the figures become ludicrously cumbrous, from
the exceeding simplicity of the terminal lines, and massiveness of
unbroken form. The manner was copied in illuminated manuscripts with
great disadvantage, as it was unfavourable to minute ornamentation.
The French never adopted it in either branch of art, nor did any other
Northern school; minute and sharp folds of the robes remaining
characteristic of Northern (more especially of Flemish and German)
design down to the latest times, giving a great superiority to the
French and Flemish illuminated work, and causing a proportionate
inferiority in their large pictorial efforts. Even Rubens and Vandyke
cannot free themselves from a certain meanness and minuteness in
disposition of drapery.

C. _Close imitation of nature._ In this one principle lay Giotto's
great strength, and the entire secret of the revolution he effected.
It was not by greater learning, not by the discovery of new theories
of art, not by greater taste, nor by "ideal" principles of selection,
that he became the head of the progressive schools of Italy. It was
simply by being interested in what was going on around him, by
substituting the gestures of living men for conventional attitudes,
and portraits of living men for conventional faces, and incidents of
every-day life for conventional circumstances, that he became great,
and the master of the great. Giotto was to his contemporaries
precisely what Millais is to _his_ contemporaries,--a daring
naturalist, in defiance of tradition, idealism, and formalism. The
Giottesque movement in the fourteenth, and Pre-Raphaelite movement in
the nineteenth centuries, are precisely similar in bearing and
meaning: both being the protests of vitality against mortality, of
spirit against letter, and of truth against tradition: and both, which
is the more singular, literally links in one unbroken chain of
feeling; for exactly as Niccola Pisano and Giotto were helped by the
classical sculptures discovered in their time, the Pre-Raphaelites
have been helped by the works of Niccola and Giotto at Pisa and
Florence: and thus the fiery cross of truth has been delivered from
spirit to spirit, over the dust of intervening generations.

But what, it may be said by the reader, is the use of the works of
Giotto to _us_? They may indeed have been wonderful for their time,
and of infinite use in that time; but since, after Giotto, came
Leonardo and Correggio, what is the use of going back to the ruder
art, and republishing it in the year 1854? Why should we fret
ourselves to dig down to the root of the tree, when we may at once
enjoy its fruit and foliage? I answer, first, that in all matters
relating to human intellect, it is a great thing to have hold of the
root: that at least we ought to see it, and taste it, and handle it;
for it often happens that the root is wholesome when the leaves,
however fair, are useless or poisonous. In nine cases out of ten, the
first expression of an idea is the most valuable: the idea may
afterward be polished and softened, and made more attractive to the
general eye; but the first expression of it has a freshness and
brightness, like the flash of a native crystal compared to the lustre
of glass that has been melted and cut. And in the second place, we
ought to measure the value of art less by its executive than by its
moral power. Giotto was not indeed one of the most accomplished
painters, but he was one of the greatest men, who ever lived. He was
the first master of his time, in architecture as well as in painting;
he was the friend of Dante, and the undisputed interpreter of
religious truth, by means of painting, over the whole of Italy. The
works of such a man may not be the best to set before children in
order to teach them drawing; but they assuredly should be studied with
the greatest care by all who are interested in the history of the
human mind.

One point more remains to be noticed respecting him. As far as I am
aware, he never painted profane subjects. All his important existing
works are exclusively devoted to the illustration of Christianity.
This was not a result of his own peculiar feeling or determination; it
was a necessity of the period. Giotto appears to have considered
himself simply as a workman, at the command of any employer, for any
kind of work, however humble. "In the sixty-third novel of Franco
Sacchetti we read that a stranger, suddenly entering Giotto's study,
threw down a shield, and departed, saying, 'Paint me my arms on that
shield.' Giotto looking after him, exclaimed, 'Who is he? What is he?
He says, "Paint me my arms," as if he was one of the BARDI. What arms
does he bear?'"[7] But at the time of Giotto's eminence, art was never
employed on a great scale except in the service of religion; nor has
it ever been otherwise employed, except in declining periods. I do not
mean to draw any severe conclusion from this fact; but it is a fact
nevertheless, which ought to be very distinctly stated, and very
carefully considered. All _progressive_ art hitherto has been
religious art; and commencements of the periods of decline are
accurately marked, in illumination, by its employment on romances
instead of psalters; and in painting, by its employment on mythology
or profane history instead of sacred history. Yet perhaps I should
rather have said, on _heathen mythology_ instead of _Christian
mythology_; for this latter term--first used, I believe, by Lord
Lindsay--is more applicable to the subjects of the early painters than
that of "sacred _history_." Of all the virtues commonly found in the
higher orders of human mind, that of a stern and just respect for
truth seems to be the rarest; so that while self-denial, and courage,
and charity, and religious zeal, are displayed in their utmost degrees
by myriads of saints and heroes, it is only once in a century that a
man appears whose word may be implicitly trusted, and who, in the
relation of a plain fact, will not allow his prejudices or his
pleasure to tempt him to some colouring or distortion of it. Hence the
portions of sacred history which have been the constant subjects of
fond popular contemplation have, in the lapse of ages, been encumbered
with fictitious detail; and their various historians seem to have
considered the exercise of their imagination innocent, and even
meritorious, if they could increase either the vividness of conception
or the sincerity of belief in their readers. A due consideration of
that well-known weakness of the popular mind, which renders a
statement credible in proportion to the multitude of local and
circumstantial details which accompany it, may lead us to look with
some indulgence on the errors, however fatal in their issue to the
cause they were intended to advance, of those weak teachers, who
thought the acceptance of their general statements of Christian
doctrine cheaply won by the help of some simple (and generally absurd)
inventions of detail respecting the life of the Virgin or the

[Footnote 7: Notes to Rogers' _Italy_.]

Indeed, I can hardly imagine the Bible to be ever read with true
interest, unless, in our reading, we feel some longing for further
knowledge of the minute incidents of the life of Christ,--for some
records of those things, which "if they had been written every one,"
the world could not have contained the books that should be written:
and they who have once felt this thirst for further truth, may surely
both conceive and pardon the earnest questioning of simple disciples
(who knew not, as we do, how much had been indeed revealed), and
measure with some justice the strength of the temptation which
betrayed these teachers into adding to the word of Revelation.
Together with this specious and subtle influence, we must allow for
the instinct of imagination exerting itself in the acknowledged
embellishment of beloved truths. If we reflect how much, even in this
age of accurate knowledge, the visions of Milton have become confused
in the minds of many persons with scriptural facts, we shall rather be
surprised, that in an age of legends so little should be added to the
Bible, than that occasionally we should be informed of important
circumstances in sacred history with the collateral warning, "This
Moses spake not of."[8]

[Footnote 8: These words are gravely added to some singular
particulars respecting the life of Adam, related in a MS. of the
sixteenth century preserved in the Herald's College.]

More especially in the domain of painting, it is surprising to see how
strictly the early workmen confined themselves to representations of
the same series of scenes; how little of pictorial embellishment they
usually added; and how, even in the positions and gestures of figures,
they strove to give the idea rather of their having seen the _fact_,
than imagined a picturesque treatment of it. Often, in examining early
art, we mistake conscientiousness for servility, and attribute to the
absence of invention what was indeed the result of the earnestness of

Nor, in a merely artistical point of view, is it less important to
note, that the greatest advance in power was made when painters had
few subjects to treat. The day has perhaps come when genius should be
shown in the discovery of perpetually various interest amidst the
incidents of actual life; and the absence of inventive capacity is
very assuredly proved by the narrow selection of subjects which
commonly appear on the walls of our exhibitions. But yet it is to be
always remembered, that more originality may be shown in giving
interest to a well-known subject than in discovering a new one; that
the greatest poets whom the world has seen have been contented to
retouch and exalt the creations of their predecessors; and that the
painters of the middle ages reached their utmost power by unweariedly
treading a narrow circle of sacred subjects.

Nothing is indeed more notable in the history of art than the exact
balance of its point of excellence, in all things, midway between
servitude and license. Thus, in choice and treatment of subject it
became paralysed among the Byzantines, by being mercilessly confined
to a given series of scenes, and to a given mode of representing them.
Giotto gave it partial liberty and incipient life; by the artists who
succeeded him the range of its scenery was continually extended, and
the severity of its style slowly softened to perfection. But the range
was still, in some degree, limited by the necessity of its continual
subordination to religious purposes; and the style, though softened,
was still chaste, and though tender, self-restrained. At last came the
period of license: the artist chose his subjects from the lowest
scenes of human life, and let loose his passions in their portraiture.
And the kingdom of art passed away.

As if to direct us to the observation of this great law, there is a
curious visible type of it in the progress of ornamentation in
manuscripts, corresponding with the various changes in the higher
branch of art. In the course of the 12th and early 13th centuries, the
ornamentation, though often full of high feeling and fantasy, is
sternly enclosed within limiting border-lines;--at first, severe
squares, oblongs, or triangles. As the grace of the ornamentation
advances, these border-lines are softened and broken into various
curves, and the inner design begins here and there to overpass them.
Gradually this emergence becomes more constant, and the lines which
thus escape throw themselves into curvatures expressive of the most
exquisite concurrence of freedom with self-restraint. At length the
restraint vanishes, the freedom changes consequently into license, and
the page is covered with exuberant, irregular, and foolish
extravagances of leafage and line.

It only remains to be noticed, that the circumstances of the time at
which Giotto appeared were peculiarly favourable to the development of
genius; owing partly to the simplicity of the methods of practice, and
partly to the naïveté with which art was commonly regarded. Giotto,
like all the great painters of the period, was merely a travelling
decorator of walls, at so much a day; having at Florence a _bottega_,
or workshop, for the production and sale of small tempera pictures.
There were no such things as "studios" in those days. An artist's
"studies" were over by the time he was eighteen; after that he was a
_lavoratore_, "labourer," a man who knew his business, and produced
certain works of known value for a known price; being troubled with no
philosophical abstractions, shutting himself up in no wise for the
reception of inspirations; receiving, indeed, a good many, as a matter
of course,--just as he received the sunbeams which came in at his
window, the light which he worked by;--in either case, without
mouthing about it, or much concerning himself as to the nature of it.
Not troubled by critics either; satisfied that his work was well done,
and that people would find it out to be well done; but not vain of it,
nor more profoundly vexed at its being found fault with, than a good
saddler would be by some one's saying his last saddle was uneasy in
the seat. Not, on the whole, much molested by critics, but generally
understood by the men of sense, his neighbours and friends, and
permitted to have his own way with the walls he had to paint, as
being, on the whole, an authority about walls; receiving at the same
time a good deal of daily encouragement and comfort in the simple
admiration of the populace, and in the general sense of having done
good, and painted what no man could look upon without being the better
for it.

Thus he went, a serene labourer, throughout the length and breadth of
Italy. For the first ten years of his life, a shepherd; then a
student, perhaps for five or six; then already in Florence, setting
himself to his life's task; and called as a master to Rome when he was
only twenty. There he painted the principal chapel of St. Peter's, and
worked in mosaic also; no handicrafts, that had colour or form for
their objects, seeming unknown to him. Then returning to Florence, he
painted Dante, about the year 1300,[9] the 35th year of Dante's life,
the 24th of his own; and designed the façade of the Duomo, on the
death of its former architect, Arnolfo. Some six years afterwards he
went to Padua, there painting the chapel which is the subject of our
present study, and many other churches. Thence south again to Assisi,
where he painted half the walls and vaults of the great convent that
stretches itself along the slopes of the Perugian hills, and various
other minor works on his way there and back to Florence. Staying in
his native city but a little while, he engaged himself in other tasks
at Ferrara, Verona, and Ravenna, and at last at Avignon, where he
became acquainted with Petrarch--working there for some three years,
from 1324 to 1327;[10] and then passed rapidly through Florence and
Orvieto on his way to Naples, where "he received the kindest welcome
from the good king Robert. The king, ever partial to men of mind and
genius, took especial delight in Giotto's society, and used frequently
to visit him while working in the Castello dell'Uovo, taking pleasure
in watching his pencil and listening to his discourse; 'and Giotto,'
says Vasari, 'who had ever his repartee and bon-mot ready, held him
there, fascinated at once with the magic of his pencil and pleasantry
of his tongue.' We are not told the length of his sojourn at Naples,
but it must have been for a considerable period, judging from the
quantity of works he executed there. He had certainly returned to
Florence in 1332." There he was immediately appointed "chief master"
of the works of the Duomo, then in progress, "with a yearly salary of
one hundred gold florins, and the privilege of citizenship." He
designed the Campanile, in a more perfect form than that which now
exists; for his intended spire, 150 feet in height, never was erected.
He, however, modelled the bas-reliefs for the base of the building,
and sculptured two of them with his own hand. It was afterwards
completed, with the exception of the spire, according to his design;
but he only saw its foundations laid, and its first marble story rise.
He died at Florence, on the 8th of January, 1337, full of honour;
happy, perhaps, in departing at the zenith of his strength, when his
eye had not become dim, nor his natural force abated. He was buried in
the cathedral, at the angle nearest his campanile; and thus the tower,
which is the chief grace of his native city, may be regarded as his
own sepulchral monument.

[Footnote 9: Lord Lindsay's evidence on this point (_Christian Art_,
vol. ii. p. 174) seems quite conclusive. It is impossible to overrate
the value of the work of Giotto in the Bargello, both for its own
intrinsic beauty, and as being executed in this year, which is not
only that in which the Divina Commedia opens, but, as I think, the
culminating period in the history of the art of the middle ages.]

[Footnote 10: _Christian Art_, vol. ii. p. 242.]

I may refer the reader to the close of Lord Lindsay's letter on
Giotto,[11] from which I have drawn most of the particulars above
stated, for a very beautiful sketch of his character and his art. Of
the real rank of that art, in the abstract, I do not feel myself
capable of judging accurately, having not seen his finest works (at
Assisi and Naples), nor carefully studied even those at Florence. But
I may be permitted to point out one or two peculiar characteristics in
it which have always struck me forcibly.

[Footnote 11: _Christian Art_, p. 260.]

In the first place, Giotto never finished highly. He was not, indeed,
a loose or sketchy painter, but he was by no means a delicate one. His
lines, as the story of the circle would lead us to expect, are always
firm, but they are never fine. Even in his smallest tempera pictures
the touch is bold and somewhat heavy: in his fresco work the handling
is much broader than that of contemporary painters, corresponding
somewhat to the character of many of the figures, representing plain,
masculine kind of people, and never reaching any thing like the ideal
refinement of the conceptions even of Benozzo Gozzoli, far less of
Angelico or Francia. For this reason, the character of his painting is
better expressed by bold wood-engravings than in general it is likely
to be by any other means.

Again, he was a very noble colourist; and in his peculiar feeling for
breadth of hue resembled Titian more than any other of the Florentine
school. That is to say, had he been born two centuries later, when the
art of painting was fully known, I believe he would have treated his
subjects much more like Titian than like Raphael; in fact, the
frescoes of Titian in the chapel beside the church of St. Antonio at
Padua, are, in all technical qualities, and in many of their
conceptions, almost exactly what I believe Giotto would have done, had
he lived in Titian's time. As it was, he of course never attained
either richness or truth of colour; but in serene brilliancy he is not
easily rivalled; invariably massing his hues in large fields, limiting
them firmly, and then filling them with subtle gradation. He had the
Venetian fondness for bars and stripes, not unfrequently casting
barred colours obliquely across the draperies of an upright figure,
from side to side (as very notably in the dress of one of the
musicians who are playing to the dancing of Herodias' daughter, in one
of his frescoes at Santa Croce); and this predilection was mingled
with the truly mediæval love of _quartering_.[12] The figure of the
Madonna in the small tempera pictures in the Academy at Florence is
always completely divided into two narrow segments by her dark-blue

[Footnote 12: I use this heraldic word in an inaccurate sense, knowing
no other that will express what I mean,--the division of the picture
into quaint segments of alternating colour, more marked than any of
the figure outlines.]

And this is always to be remembered in looking at any engravings from
the works of Giotto; for the injury they sustain in being deprived of
their colour is far greater than in the case of later designers. All
works produced in the fourteenth century agree in being more or less
decorative; they were intended in most instances to be subservient to
architectural effect, and were executed in the manner best calculated
to produce a striking impression when they were seen in a mass. The
painted wall and the painted window were part and parcel of one
magnificent whole; and it is as unjust to the work of Giotto, or of
any contemporary artist, to take out a single feature from the series,
and represent it in black and white on a separate page, as it would be
to take out a compartment of a noble coloured window, and engrave it
in the same manner. What is at once refined and effective, if seen at
the intended distance in unison with the rest of the work, becomes
coarse and insipid when seen isolated and near; and the more skilfully
the design is arranged, so as to give full value to the colours which
are introduced in it, the more blank and cold will it become when it
is deprived of them.

In our modern art we have indeed lost sight of one great principle
which regulated that of the middle ages, namely, that chiaroscuro and
colour are incompatible in their highest degrees. Wherever chiaroscuro
enters, colour must lose some of its brilliancy. There is no _shade_
in a rainbow, nor in an opal, nor in a piece of mother-of-pearl, nor
in a well-designed painted window; only various hues of perfect
colour. The best pictures, by subduing their colour and
conventionalising their chiaroscuro, reconcile both in their
diminished degrees; but a perfect light and shade cannot be given
without considerable loss of liveliness in colour. Hence the supposed
inferiority of Tintoret to Titian. Tintoret is, in reality, the
greater colourist of the two; but he could not bear to falsify his
light and shadow enough to set off his colour. Titian nearly strikes
the exact mean between the painted glass of the 13th century and
Rembrandt; while Giotto closely approaches the system of painted
glass, and hence his compositions lose grievously by being translated
into black and white.

But even this chiaroscuro, however subdued, is not without a peculiar
charm; and the accompanying engravings possess a marked superiority
over all that have hitherto been made from the works of this painter,
in rendering this chiaroscuro, as far as possible, together with the
effect of the local colours. The true appreciation of art has been
retarded for many years by the habit of trusting to outlines as a
sufficient expression of the sentiment of compositions; whereas in all
truly great designs, of whatever age, it is never the outline, but the
disposition of the masses, whether of shade or colour, on which the
real power of the work depends. For instance, in Plate III. (The Angel
appears to Anna), the interest of the composition depends entirely
upon the broad shadows which fill the spaces of the chamber, and of
the external passage in which the attendant is sitting. This shade
explains the whole scene in a moment: gives prominence to the curtain
and coverlid of the homely bed, and the rude chest and trestles which
form the poor furniture of the house; and conducts the eye easily and
instantly to the three figures, which, had the scene been expressed in
outline only, we should have had to trace out with some care and
difficulty among the pillars of the loggia and folds of the curtains.
So also the relief of the faces in light against the dark sky is of
peculiar value in the compositions No. X. and No. XII.

The _drawing_ of Giotto is, of course, exceedingly faulty. His
knowledge of the human figure is deficient; and this, the necessary
drawback in all works of the period, occasions an extreme difficulty
in rendering them faithfully in an engraving. For wherever there is
good and legitimate drawing, the ordinary education of a modern
draughtsman enables him to copy it with tolerable accuracy; but when
once the true forms of nature are departed from, it is by no means
easy to express _exactly_ the error, and _no more than_ the error, of
his original. In most cases modern copyists try to modify or hide the
weaknesses of the old art,--by which procedure they very often wholly
lose its spirit, and only half redeem its defects; the results being,
of course, at once false as representations, and intrinsically
valueless. And just as it requires great courage and skill in an
interpreter to speak out honestly all the rough and rude words of the
first speaker, and to translate deliberately and resolutely, in the
face of attentive men, the expressions of his weakness or impatience;
so it requires at once the utmost courage and skill in a copyist to
trace faithfully the failures of an imperfect master, in the front of
modern criticism, and against the inborn instincts of his own hand and
eye. And let him do the best he can, he will still find that the grace
and life of his original are continually flying off like a vapour,
while all the faults he has so diligently copied sit rigidly staring
him in the face,--a terrible _caput mortuum_. It is very necessary
that this should be well understood by the members of the Arundel
Society, when they hear their engravings severely criticised. It is
easy to produce an agreeable engraving by graceful infidelities; but
the entire endeavour of the draughtsmen employed by this society has
been to obtain accurately the character of the original: and he who
never proposes to himself to rise _above_ the work he is copying, must
most assuredly often fall beneath it. Such fall is the inherent and
inevitable penalty on all absolute copyism; and wherever the copy is
made with sincerity, the fall must be endured with patience. It will
never be an utter or a degrading fall; that is reserved for those who,
like vulgar translators, wilfully quit the hand of their master, and
have no strength of their own.

Lastly. It is especially to be noticed that these works of Giotto, in
common with all others of the period, are independent of all the
inferior sources of pictorial interest. They never show the slightest
attempt at imitative realisation: they are simple suggestions of
ideas, claiming no regard except for the inherent value of the
thoughts. There is no filling of the landscape with variety of
scenery, architecture, or incident, as in the works of Benozzo Gozzoli
or Perugino; no wealth of jewellery and gold spent on the dresses of
the figures, as in the delicate labours of Angelico or Gentile da
Fabriano. The background is never more than a few gloomy masses of
rock, with a tree or two, and perhaps a fountain; the architecture is
merely what is necessary to explain the scene; the dresses are painted
sternly on the "heroic" principle of Sir Joshua Reynolds--that drapery
is to be "drapery, and nothing more,"--there is no silk, nor velvet,
nor distinguishable material of any kind: the whole power of the
picture is rested on the three simple essentials of painting--pure
Colour, noble Form, noble Thought.

We moderns, educated in reality far more under the influence of the
Dutch masters than the Italian, and taught to look for realisation in
all things, have been in the habit of casting scorn on these early
Italian works, as if their simplicity were the result of ignorance
merely. When we know a little more of art in general, we shall begin
to suspect that a man of Giotto's power of mind did not altogether
suppose his clusters of formal trees, or diminutive masses of
architecture, to be perfect representations of the woods of Judea, or
of the streets of Jerusalem: we shall begin to understand that there
is a symbolical art which addresses the imagination, as well as a
realist art which supersedes it; and that the powers of contemplation
and conception which could be satisfied or excited by these simple
types of natural things, were infinitely more majestic than those
which are so dependent on the completeness of what is presented to
them as to be paralysed by an error in perspective, or stifled by the
absence of atmosphere.

Nor is the healthy simplicity of the period less marked in the
selection than in the treatment of subjects. It has in these days
become necessary for the painter who desires popularity to accumulate
on his canvas whatever is startling in aspect or emotion, and to
drain, even to exhaustion, the vulgar sources of the pathetic. Modern
sentiment, at once feverish and feeble, remains unawakened except by
the violences of gaiety or gloom; and the eye refuses to pause, except
when it is tempted by the luxury of beauty, or fascinated by the
excitement of terror. It ought not, therefore, to be without a
respectful admiration that we find the masters of the fourteenth
century dwelling on moments of the most subdued and tender feeling,
and leaving the spectator to trace the under-currents of thought which
link them with future events of mightier interest, and fill with a
prophetic power and mystery scenes in themselves so simple as the
meeting of a master with his herdsmen among the hills, or the return
of a betrothed virgin to her house.


It is, however, to be remembered that this quietness in character of
subject was much more possible to an early painter, owing to the
connection in which his works were to be seen. A modern picture,
isolated and portable, must rest all its claims to attention on its
own actual subject: but the pictures of the early masters were nearly
always parts of a consecutive and stable series, in which many were
subdued, like the connecting passages of a prolonged poem, in order to
enhance the value or meaning of others. The arrangement of the
subjects in the Arena Chapel is in this respect peculiarly skilful;
and to that arrangement we must now direct our attention.


It was before noticed that the chapel was built between 1300 and 1306.
The architecture of Italy in the beginning of the fourteenth century
is always pure, and often severe; but this chapel is remarkable, even
among the severest forms, for the absence of decoration. Its plan,
seen in the marginal figure on p. 26, is a pure oblong, with a narrow
advanced tribune, terminating in a trilateral apse. Selvatico quotes
from the German writer Stieglitz some curious observations on the
apparent derivation of its proportions, in common with those of other
buildings of the time, from the number of sides of its apse. Without
entering into these particulars, it may be noted that the apse is just
one-half the width of the body of the chapel, and that the length from
the extremity of the tribune to the west end is just seven times the
width of the apse. The whole of the body of the chapel was painted by
Giotto; the walls and roof being entirely covered either with his
figure-designs, or with various subordinate decorations connecting and
enclosing them.

The woodcut on p. 27 represents the arrangement of the frescoes on the
sides, extremities, and roof of the chapel. The spectator is supposed
to be looking from the western entrance towards the tribune, having on
his right the south side, which is pierced by six tall windows, and on
which the frescoes are therefore reduced in number. The north side is
pierced by no windows, and on it therefore the frescoes are
continuous, lighted from the south windows. The several spaces
numbered 1 to 38 are occupied by a continuous series of subjects,
representing the life of the Virgin and of Christ; the narrow panels
below, marked _a_, _b_, _c_, &c., are filled by figures of the
cardinal virtues and their opponent vices: on the lunette above the
tribune is painted a Christ in glory, and at the western extremity the
Last Judgment. Thus the walls of the chapel are covered with a
continuous meditative poem on the mystery of the Incarnation, the acts
of Redemption, the vices and virtues of mankind as proceeding from
their scorn or acceptance of that Redemption, and their final

The first twelve pictures of the series are exclusively devoted to the
apocryphal history of the birth and life of the Virgin. This the
Protestant spectator will observe, perhaps, with little favour, more
especially as only two compartments are given to the ministry of
Christ, between his Baptism and Entry into Jerusalem. Due weight is,
however, to be allowed to Lord Lindsay's remark, that the legendary
history of the Virgin was of peculiar importance in this chapel, as
especially dedicated to her service; and I think also that Giotto
desired to unite the series of compositions in one continuous action,
feeling that to have enlarged on the separate miracles of Christ's
ministry would have interrupted the onward course of thought. As it
is, the mind is led from the first humiliation of Joachim to the
Ascension of Christ in one unbroken and progressive chain of scenes;
the ministry of Christ being completely typified by his first and last
conspicuous miracle: while the very unimportance of some of the
subjects, as for instance that of the Watching the Rods, is useful in
directing the spectator rather to pursue the course of the narrative,
than to pause in satisfied meditation upon any single incident. And it
can hardly be doubted that Giotto had also a peculiar pleasure in
dwelling on the circumstances of the shepherd life of the father of
the Virgin, owing to its resemblance to that of his own early years.

The incidents represented in these first twelve paintings are recorded
in the two apocryphal gospels known as the "Protevangelion" and
"Gospel of St. Mary."[13] But on comparing the statements in these
writings (which, by the by, are in nowise consistent with each other)
with the paintings in the Arena Chapel, it appeared to me that Giotto
must occasionally have followed some more detailed traditions than are
furnished by either of them; seeing that of one or two subjects the
apocryphal gospels gave no distinct or sufficient explanation.
Fortunately, however, in the course of some other researches, I met
with a manuscript in the British Museum (Harl. 3571,) containing a
complete "History of the most Holy Family," written in Northern
Italian of about the middle of the 14th century; and appearing to be
one of the forms of the legend which Giotto has occasionally followed
in preference to the statements of the Protevangelion. I have
therefore, in illustration of the paintings, given, when it seemed
useful, some portions of this manuscript; and these, with one or two
verses of the commonly received accounts, will be found generally
enough to interpret sufficiently the meaning of the painter.

[Footnote 13: It has always appeared strange to me, that
ecclesiastical history should possess no more authentic records of the
life of the Virgin, before the period at which the narrative of St.
Luke commences, than these apocryphal gospels, which are as wretched
in style as untrustworthy in matter; and are evidently nothing more
than a collection, in rude imitation of the style of the Evangelists,
of such floating traditions as became current among the weak
Christians of the earlier ages, when their inquiries respecting the
history of Mary were met by the obscurity under which the Divine will
had veiled her humble person and character. There must always be
something painful, to those who are familiar with the Scriptures, in
reading these feeble and foolish mockeries of the manner of the
inspired writers; but it will be proper, nevertheless, to give the
exact words in which the scenes represented by Giotto were recorded to

The following complete list of the subjects will at once enable the
reader to refer any of them to its place in the series, and on the
walls of the building; and I have only now to remind him in
conclusion, that within those walls the greatest painter and greatest
poet of mediæval Italy held happy companionship during the time when
the frescoes were executed. "It is not difficult," says the writer
already so often quoted, Lord Lindsay, "gazing on these silent but
eloquent walls, to repeople them with the group once, as we know, five
hundred years ago, assembled within them: Giotto intent upon his work,
his wife Ciuta admiring his progress; and Dante, with abstracted eye,
alternately conversing with his friend, and watching the gambols of
the children playing on the grass before the door."

       *       *       *       *       *


 1. The Rejection of Joachim's Offering.
 2. Joachim retires to the Sheepfold.
 3. The Angel appears to Anna.
 4. The Sacrifice of Joachim.
 5. The Vision of Joachim.
 6. The Meeting at the Golden Gate.
 7. The Birth of the Virgin.
 8. The Presentation of the Virgin.
 9. The Rods are brought to the High Priest.
10. The Watching of the Rods.
11. The Betrothal of the Virgin.
12. The Virgin returns to her House.
13. The Angel Gabriel.
14. The Virgin Annunciate.
15. The Salutation.
16. The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds.
17. The Wise Men's Offering.
18. The Presentation in the Temple.
19. The Flight into Egypt.
20. The Massacre of the Innocents.
21. The Young Christ in the Temple.
22. The Baptism of Christ.
23. The Marriage in Cana.
24. The Raising of Lazarus.
25. The Entry into Jerusalem.
26. The Expulsion from the Temple.
27. The Hiring of Judas.
28. The Last Supper.
29. The Washing of the Feet.
30. The Kiss of Judas.
31. Christ before Caiaphas.
32. The Scourging of Christ.
33. Christ bearing his Cross.
34. The Crucifixion.
35. The Entombment.
36. The Resurrection.
37. The Ascension.
38. The Descent of the Holy Spirit.

       *       *       *       *       *



"At that time, there was a man of perfect holiness, named Joachim, of
the tribe of Juda, and of the city of Jerusalem. And this Joachim had
in contempt the riches and honours of the world; and for greater
despite to them, he kept his flocks, with his shepherds.

"... And he, being so holy and just, divided the fruits which he
received from his flocks into three parts: a third part--wool, and
lambs, and such like--he gave to God, that is to say, to those who
served God, and who ministered in the temple of God; another third
part he gave to widows, orphans, and pilgrims; the remaining third he
kept for himself and his family. And he persevering in this, God so
multiplied and increased his goods that there was no man like him in
the land of Israel.... And having come to the age of twenty years, he
took to wife Anna, the daughter of Ysaya, of his own tribe, and of the
lineage of David.

"This precious St. Anna had always persevered in the service of God
with great wisdom and sincerity; ... and having received Joachim for
her husband, was subject to him, and gave him honour and reverence,
living in the fear of God. And Joachim having lived with his wife Anna
for twenty years, yet having no child, and there being a great
solemnity in Jerusalem, all the men of the city went to offer in the
temple of God, which Solomon had built; and Joachim entering the
temple with (incense?) and other gifts to offer on the altar, and
Joachim having made his offering, the minister of the temple, whose
name was Issachar, threw Joachim's offering from off the altar, and
drove Joachim out of the temple, saying, 'Thou, Joachim, art not
worthy to enter into the temple, seeing that God has not added his
blessing to you, as in your life you have had no seed.' Thus Joachim
received a great insult in the sight of all the people; and he being
all ashamed, returned to his house, weeping and lamenting most
bitterly." (MS. Harl.)

The Gospel of St. Mary differs from this MS. in its statement of the
respective cities of Joachim and Anna, saying that the family of the
Virgin's father "was of Galilee and of the city of Nazareth, the
family of her mother was of Bethlehem." It is less interesting in
details; but gives a better, or at least more graceful, account of
Joachim's repulse, saying that Issachar "despised Joachim and his
offerings, and asked him why he, who had no children, would presume
to appear among those who had: adding, that his offerings could never
be acceptable to God, since he had been judged by Him unworthy to have
children; the Scripture having said, Cursed is every one who shall not
beget a male in Israel."

Giotto seems to have followed this latter account, as the figure of
the high priest is far from being either ignoble or ungentle.

The temple is represented by the two most important portions of a
Byzantine church; namely, the ciborium which covered the altar, and
the pulpit or reading desk; with the low screen in front of the altar
enclosing the part of the church called the "cancellum." Lord Lindsay
speaks of the priest within this enclosure as "confessing a young man
who kneels at his feet." It seems to me, rather, that he is meant to
be accepting the offering of another worshipper, so as to mark the
rejection of Joachim more distinctly.

       *       *       *       *       *



"Then Joachim, in the following night, resolved to separate himself
from companionship; to go to the desert places among the mountains,
with his flocks; and to inhabit those mountains, in order not to hear
such insults. And immediately Joachim rose from his bed, and called
about him all his servants and shepherds, and caused to be gathered
together all his flocks, and goats, and horses, and oxen, and what
other beasts he had, and went with them and with the shepherds into
the hills; and Anna his wife remained at home disconsolate, and
mourning for her husband, who had departed from her in such sorrow."
(MS. Harl.)

"But upon inquiry, he found that all the righteous had raised up seed
in Israel. Then he called to mind the patriarch Abraham,--how that God
in the end of his life had given him his son Isaac: upon which he was
exceedingly distressed, and would not be seen by his wife; but
retired into the wilderness and fixed his tent there, and fasted forty
days and forty nights, saying to himself, 'I will not go down to eat
or drink till the Lord my God shall look down upon me; but prayer
shall be my meat and drink.'" (Protevangelion, chap. i.)

Giotto seems here also to have followed the ordinary tradition, as he
has represented Joachim retiring unattended,--but met by two of his
shepherds, who are speaking to each other, uncertain what to do or how
to receive their master. The dog hastens to meet him with joy. The
figure of Joachim is singularly beautiful in its pensiveness and slow
motion; and the ignobleness of the herdsmen's figures is curiously
marked in opposition to the dignity of their master.

       *       *       *       *       *



"Afterwards the angel appeared to Anna his wife, saying, 'Fear not,
neither think that which you see is a spirit. For I am that angel who
hath offered up your prayers and alms before God, and am now sent to
tell you that a daughter will be born unto you.... Arise, therefore,
and go up to Jerusalem; and when you shall come to that which is
called the Golden Gate (because it is gilt with gold), as a sign of
what I have told you, you shall meet your husband, for whose safety
you have been so much concerned.'" (Gospel of St. Mary, chap. iii.

The accounts in the Protevangelion and in the Harleian MS. are much
expanded: relating how Anna feared her husband was dead, he having
been absent from her five months; and how Judith, her maid, taunted
her with her childlessness; and how, going then into her garden, she
saw a sparrow's nest, full of young, upon a laurel-tree, and mourning
within herself, said, "I am not comparable to the very beasts of the
earth, for even they are fruitful before thee, O Lord.... I am not
comparable to the very earth, for the earth produces its fruits to
praise thee. Then the angel of the Lord stood by her," &c.

Both the Protevangelion and Harleian MS. agree in placing the vision
in the garden; the latter adding, that she fled "into her chamber in
great fear, and fell upon her bed, and lay as in a trance all that day
and all that night, but did not tell the vision to her maid, because
of her bitter answering." Giotto has deviated from both accounts in
making the vision appear to Anna in her chamber, while the maid,
evidently being considered an important personage, is at work in the
passage. Apart from all reference to the legends, there is something
peculiarly beautiful in the simplicity of Giotto's conception, and in
the way in which he has shown the angel entering at the window,
without the least endeavour to impress our imagination by darkness, or
light, or clouds, or any other accessory; as though believing that
angels might appear any where, and any day, and to all men, as a
matter of course, if we would ask them, or were fit company for them.

       *       *       *       *       *



The account of this sacrifice is only given clearly in the Harleian
MS.; but even this differs from Giotto's series in the order of the
visions, as the subject of the _next_ plate is recorded first in this
MS., under the curious heading, "_Disse Sancto Theofilo_ como l'angelo
de Dio aperse a Joachim lo qual li anuntia la nativita della vergene
Maria;" while the record of this vision and sacrifice is headed, "Como
l'angelo de Dio aparse _anchora_ a Joachim." It then proceeds thus:
"At this very moment of the day" (when the angel appeared to Anna),
"there appeared a most beautiful youth (_unno belitissimo zovene_)
among the mountains there, where Joachim was, and said to Joachim,
'Wherefore dost thou not return to thy wife?' And Joachim answered,
'These twenty years God has given me no fruit of her, wherefore I was
chased from the temple with infinite shame.... And, as long as I live,
I will give alms of my flocks to widows and pilgrims.'... And these
words being finished, the youth answered, 'I am the angel of God who
appeared to thee the other time for a sign; and appeared to thy wife
Anna, who always abides in prayer, weeping day and night; and I have
consoled her; wherefore I command thee to observe the commandments of
God, and his will, which I tell you truly, that of thee shall be born
a daughter, and that thou shalt offer her to the temple of God, and
the Holy Spirit shall rest upon her, and her blessedness shall be
above the blessedness of all virgins, and her holiness so great that
human nature will not be able to comprehend it.'...[14]

[Footnote 14: This passage in the old Italian of the MS. may interest
some readers: "E complice queste parole lo zovene respoxe, dignando,
Io son l'angelo de Dio, lo quale si te aparse l'altra fiada, in segno,
e aparse a toa mulier Anna che sempre sta in oration plauzando di e
note, e si lo consolada; unde io te comando che tu debie observare li
comandimenti de Dio, ela soua volunta che io te dico veramente, che de
la toa somenza insera una fiola, e questa offrila al templo de Dio, e
lo Spirito santo reposera in ley, ela soa beatitudine sera sovera tute
le altre verzene, ela soua santita sera si grande che natura humana
non la pora comprendere."]

"Then Joachim fell upon the earth, saying, 'My lord, I pray thee to
pray God for me, and to enter into this my tabernacle, and bless me,
thy servant.' The angel answered, 'We are all the servants of God: and
know that my eating would be invisible, and my drinking could not be
seen by all the men in the world; but of all that thou wouldest give
to me, do thou make sacrifice to God.' Then Joachim took a lamb
without spot or blemish ...; and when he had made sacrifice of it, the
angel of the Lord disappeared and ascended into heaven; and Joachim
fell upon the earth in great fear, and lay from the sixth hour until
the evening."

This is evidently nothing more than a very vapid imitation of the
scriptural narrative of the appearances of angels to Abraham and
Manoah. But Giotto has put life into it; and I am aware of no other
composition in which so much interest and awe has been given to the
literal "burnt sacrifice." In all other representations of such
offerings which I remember, the interest is concentrated in the
_slaying_ of the victim. But Giotto has fastened on the _burning_ of
it; showing the white skeleton left on the altar, and the fire still
hurtling up round it, typical of the Divine wrath, which is "as a
consuming fire;" and thus rendering the sacrifice a more clear and
fearful type not merely of the outward wounds and death of Christ, but
of his soul-suffering. "All my bones are out of joint: my heart is
like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels."[15]

[Footnote 15: (Note by a friend):--"To me the most striking part of it
is, that the skeleton is _entire_ ('a bone of him shall not be
broken'), and that the head stands up still looking to the skies: is
it too fanciful to see a meaning in this?"]

The hand of the Deity is seen in the heavens--the sign of the Divine

       *       *       *       *       *



"Now Joachim being in this pain, the Lord God, Father of mercy, who
abandons not his servants, nor ever fails to console them in their
distresses, if they pray for his grace and pity, had compassion on
Joachim, and heard his prayer, and sent the angel Raphael from heaven
to earth to console him, and announce to him the nativity of the
Virgin Mary. Therefore the angel Raphael appeared to Joachim, and
comforted him with much peace, and foretold to him the birth of the
Virgin in that glory and gladness, saying, 'God save you, O friend of
God, O Joachim! the Lord has sent me to declare to you an everlasting
joy, and a hope that shall have no end.'... And having finished these
words, the angel of the Lord disappeared from him, and ascended into
the heaven." (MS. Harl.)

The passage which I have omitted is merely one of the ordinary
Romanist accounts of the immaculate conception of the Virgin, put
into the form of prophecy. There are no sufficient details of this
part of the legend either in the Protevangelion or Gospel of St. Mary;
but it is quite clear that Giotto followed it, and that he has
endeavoured to mark a distinction in character between the angels
Gabriel and Raphael[16] in the two subjects,--the form of Raphael
melting back into the heaven, and being distinctly recognised as
angelic, while Gabriel appears invested with perfect humanity. It is
interesting to observe that the shepherds, who of course are not
supposed to see the form of the Angel (his manifestation being only
granted to Joachim during his sleep), are yet evidently under the
influence of a certain degree of awe and expectation, as being
conscious of some presence other than they can perceive, while the
animals are unconscious altogether.

[Footnote 16: The MS. makes the angel Raphael the only messenger.
Giotto clearly adopts the figure of Gabriel from the Protevangelion.]

       *       *       *       *       *



"And Joachim went down with the shepherds, and Anna stood by the gate,
and saw Joachim coming with the shepherds. And she ran, and hanging
about his neck, said, 'Now I know that the Lord hath greatly blessed
me.'" (Protevangelion, iv. 8, 9.)

This is one of the most celebrated of Giotto's compositions, and
deservedly so, being full of the most solemn grace and tenderness. The
face of St. Anna, half seen, is most touching in its depth of
expression; and it is very interesting to observe how Giotto has
enhanced its sweetness, by giving a harder and grosser character than
is usual with him to the heads of the other two principal female
figures (not but that this cast of feature is found frequently in the
figures of somewhat earlier art), and by the rough and weather-beaten
countenance of the entering shepherd. In like manner, the falling
lines of the draperies owe a great part of their value to the abrupt
and ugly oblongs of the horizontal masonry which adjoins them.

       *       *       *       *       *



"And Joachim said, 'Now I know that the Lord is propitious to me, and
hath taken away all my sins.' And he went down from the temple of the
Lord justified, and went to his own house.

"And when nine months were fulfilled to Anna, she brought forth, and
said to the midwife, 'What have I brought forth?' And she told her, a

"Then Anna said, 'The Lord hath this day magnified my soul.' And she
laid her in the bed." (Protevangelion, v. 4-8.)

The composition is very characteristic of Giotto in two respects:
first, in its natural homeliness and simplicity (in older designs of
the same subject the little Madonna is represented as born with a
golden crown on her head); and secondly, in the smallness of the
breast and head of the sitting figure on the right,--a fault of
proportion often observable in Giotto's figures of children or young

For the first time, also, in this series, we have here two successive
periods of the scene represented simultaneously, the babe being
painted twice. This practice was frequent among the early painters,
and must necessarily become so wherever painting undertakes the task
of lengthened narrative. Much absurd discussion has taken place
respecting its propriety; the whole question being simply whether the
human mind can or cannot pass from the contemplation of one event to
that of another, without reposing itself on an intermediate gilt

       *       *       *       *       *



"And when three years were expired, and the time of her weaning
complete, they brought the Virgin to the temple of the Lord with

"And there were about the temple, according to the fifteen Psalms of
Degrees, fifteen stairs to ascend.

"The parents of the blessed Virgin and infant Mary put her upon one of
these stairs; but while they were putting off their clothes in which
they had travelled, in the meantime, the Virgin of the Lord in such a
manner went up all the stairs, one after another, without the help of
any one to lead her or lift her, that any one would have judged from
hence that she was of perfect age." (Gospel of St. Mary, iv. 1-6.)

There seems nothing very miraculous in a child's walking up stairs at
three years old; but this incident is a favourite one among the
Roman-Catholic painters of every period: generally, however,
representing the child as older than in the legend, and dwelling
rather on the solemn feeling with which she presents herself to the
high-priest, than on the mere fact of her being able to walk alone.
Giotto has clearly regarded the incident entirely in this light; for
St. Anna touches the child's arm as if to support her; so that the
so-called miraculous walking is not even hinted at.

Lord Lindsay particularly notices that the Virgin is "a dwarf woman
instead of a child; the delineation of childhood was one of the latest
triumphs of art." Even in the time of those latest triumphs, however,
the same fault was committed in another way; and a boy of eight or ten
was commonly represented--even by Raffaelle himself--as a dwarf
Hercules, with all the gladiatorial muscles already visible in stunted
rotundity. Giotto probably felt he had not power enough to give
dignity to a child of three years old, and intended the womanly form
to be rather typical of the Virgin's advanced mind, than an actual
representation of her person.

       *       *       *       *       *



"Then he (the high-priest) appointed that all the men of the house and
family of David who were marriageable, and not married, should bring
their several rods to the altar. And out of whatsoever person's rod,
after it was brought, a flower should bud forth, and on the top of it
the Spirit of the Lord should sit in the appearance of a dove, he
should be the man to whom the Virgin should be given, and be betrothed
to her." (Gospel of St. Mary, v. 16, 17.)

There has originally been very little interest in this composition;
and the injuries which it has suffered have rendered it impossible for
the draughtsman to distinguish the true folds of the draperies amidst
the defaced and worn colours of the fresco, so that the character of
the central figure is lost. The only points requiring notice are,
first, the manner in which St. Joseph holds his rod, depressing and
half-concealing it,[17] while the other suitors present theirs boldly;
and secondly, the graceful though monotonous grouping of the heads of
the crowd behind him. This mode of rendering the presence of a large
multitude, showing only the crowns of the heads in complicated
perspective, was long practised in mosaics and illuminations before
the time of Giotto, and always possesses a certain degree of sublimity
in its power of suggesting perfect unity of feeling and movement among
the crowd.

[Footnote 17: In the next chapter, it is said that "Joseph drew back
his rod when every one else presented his."]

       *       *       *       *       *



"After the high-priest had received their rods, he went into the
temple to pray.

"And when he had finished his prayer, he took the rods and went forth
and distributed them; and there was no miracle attended them.

"The last rod was taken by Joseph; and, behold, a dove proceeded out
of the rod, and flew upon the head of Joseph." (Protevangelion, viii.

This is among the least graceful designs of the series; though the
clumsiness in the contours of the leading figures is indeed a fault
which often occurs in the painter's best works, but it is here
unredeemed by the rest of the composition. The group of the suitors,
however, represented as waiting at the outside of the temple, is very
beautiful in its earnestness, more especially in the passionate
expression of the figure in front. It is difficult to look long at the
picture without feeling a degree of anxiety, and strong sympathy with
the silent watching of the suitors; and this is a sign of no small
power in the work. The head of Joseph is seen far back on the extreme
left; thus indicating by its position his humility, and desire to
withdraw from the trial.

       *       *       *       *       *



There is no distinct notice of this event in the apocryphal Gospel:
the traditional representation of it is nearly always more or less
similar. Lord Lindsay's account of the composition before us is as

"The high-priest, standing in front of the altar, joins their hands;
behind the Virgin stand her bridesmaids; behind St. Joseph the
unsuccessful suitors, one of whom steps forward to strike him, and
another breaks his rod on his knee. Joseph bears his own rod, on the
flower of which the Holy Spirit rests in the semblance of a dove."

The development of this subject by Perugino (for Raffaelle's picture
in the Brera is little more than a modified copy of Perugino's, now at
Caen,) is well known; but notwithstanding all its beauty, there is
not, I think, any thing in the action of the disappointed suitors so
perfectly true or touching as that of the youth breaking his rod in
this composition of Giotto's; nor is there among any of the figures
the expression of solemn earnestness and intentness on the event which
is marked among the attendants here, and in the countenances of the
officiating priests.

       *       *       *       *       *



"Accordingly, the usual ceremonies of betrothing being over, he
(Joseph) returned to his own city of Bethlehem to set his house in
order, and to make the needful provisions for the marriage. But the
Virgin of the Lord, Mary, with seven other virgins of the same age,
who had been weaned at the same time, and who had been appointed to
attend her by the priest, returned to her parents' house in Galilee."
(Gospel of St. Mary, vi. 6, 7.)

Of all the compositions in the Arena Chapel I think this the most
characteristic of the noble time in which it was done. It is not so
notable as exhibiting the mind of Giotto, which is perhaps more fully
seen in subjects representing varied emotion, as in the simplicity and
repose which were peculiar to the compositions of the early fourteenth
century. In order to judge of it fairly, it ought first to be compared
with any classical composition--with a portion, for instance, of the
Elgin frieze,--which would instantly make manifest in it a strange
seriousness and dignity and slowness of motion, resulting chiefly from
the excessive simplicity of all its terminal lines. Observe, for
instance, the pure wave from the back of the Virgin's head to the
ground; and again, the delicate swelling line along her shoulder and
left arm, opposed to the nearly unbroken fall of the drapery of the
figure in front. It should then be compared with an Egyptian or
Ninevite series of figures, which, by contrast, would bring out its
perfect sweetness and grace, as well as its variety of expression:
finally, it should be compared with any composition subsequent to the
time of Raffaelle, in order to feel its noble freedom from pictorial
artifice and attitude. These three comparisons cannot be made
carefully without a sense of profound reverence for the national
spirit[18] which could produce a design so majestic, and yet remain
content with one so simple.

[Footnote 18: _National_, because Giotto's works are properly to be
looked on as the _fruit_ of their own age, and the _food_ of that
which followed.]

The small _loggia_ of the Virgin's house is noticeable, as being
different from the architecture introduced in the other pictures, and
more accurately representing the Italian Gothic of the dwelling-house
of the period. The arches of the windows have no capitals; but this
omission is either to save time, or to prevent the background from
becoming too conspicuous. All the real buildings designed by Giotto
have the capital completely developed.

       *       *       *       *       *



This figure is placed on one side of the arch at the east end of the
body of the chapel; the corresponding figure of the Virgin being set
on the other side. It was a constant practice of the mediæval artists
thus to divide this subject; which, indeed, was so often painted, that
the meaning of the separated figures of the Angel and Mary was as well
understood as when they were seen in juxtaposition. Indeed, on the two
sides of this arch they would hardly be considered as separated, since
very frequently they were set to answer to each other from the
opposite extremities of a large space of architecture.[19]

[Footnote 19: As, for instance, on the two opposite angles of the
façade of the Cathedral of Rheims.]

The figure of the Angel is notable chiefly for its serenity, as
opposed to the later conceptions of the scene, in which he sails into
the chamber upon the wing, like a stooping falcon.

The building above is more developed than in any other of the Arena
paintings; but it must always remain a matter of question, why so
exquisite a designer of architecture as Giotto should introduce forms
so harsh and meagre into his backgrounds. Possibly he felt that the
very faults of the architecture enhanced the grace and increased the
importance of the figures; at least, the proceeding seems to me
inexplicable on any other theory.[20]

[Footnote 20: (Note by a friend:) "I suppose you will not admit as an
explanation, that he had not yet turned his mind to architectural
composition, the Campanile being some thirty years later?"]

       *       *       *       *       *



Vasari, in his notice of one of Giotto's Annunciations, praises him
for having justly rendered the _fear_ of the Virgin at the address of
the Angel. If he ever treated the subject in such a manner, he
departed from all the traditions of his time; for I am aware of no
painting of this scene, during the course of the thirteenth and
following centuries, which does not represent the Virgin as perfectly
tranquil, receiving the message of the Angel in solemn thought and
gentle humility, but without a shadow of fear. It was reserved for the
painters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to change angelic
majesty into reckless impetuosity, and maiden meditation into panic

The face of the Virgin is slightly disappointing. Giotto never reached
a very high standard of beauty in feature; depending much on distant
effect in all his works, and therefore more on general arrangement of
colour and sincerity of gesture, than on refinement of drawing in the

       *       *       *       *       *



This picture, placed beneath the figure of the Virgin Annunciate at
the east end of the chapel, and necessarily small, (as will be seen by
the plan), in consequence of the space occupied by the arch which it
flanks, begins the second or lower series of frescoes; being, at the
same time, the first of the great chain of more familiar subjects, in
which we have the power of comparing the conceptions of Giotto not
only with the designs of earlier ages, but with the efforts which
subsequent masters have made to exalt or vary the ideas of the
principal scenes in the life of the Virgin and of Christ. The two
paintings of the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Annunciate hardly
provoke such a comparison, being almost statue-like in the calm
subjection of all dramatic interest to the symmetrical dignity and
beauty of the two figures, leading, as they do, the whole system of
the decoration of the chapel; but this of the Salutation is treated
with no such reference to the architecture, and at once challenges
comparison with the works of later masters.

Nor is the challenge feebly maintained. I have no hesitation in
saying, that, among all the renderings of this scene which now exist,
I remember none which gives the pure depth and plain facts of it so
perfectly as this of Giotto's. Of majestic women bowing themselves to
beautiful and meek girls, both wearing gorgeous robes, in the midst of
lovely scenery, or at the doors of Palladian palaces, we have enough;
but I do not know any picture which seems to me to give so truthful an
idea of the action with which Elizabeth and Mary must actually have
met,--which gives so exactly the way in which Elizabeth would stretch
her arms, and stoop and gaze into Mary's face, and the way in which
Mary's hand would slip beneath Elizabeth's arms, and raise her up to
kiss her. I know not any Elizabeth so full of intense love, and joy,
and humbleness; hardly any Madonna in which tenderness and dignity
are so quietly blended. She not less humble, and yet accepting the
reverence of Elizabeth as her appointed portion, saying, in her
simplicity and truth, "He that is mighty hath magnified me, and holy
is His name." The longer that this group is looked upon, the more it
will be felt that Giotto has done well to withdraw from it nearly all
accessories of landscape and adornment, and to trust it to the power
of its own deep expression. We may gaze upon the two silent figures
until their silence seems to be broken, and the words of the question
and reply sound in our ears, low as if from far away:

"Whence is this to me, that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?"

"My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my

       *       *       *       *       *



I am not sure whether I shall do well or kindly in telling the reader
anything about this beautiful design. Perhaps the less he knows about
early art or early traditions, the more deeply he will feel its purity
and truth; for there is scarcely an incident here, or anything in the
manner of representing the incidents, which is not mentioned or
justified in Scripture. The bold, hilly background reminds us that
Bethlehem was in the hill-country of Judah. But it may seem to have
two purposes besides this literal one: the first, that it increases
the idea of _exposure_ and loneliness in the birth of Christ; the
second that the masses of the great hills, with the angels floating
round them in the horizontal clouds, may in some sort represent to our
thoughts the power and space of that heaven and earth whose Lord is
being laid in the manger-cradle.

There is an exquisite truth and sweetness in the way the Virgin turns
upon the couch, in order herself to assist in laying the Child down.
Giotto is in this exactly faithful to the scriptural words: "_She_
wrapped the Child in swaddling-clothes, and _laid_ Him in a manger."
Joseph sits beneath in meditation; above, the angels, all exulting,
and, as it were, confused with joy, flutter and circle in the air like
birds,--three looking up to the Father's throne with praise and
thankfulness, one stooping to adore the Prince of Peace, one flying to
tell the shepherds. There is something to me peculiarly affecting in
this disorder of theirs; even angels, as it were, breaking their ranks
with wonder, and not knowing how to utter their gladness and passion
of praise. There is noticeable here, as in all works of this early
time, a certain confidence in the way in which the angels trust to
their wings, very characteristic of a period of bold and simple
conception. Modern science has taught us that a wing cannot be
anatomically joined to a shoulder; and in proportion as painters
approach more and more to the scientific, as distinguished from the
contemplative state of mind, they put the wings of their angels on
more timidly, and dwell with greater emphasis upon the human form, and
with less upon the wings, until these last become a species of
decorative appendage,--a mere _sign_ of an angel. But in Giotto's time
an angel was a complete creature, as much believed in as a bird; and
the way in which it would or might cast itself into the air, and lean
hither and thither upon its plumes, was as naturally apprehended as
the manner of flight of a chough or a starling. Hence Dante's simple
and most exquisite synonym for angel, "Bird of God;" and hence also a
variety and picturesqueness in the expression of the movements of the
heavenly hierarchies by the earlier painters, ill replaced by the
powers of foreshortening, and throwing naked limbs into fantastic
positions, which appear in the cherubic groups of later times.

It is needless to point out the frank association of the two
events,--the Nativity, and appearance of the Angel to the Shepherds.
They are constantly thus joined; but I do not remember any other
example in which they are joined so boldly. Usually the shepherds are
seen in the distance, or are introduced in some ornamental border, or
other inferior place. The view of painting as a mode of suggesting
relative or consecutive thoughts, rather than a realisation of any one
scene, is seldom so fearlessly asserted, even by Giotto, as here, in
placing the flocks of the shepherds at the foot of the Virgin's bed.

This bed, it will be noticed, is on a shelf of rock. This is in
compliance with the idea founded on the Protevangelion and the
apocryphal book known as the Gospel of Infancy, that our Saviour was
born in a cave, associated with the scriptural statement that He was
laid in a manger, of which the apocryphal gospels do not speak.

The vain endeavour to exalt the awe of the moment of the Saviour's
birth has turned, in these gospels, the outhouse of the inn into a
species of subterranean chapel, full of incense and candles. "It was
after sunset, when the old woman (the midwife), and Joseph with her,
reached the cave; and they both went into it. And behold, it was all
filled with light, greater than the light of lamps and candles, and
greater than the light of the sun itself." (Infancy, i. 9.) "Then a
bright cloud overshadowed the cave, and the midwife said: This day my
soul is magnified." (Protevangelion, xiv. 10.) The thirteenth chapter
of the Protevangelion is, however, a little more skilful in this
attempt at exaltation. "And leaving her and his sons in the cave,
Joseph went forth to seek a Hebrew midwife in the village of
Bethlehem. But as I was going, said Joseph, I looked up into the air,
and I saw the clouds astonished, and the fowls of the air stopping in
the midst of their flight. And I looked down towards the earth and saw
a table spread, and working-people sitting around it; but their hands
were on the table, and they did not move to eat. But all their faces
were fixed upwards." (Protevangelion, xiii. 1-7.)

It would, of course, be absurd to endeavour to institute any
comparison between the various pictures of this subject, innumerable
as they are; but I must at least deprecate Lord Lindsay's
characterising this design of Giotto's merely as the "Byzantine
composition." It contains, indeed, nothing more than the materials of
the Byzantine composition; but I know no Byzantine Nativity which at
all resembles it in the grace and life of its action. And, for full a
century after Giotto's time, in northern Europe, the Nativity was
represented in a far more conventional manner than this; usually only
the heads of the ox and ass are seen, and they are arranging, or
holding with their mouths, the drapery of the couch of the Child; who
is not being laid in it by the Virgin, but raised upon a kind of
tablet high above her in the centre of the group. All these early
designs, without exception, however, agree in expressing a certain
degree of languor in the figure of the Virgin, and in making her
recumbent on the bed. It is not till the fifteenth century that she is
represented as exempt from suffering, and immediately kneeling in
adoration before the Child.

       *       *       *       *       *



This is a subject which has been so great a favourite with the
painters of later periods, and on which so much rich incidental
invention has been lavished, that Giotto's rendering of it cannot but
be felt to be barren. It is, in fact, perhaps the least powerful of
all the series; and its effect is further marred by what Lord Lindsay
has partly noted, the appearance--perhaps accidental, but if so,
exceedingly unskilful--of matronly corpulence in the figure of the
Madonna. The unfortunate failure in the representation of the legs and
chests of the camels, and the awkwardness of the attempt to render the
action of kneeling in the foremost king, put the whole composition
into the class--not in itself an uninteresting one--of the slips or
shortcomings of great masters. One incident in it only is worth
observing. In other compositions of this time, and in many later ones,
the kings are generally presenting their offerings themselves, and the
Child takes them in His hand, or smiles at them. The painters who
thought this an undignified conception left the presents in the hands
of the attendants of the Magi. But Giotto considers how presents
would be received by an actual king; and as what has been offered to a
monarch is delivered to the care of his attendants, Giotto puts a
waiting angel to receive the gifts, as not worthy to be placed in the
hands of the Infant.

       *       *       *       *       *



This design is one of those which are peculiarly characteristic of
Giotto as the head of the Naturalisti.[21] No painter before his time
would have dared to represent the Child Jesus as desiring to quit the
arms of Simeon, or the Virgin as in some sort interfering with the
prophet's earnest contemplation of the Child by stretching her arms to
receive Him. The idea is evidently a false one, quite unworthy of the
higher painters of the religious school; and it is a matter of
peculiar interest to see what must have been the strength of Giotto's
love of plain facts, which could force him to stoop so low in the
conception of this most touching scene. The Child does not, it will be
observed, merely stretch its arm to the Madonna, but is even
struggling to escape, violently raising the left foot. But there is
another incident in the composition, witnessing as notably to Giotto's
powerful grasp of all the facts of his subject as this does to his
somewhat hard and plain manner of grasping them;--I mean the angel
approaching Simeon, as if with a message. The peculiar interest of the
Presentation is for the most part inadequately represented in
painting, because it is impossible to imply the fact of Simeon's
having waited so long in the hope of beholding his Lord, or to inform
the spectator of the feeling in which he utters the song of hope
fulfilled. Giotto has, it seems to me, done all that he could to make
us remember this peculiar meaning of the scene; for I think I cannot
be deceived in interpreting the flying angel, with its branch of palm
or lily, to be the Angel of Death, sent in visible fulfilment of the
thankful words of Simeon: "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart
in peace." The figure of Anna is poor and uninteresting; that of the
attendant, on the extreme left, very beautiful, both in its drapery
and in the severe and elevated character of the features and

[Footnote 21: See account of his principles above, p. 13, head C.]

       *       *       *       *       *



Giotto again shows, in his treatment of this subject, a juster
understanding of the probable facts than most other painters. It
becomes the almost universal habit of later artists to regard the
flight as both sudden and secret, undertaken by Joseph and Mary,
unattended, in the dawn of the morning, or "by night," so soon as
Joseph had awaked from sleep. (Matt. ii. 14.) Without a continuous
miracle, which it is unnecessary in this case to suppose, such a
lonely journey would have been nearly impracticable. Nor was instant
flight necessary; for Herod's order for the massacre could not be
issued until he had been convinced, by the protracted absence of the
Wise Men, that he was "mocked of them." In all probability the exact
nature and extent of the danger was revealed to Joseph; and he would
make the necessary preparations for his journey with such speed as he
could, and depart "by night" indeed, but not in the instant of
awakening from his dream. The ordinary impression seems to have been
received from the words of the Gospel of Infancy: "Go into Egypt _as
soon as the cock crows_." And the interest of the flight is rendered
more thrilling, in late compositions, by the introduction of armed
pursuers. Giotto has given a far more quiet, deliberate, and probable
character to the whole scene, while he has fully marked the fact of
divine protection and command in the figure of the guiding angel. Nor
is the picture less interesting in its marked expression of the night.
The figures are all distinctly seen, and there is no broad
distribution of the gloom; but the vigorous blackness of the dress of
the attendant who holds the bridle, and the scattered glitter of the
lights on the Madonna's robe, are enough to produce the required
effect on the mind.

The figure of the Virgin is singularly dignified: the broad and severe
curves traced by the hem and deepest folds of her dress materially
conducing to the nobleness of the group. The Child is partly sustained
by a band fastened round the Madonna's neck. The quaint and delicate
pattern on this band, together with that of the embroidered edges of
the dress, is of great value in opposing and making more manifest the
severe and grave outlines of the whole figure, whose impressiveness is
also partly increased by the rise of the mountain just above it, like
a tent. A vulgar composer would have moved this peak to the right or
left, and lost its power.

This mountain background is also of great use in deepening the sense
of gloom and danger on the desert road. The trees represented as
growing on the heights have probably been rendered indistinct by time.
In early manuscripts such portions are invariably those which suffer
most; the green (on which the leaves were once drawn with dark
colours) mouldering away, and the lines of drawing with it. But even
in what is here left there is noticeable more careful study of the
distinction between the trees with thick spreading foliage, the group
of two with light branches and few leaves, and the tree stripped and
dead at the bottom of the ravine, than an historical painter would now
think it consistent with his dignity to bestow.

       *       *       *       *       *



Of all the series, this composition is the one which exhibits most of
Giotto's weaknesses. All early work is apt to fail in the rendering of
violent action: but Giotto is, in this instance, inferior not only to
his successors, but to the feeblest of the miniature-painters of the
thirteenth century; while his imperfect drawing is seen at its worst
in the nude figures of the children. It is, in fact, almost impossible
to understand how any Italian, familiar with the eager gesticulations
of the lower orders of his countrywomen on the smallest points of
dispute with each other, should have been incapable of giving more
adequate expression of true action and passion to the group of
mothers; and, if I were not afraid of being accused of special
pleading, I might insist at some length on a dim faith of my own, that
Giotto thought the actual agony and strivings of the probable scene
unfit for pictorial treatment, or for common contemplation; and that
he chose rather to give motionless types and personifications of the
soldiers and women, than to use his strength and realistic faculty in
bringing before the vulgar eye the unseemly struggle or unspeakable
pain. The formal arrangement of the heap of corpses in the centre of
the group; the crowded standing of the mothers, as in a choir of
sorrow; the actual presence of Herod, to whom some of them appear to
be appealing,--all seem to me to mark this intention; and to make the
composition only a symbol or shadow of the great deed of massacre, not
a realisation of its visible continuance at any moment. I will not
press this conjecture; but will only add, that if it be so, I think
Giotto was perfectly right; and that a picture thus conceived might
have been deeply impressive, had it been more successfully executed;
and a calmer, more continuous, comfortless grief expressed in the
countenances of the women. Far better thus, than with the horrible
analysis of agony, and detail of despair, with which this same scene,
one which ought never to have been made the subject of painting at
all, has been gloated over by artists of more degraded times.

       *       *       *       *       *



This composition has suffered so grievously by time, that even the
portions of it which remain are seen to the greatest disadvantage.
Little more than various conditions of scar and stain can be now
traced, where were once the draperies of the figures in the shade, and
the suspended garland and arches on the right hand of the spectator;
and in endeavouring not to represent more than there is authority for,
the draughtsman and engraver have necessarily produced a less
satisfactory plate than most others of the series. But Giotto has also
himself fallen considerably below his usual standard. The faces appear
to be cold and hard; and the attitudes are as little graceful as
expressive either of attention or surprise. The Madonna's action,
stretching her arms to embrace her Son, is pretty; but, on the whole,
the picture has no value; and this is the more remarkable, as there
were fewer precedents of treatment in this case than in any of the
others; and it might have been anticipated that Giotto would have put
himself to some pains when the field of thought was comparatively new.
The subject of Christ teaching in the Temple rarely occurs in
manuscripts; but all the others were perpetually repeated in the
service-books of the period.

       *       *       *       *       *




This is a more interesting work than the last; but it is also gravely
and strangely deficient in power of entering into the subject; and
this, I think, is common with nearly all efforts that have hitherto
been made at its representation. I have never seen a picture of the
Baptism, by any painter whatever, which was not below the average
power of the painter; and in this conception of Giotto's, the humility
of St. John is entirely unexpressed, and the gesture of Christ has
hardly any meaning: it neither is in harmony with the words, "Suffer
it to be so now," which must have been uttered before the moment of
actual baptism, nor does it in the slightest degree indicate the sense
in the Redeemer of now entering upon the great work of His ministry.
In the earlier representations of the subject, the humility of St.
John is never lost sight of; there will be seen, for instance, an
effort at expressing it by the slightly stooping attitude and bent
knee, even in the very rude design given in outline on the opposite
page. I have thought it worth while to set before the reader in this
outline one example of the sort of traditional representations which
were current throughout Christendom before Giotto arose. This instance
is taken from a large choir-book, probably of French, certainly of
Northern execution, towards the close of the thirteenth century;[22]
and it is a very fair average example of the manner of design in the
illuminated work of the period. The introduction of the scroll, with
the legend, "This is My beloved Son," is both more true to the
scriptural words, "Lo, a voice from heaven," and more reverent, than
Giotto's introduction of the visible figure, as a type of the First
Person of the Trinity. The boldness with which this type is introduced
increases precisely as the religious sentiment of art decreases; in
the fifteenth century it becomes utterly revolting.

[Footnote 22: The exact date, 1290, is given in the title-page of the

I have given this woodcut for another reason also: to explain more
clearly the mode in which Giotto deduced the strange form which he has
given to the stream of the Jordan. In the earlier Northern works it is
merely a green wave, rising to the Saviour's waist, as seen in the
woodcut. Giotto, for the sake of getting standing-ground for his
figures, gives _shores_ to this wave, retaining its swelling form in
the centre,--a very painful and unsuccessful attempt at reconciling
typical drawing with laws of perspective. Or perhaps it is less to be
regarded as an effort at progress, than as an awkward combination of
the Eastern and Western types of the Jordan. In the difference between
these types there is matter of some interest. Lord Lindsay, who merely
characterises this work of Giotto's as "the Byzantine composition,"
thus describes the usual Byzantine manner of representing the Baptism:

"The Saviour stands immersed to the middle in Jordan (_flowing between
two deep and rocky banks_), on one of which stands St. John, pouring
the water on His head, and on the other two angels hold His robes.
The Holy Spirit descends upon Him as a dove, in a stream of light,
from God the Father, usually represented by a hand from Heaven. Two of
John's disciples stand behind him as spectators. Frequently _the
river-god of Jordan_ reclines with his oars in the corner.... In the
Baptistery at Ravenna, the rope is supported, not by an angel, but by
the river-deity _Jordann_ (Iordanes?), who holds in his left hand a
reed as his sceptre."

Now in this mode of representing rivers there is something more than
the mere Pagan tradition lingering through the wrecks of the Eastern
Empire. A river, in the East and South, is necessarily recognised more
distinctly as a beneficent power than in the West and North. The
narrowest and feeblest stream is felt to have an influence on the life
of mankind; and is counted among the possessions, or honoured among
the deities, of the people who dwell beside it. Hence the importance
given, in the Byzantine compositions, to the name and specialty of the
Jordan stream. In the North such peculiar definiteness and importance
can never be attached to the name of any single fountain. Water, in
its various forms of streamlet, rain, or river, is felt as an
universal gift of heaven, not as an inheritance of a particular spot
of earth. Hence, with the Gothic artists generally, the personality of
the Jordan is lost in the green and nameless wave; and the simple rite
of the Baptism is dwelt upon, without endeavouring, as Giotto has
done, to draw the attention to the rocky shores of Bethabara and Ænon,
or to the fact that "there was much water there."

       *       *       *       *       *



It is strange that the sweet significance of this first of the
miracles should have been lost sight of by nearly all artists after
Giotto; and that no effort was made by them to conceive the
circumstances of it in simplicity. The poverty of the family in which
the marriage took place,--proved sufficiently by the fact that a
carpenter's wife not only was asked as a chief guest, but even had
authority over the servants,--is shown further to have been
distressful, or at least embarrassed, poverty by their want of wine on
such an occasion. It was not certainly to remedy an accident of
careless provision, but to supply a need sorrowfully betraying the
narrow circumstances of His hosts, that our Lord wrought the beginning
of miracles. Many mystic meanings have been sought in the act, which,
though there is no need to deny, there is little evidence to certify:
but we may joyfully accept, as its first indisputable meaning, that of
simple kindness; the wine being provided here, when needed, as the
bread and fish were afterwards for the hungry multitudes. The whole
value of the miracle, in its serviceable tenderness, is at once
effaced when the marriage is supposed, as by Veronese and other
artists of later times, to have taken place at the house of a rich
man. For the rest, Giotto sufficiently implies, by the lifted hand of
the Madonna, and the action of the fingers of the bridegroom, as if
they held sacramental bread, that there lay a deeper meaning under the
miracle for those who could accept it. How all miracle _is_ accepted
by common humanity, he has also shown in the figure of the ruler of
the feast, drinking. This unregarding forgetfulness of present
spiritual power is similarly marked by Veronese, by placing the figure
of a fool with his bauble immediately underneath that of Christ, and
by making a cat play with her shadow in one of the wine-vases.

It is to be remembered, however, in examining all pictures of this
subject, that the miracle was not made manifest to all the guests;--to
none indeed, seemingly, except Christ's own disciples: the ruler of
the feast, and probably most of those present (except the servants who
drew the water), knew or observed nothing of what was passing, and
merely thought the good wine had been "kept until now."

       *       *       *       *       *



In consequence of the intermediate position which Giotto occupies
between the Byzantine and Naturalist schools, two relations of
treatment are to be generally noted in his work. As compared with the
Byzantines, he is a realist, whose power consists in the introduction
of living character and various incidents, modifying the formerly
received Byzantine symbols. So far as he has to do this, he is a
realist of the purest kind, endeavoring always to conceive events
precisely as they were likely to have happened; not to idealise them
into forms artfully impressive to the spectator. But in so far as he
was compelled to retain, or did not wish to reject, the figurative
character of the Byzantine symbols, he stands opposed to succeeding
realists, in the quantity of meaning which probably lies hidden in any
composition, as well as in the simplicity with which he will probably
treat it, in order to enforce or guide to this meaning: the figures
being often letters of a hieroglyphic, which he will not multiply,
lest he should lose in force of suggestion what he gained in dramatic

None of the compositions display more clearly this typical and
reflective character than that of the Raising of Lazarus. Later
designers dwell on vulgar conditions of wonder or horror, such as they
could conceive likely to attend the resuscitation of a corpse; but
with Giotto the physical reanimation is the type of a spiritual one,
and, though shown to be miraculous, is yet in all its deeper aspects
unperturbed, and calm in awfulness. It is also visibly gradual. "His
face was bound about with a napkin." The nearest Apostle has withdrawn
the covering from the face, and looks for the command which shall
restore it from wasted corruption, and sealed blindness, to living
power and light.

Nor is it, I believe, without meaning, that the two Apostles, if
indeed they are intended for Apostles, who stand at Lazarus' side,
wear a different dress from those who follow Christ. I suppose them
to be intended for images of the Christian and Jewish Churches in
their ministration to the dead soul: the one removing its bonds, but
looking to Christ for the word and power of life; the other inactive
and helpless--the veil upon its face--in dread; while the principal
figure fulfils the order it receives in fearless simplicity.

       *       *       *       *       *



This design suffers much from loss of colour in translation. Its
decorative effect depends on the deep blue ground, relieving the
delicate foliage and the local colours of dresses and architecture. It
is also one of those which are most directly opposed to modern
feeling: the sympathy of the spectator with the passion of the crowd
being somewhat rudely checked by the grotesque action of two of the
foremost figures. We ought, however, rather to envy the deep
seriousness which could not be moved from dwelling on the real power
of the scene by any ungracefulness or familiarity of circumstance.
Among men whose minds are rightly toned, nothing is ludicrous: it
must, if an act, be either right or wrong, noble or base; if a thing
seen, it must either be ugly or beautiful: and what is either wrong or
deformed is not, among noble persons, in anywise subject for laughter;
but, in the precise degree of its wrongness or deformity, a subject of
horror. All perception of what, in the modern European mind, falls
under the general head of the ludicrous, is either childish or
profane; often healthy, as indicative of vigorous animal life, but
always degraded in its relation to manly conditions of thought. It has
a secondary use in its power of detecting vulgar imposture; but it
only obtains this power by denying the highest truths.

       *       *       *       *       *



More properly, the Expulsion from the outer Court of the Temple (Court
of Gentiles), as Giotto has indicated by placing the porch of the
Temple itself in the background.

The design shows, as clearly as that of the Massacre of the Innocents,
Giotto's want of power, and partly of desire, to represent rapid or
forceful action. The raising of the right hand, not holding any
scourge, resembles the action afterwards adopted by Oreagna, and
finally by Michael Angelo in his Last Judgment: and my belief is, that
Giotto considered this act of Christ's as partly typical of the final
judgment, the Pharisees being placed on the left hand, and the
disciples on the right. From the faded remains of the fresco, the
draughtsman could not determine what animals are intended by those on
the left hand. But the most curious incident (so far as I know, found
only in this design of the Expulsion, no subsequent painter repeating
it), is the sheltering of the two children, one of them carrying a
dove, under the arm and cloak of two disciples. Many meanings might
easily be suggested in this; but I see no evidence for the adoption of
any distinct one.

       *       *       *       *       *



The only point of material interest presented by this design is the
decrepit and distorted shadow of the demon, respecting which it may be
well to remind the reader that all the great Italian thinkers
concurred in assuming decrepitude or disease, as well as ugliness, to
be a characteristic of all natures of evil. Whatever the extent of the
power granted to evil spirits, it was always abominable and
contemptible; no element of beauty or heroism was ever allowed to
remain, however obscured, in the aspect of a fallen angel. Also, the
demoniacal nature was shown in acts of betrayal, torture, or wanton
hostility; never in valiancy or perseverance of contest. I recollect
no mediæval demon who shows as much insulting, resisting, or
contending power as Bunyan's Apollyon. They can only cheat, undermine,
and mock; never overthrow. Judas, as we should naturally anticipate,
has not in this scene the nimbus of an Apostle; yet we shall find it
restored to him in the next design. We shall discover the reason of
this only by a careful consideration of the meaning of that fresco.

       *       *       *       *       *



I have not examined the original fresco with care enough to be able to
say whether the uninteresting quietness of its design is redeemed by
more than ordinary attention to expression; it is one of the least
attractive subjects in the Arena Chapel, and always sure to be passed
over in any general observation of the series: nevertheless, however
unfavourably it may at first contrast with the designs of later
masters, and especially with Leonardo's, the reader should not fail to
observe that Giotto's aim, had it been successful, was the higher of
the two, as giving truer rendering of the probable fact. There is no
distinct evidence, in the sacred text, of the annunciation of coming
treachery having produced among the disciples the violent surprise and
agitation represented by Leonardo. Naturally, they would not at first
understand what was meant. They knew nothing distinctly of the
machinations of the priests; and so little of the character or
purposes of Judas, that even after he had received the sop which was
to point him out to the others as false;--and after they had heard the
injunction, "That thou doest, do quickly,"--the other disciples had
still no conception of the significance, either of the saying, or the
act: they thought that Christ meant he was to buy something for the
feast. Nay, Judas himself, so far from starting, as a convicted
traitor, and thereby betraying himself, as in Leonardo's picture, had
not, when Christ's first words were uttered, any immediately active
intention formed. The devil had not entered into him until he received
the sop. The passage in St. John's account is a curious one, and
little noticed; but it marks very distinctly the paralysed state of
the man's mind. He had talked with the priests, covenanted with them,
and even sought opportunity to bring Jesus into their hands; but while
such opportunity was wanting, the act had never presented itself fully
to him for adoption or rejection. He had toyed with it, dreamed over
it, hesitated, and procrastinated over it, as a stupid and cowardly
person would, such as traitors are apt to be. But the way of retreat
was yet open; the conquest of the temper not complete. Only after
receiving the sop the idea _finally_ presented itself clearly, and was
accepted, "To-night, while He is in the garden, I can do it; and I
will." And Giotto has indicated this distinctly by giving Judas still
the Apostle's nimbus, both in this subject and in that of the Washing
of the Feet; while it is taken away in the previous subject of the
Hiring, and the following one of the Seizure: thus it fluctuates,
expires, and reillumines itself, until his fall is consummated. This
being the general state of the Apostles' knowledge, the words, "One of
you shall betray me," would excite no feeling in their minds
correspondent to that with which we now read the prophetic sentence.
What this "giving up" of their Master meant became a question of
bitter and self-searching thought with them,--gradually of intense
sorrow and questioning. But had they understood it in the sense we now
understand it, they would never have each asked, "Lord, is it I?"
Peter believed himself incapable even of _denying_ Christ; and of
giving him up to death for money, every one of his true disciples
_knew_ themselves incapable; the thought never occurred to them. In
slowly-increasing wonder and sorrow ([Greek: êrxanto lupeisthai], Mark
xiv. 19), not knowing what was meant, they asked one by one, with
pauses between, "Is it I?" and another, "Is it I?" and this so quietly
and timidly that the one who was lying on Christ's breast never
stirred from his place; and Peter, afraid to speak, signed to him to
ask who it was. One further circumstance, showing that this was the
real state of their minds, we shall find Giotto take cognisance of in
the next fresco.

       *       *       *       *       *



In this design, it will be observed, there are still the twelve
disciples, and the nimbus is yet given to Judas (though, as it were,
setting, his face not being seen).

Considering the deep interest and importance of every circumstance of
the Last Supper, I cannot understand how preachers and commentators
pass by the difficulty of clearly understanding the periods indicated
in St. John's account of it. It seems that Christ must have risen
while they were still eating, must have washed their feet as they sate
or reclined at the table, just as the Magdalen had washed His own feet
in the Pharisee's house; that, this done, He returned to the table,
and the disciples continuing to eat, presently gave the sop to Judas.
For St. John says, that he having received the sop, went _immediately_
out; yet that Christ had washed his feet is certain, from the words,
"Ye are clean, but not all." Whatever view the reader may, on
deliberation, choose to accept, Giotto's is clear, namely, that though
not cleansed by the baptism, Judas was yet capable of being cleansed.
The devil had not entered into him at the time of the washing of the
feet, and he retains the sign of an Apostle.

The composition is one of the most beautiful of the series, especially
owing to the submissive grace of the two standing figures.

       *       *       *       *       *



For the first time we have Giotto's idea of the face of the traitor
clearly shown. It is not, I think, traceable through any of the
previous series; and it has often surprised me to observe how
impossible it was in the works of almost any of the sacred painters to
determine by the mere cast of feature which was meant for the false
Apostle. Here, however, Giotto's theory of physiognomy, and together
with it his idea of the character of Judas, are perceivable enough. It
is evident that he looks upon Judas mainly as a sensual dullard, and
foul-brained fool; a man in no respect exalted in bad eminence of
treachery above the mass of common traitors, but merely a distinct
type of the eternal treachery to good, in vulgar men, which stoops
beneath, and opposes in its appointed measure, the life and efforts of
all noble persons, their natural enemies in this world; as the slime
lies under a clear stream running through an earthy meadow. Our
careless and thoughtless English use of the word into which the Greek
"Diabolos" has been shortened, blinds us in general to the meaning of
"Deviltry," which, in its essence, is nothing else than slander, or
traitorhood;--the accusing and giving up of good. In particular it has
blinded us to the meaning of Christ's words, "Have not I chosen you
twelve, and one of you is a traitor and accuser?" and led us to think
that the "one of you is a devil" indicated some greater than human
wickedness in Judas; whereas the practical meaning of the entire fact
of Judas' ministry and fall is, that out of any twelve men chosen for
the forwarding of any purpose,--or, much more, out of any twelve men
we meet,--one, probably, is or will be a Judas.

The modern German renderings of all the scenes of Christ's life in
which the traitor is conspicuous are very curious in their vulgar
misunderstanding of the history, and their consequent endeavours to
represent Judas as more diabolic than selfish, treacherous, and
stupid men are in all their generations. They paint him usually
projected against strong effects of light, in lurid
chiaroscuro;--enlarging the whites of his eyes, and making him frown,
grin, and gnash his teeth on all occasions, so as to appear among the
other Apostles invariably in the aspect of a Gorgon.

How much more deeply Giotto has fathomed the fact, I believe all men
will admit who have sufficient purity and abhorrence of falsehood to
recognise it in its daily presence, and who know how the devil's
strongest work is done for him by men who are too bestial to
understand what they betray.

       *       *       *       *       *



Little is to be observed in this design of any distinctive merit; it
is only a somewhat completer version of the ordinary representation
given in illuminated missals and other conventual work, suggesting, as
if they had happened at the same moment, the answer, "If I have spoken
evil, bear witness of the evil," and the accusation of blasphemy which
causes the high-priest to rend his clothes.

Apparently distrustful of his power of obtaining interest of a higher
kind, Giotto has treated the enrichments more carefully than usual,
down even to the steps of the high-priest's seat. The torch and barred
shutters conspicuously indicate its being now dead of night. That the
torch is darker than the chamber, if not an error in the drawing, is
probably the consequence of a darkening alteration in the yellow
colours used for the flame.

       *       *       *       *       *



It is characteristic of Giotto's rational and human view of all
subjects admitting such aspect, that he has insisted here chiefly on
the dejection and humiliation of Christ, making no attempt to suggest
to the spectator any other divinity than that of patience made perfect
through suffering. Angelico's conception of the same subject is higher
and more mystical. He takes the moment when Christ is blindfolded, and
exaggerates almost into monstrosity the vileness of feature and
bitterness of sneer in the questioners, "Prophesy unto us, who is he
that smote thee;" but the bearing of the person of Christ is entirely
calm and unmoved; and his eyes, open, are seen through the binding
veil, indicating the ceaseless omniscience.

This mystical rendering is, again, rejected by the later realistic
painters; but while the earlier designers, with Giotto at their head,
dwelt chiefly on the humiliation and the mockery, later painters dwelt
on the physical pain. In Titian's great picture of this subject in the
Louvre, one of the executioners is thrusting the thorn-crown down upon
the brow with his rod, and the action of Christ is that of a person
suffering extreme physical agony.

No representations of the scene exist, to my knowledge, in which the
mockery is either sustained with indifference, or rebuked by any stern
or appealing expression of feature; yet one of these two forms of
endurance would appear, to a modern habit of thought, the most natural
and probable.

       *       *       *       *       *



This design is one of great nobleness and solemnity in the isolation
of the principal figure, and removal of all motives of interest
depending on accessories, or merely temporary incidents. Even the
Virgin and her attendant women are kept in the background; all appeal
for sympathy through physical suffering is disdained. Christ is not
represented as borne down by the weight of the Cross, nor as urged
forward by the impatience of the executioners. The thing to be
shown,--the unspeakable mystery,--is the simple fact, the Bearing of
the Cross by the Redeemer. It would be vain to compare the respective
merits or value of a design thus treated, and of one like Veronese's
of this same subject, in which every essential accessory and probable
incident is completely conceived. The abstract and symbolical
suggestion will always appeal to one order of minds, the dramatic
completeness to another. Unquestionably, the last is the greater
achievement of intellect, but the manner and habit of thought are
perhaps loftier in Giotto. Veronese leads us to perceive the reality
of the act, and Giotto to understand its intention.

       *       *       *       *       *



The treatment of this subject was, in Giotto's time, so rigidly fixed
by tradition that it was out of his power to display any of his own
special modes of thought; and, as in the Bearing of the Cross, so
here, but yet more distinctly, the temporary circumstances are little
regarded, the significance of the event being alone cared for. But
even long after this time, in all the pictures of the Crucifixion by
the great masters, with the single exception perhaps of that by
Tintoret in the Church of San Cassano at Venice, there is a tendency
to treat the painting as a symmetrical image, or collective symbol of
sacred mysteries, rather than as a dramatic representation. Even in
Tintoret's great Crucifixion in the School of St. Roch, the group of
fainting women forms a kind of pedestal for the Cross. The flying
angels in the composition before us are thus also treated with a
restraint hardly passing the limits of decorative symbolism. The
fading away of their figures into flame-like cloud may perhaps be
founded on the verse, "He maketh His angels spirits; His ministers a
flame of fire" (though erroneously, the right reading of that verse
being, "He maketh the winds His messengers, and the flaming fire His
servant"); but it seems to me to give a greater sense of possible
truth than the entire figures, treading the clouds with naked feet, of
Perugino and his successors.

       *       *       *       *       *



I do not consider that in fulfilling the task of interpreter intrusted
to me, with respect to this series of engravings, I may in general
permit myself to unite with it the duty of a critic. But in the
execution of a laborious series of engravings, some must of course be
better, some worse; and it would be unjust, no less to the reader than
to Giotto, if I allowed this plate to pass without some admission of
its inadequacy. It may possibly have been treated with a little less
care than the rest, in the knowledge that the finished plate, already
in the possession of the members of the Arundel Society, superseded
any effort with inferior means; be that as it may, the tenderness of
Giotto's composition is, in the engraving before us, lost to an
unusual degree.

It may be generally observed that the passionateness of the sorrow
both of the Virgin and disciples, is represented by Giotto and all
great following designers as reaching its crisis at the Entombment,
not at the Crucifixion. The expectation that, after experiencing every
form of human suffering, Christ would yet come down from the cross, or
in some other visible and immediate manner achieve for Himself the
victory, might be conceived to have supported in a measure the minds
of those among His disciples who watched by His cross. But when the
agony was closed by actual death, and the full strain was put upon
their faith, by their laying in the sepulchre, wrapped in His
grave-clothes, Him in whom they trusted, "that it had been He which
should have redeemed Israel," their sorrow became suddenly hopeless; a
gulf of horror opened, almost at unawares, under their feet; and in
the poignancy of her astonied despair, it was no marvel that the agony
of the Madonna in the "Pietà" became subordinately associated in the
mind of the early Church with that of their Lord Himself;--a type of
consummate human suffering.

       *       *       *       *       *



Quite one of the loveliest designs of the series. It was a favourite
subject with Giotto; meeting, in all its conditions, his love of what
was most mysterious, yet most comforting and full of hope, in the
doctrines of his religion. His joy in the fact of the Resurrection,
his sense of its function, as the key and primal truth of
Christianity, was far too deep to allow him to dwell on any of its
minor circumstances, as later designers did, representing the moment
of bursting the tomb, and the supposed terror of its guards. With
Giotto the leading thought is not of physical reanimation, nor of the
momentarily exerted power of breaking the bars of the grave; but the
consummation of Christ's work in the first manifesting to human eyes,
and the eyes of one who had loved Him and believed in Him, His power
to take again the life He had laid down. This first appearance to her
out of whom He had cast seven devils is indeed the very central fact
of the Resurrection. The keepers had not seen Christ; they had seen
only the angel descending, whose countenance was like lightning: for
fear of him they became as dead; yet this fear, though great enough to
cause them to swoon, was so far conquered at the return of morning,
that they were ready to take money-payment for giving a false report
of the circumstances. The Magdalen, therefore, is the first witness of
the Resurrection; to the love, for whose sake much had been forgiven,
this gift is also first given; and as the first witness of the truth,
so she is the first messenger of the Gospel. To the Apostles it was
granted to proclaim the Resurrection to all nations; but the Magdalen
was bidden to proclaim it to the Apostles.

In the chapel of the Bargello, Giotto has rendered this scene with yet
more passionate sympathy. Here, however, its significance is more
thoughtfully indicated through all the accessories, down even to the
withered trees above the sepulchre, while those of the garden burst
into leaf. This could hardly escape notice when the barren boughs were
compared by the spectator with the rich foliage of the neighbouring
designs, though, in the detached plate, it might easily be lost sight

       *       *       *       *       *



Giotto continues to exert all his strength on these closing subjects.
None of the Byzantine or earlier Italian painters ventured to
introduce the entire figure of Christ in this scene: they showed the
feet only, concealing the body; according to the text, "a cloud
received Him out of their sight." This composition, graceful as it is
daring, conveys the idea of ascending motion more forcibly than any
that I remember by other than Venetian painters. Much of its power
depends on the continuity of line obtained by the half-floating
figures of the two warning angels.

I cannot understand why this subject was so seldom treated by
religious painters: for the harmony of Christian creed depends as much
upon it as on the Resurrection itself; while the circumstances of the
Ascension, in their brightness, promise, miraculousness, and direct
appeal to all the assembled Apostles, seem more fitted to attract the
joyful contemplation of all who received the faith. How morbid, and
how deeply to be mourned, was the temper of the Church which could not
be satisfied without perpetual representation of the tortures of
Christ; but rarely dwelt on His triumph! How more than strange the
concessions to this feebleness by its greatest teachers; such as that
of Titian, who, though he paints the Assumption of the Madonna rather
than a Pietà, paints the Scourging and the Entombment of Christ, with
his best power,--but never the Ascension!

       *       *       *       *       *



This last subject of the series, the quietest and least interesting in
treatment, yet illustrates sadly, and forcibly, the vital difference
between ancient and modern art.

The worst characters of modern work result from its constant appeal to
our desire of change, and pathetic excitement; while the best features
of the elder art appealed to love of contemplation. It would appear to
be the object of the truest artists to give permanence to images such
as we should always desire to behold, and might behold without
agitation; while the inferior branches of design are concerned with
the acuter passions which depend on the turn of a narrative, or the
course of an emotion. Where it is possible to unite these two sources
of pleasure, and, as in the Assumption of Titian, an action of
absorbing interest is united with perfect and perpetual elements of
beauty, the highest point of conception would appear to have been
touched: but in the degree in which the interest of action
_supersedes_ beauty of form and colour, the art is lowered; and where
real deformity enters, in any other degree than as a momentary shadow
or opposing force, the art is illegitimate. Such art can exist only by
accident, when a nation has forgotten or betrayed the eternal purposes
of its genius, and gives birth to painters whom it cannot teach, and
to teachers whom it will not hear. The best talents of all our English
painters have been spent either in endeavours to find room for the
expression of feelings which no master guided to a worthy end, or to
obtain the attention of a public whose mind was dead to natural
beauty, by sharpness of satire, or variety of dramatic circumstance.

The work to which England is now devoting herself withdraws her eyes
from beauty, as her heart from rest; nor do I conceive any revival of
great art to be possible among us while the nation continues in its
present temper. As long as it can bear to see misery and squalor in
its streets, it can neither invent nor accept human beauty in its
pictures; and so long as in passion of rivalry, or thirst of gain, it
crushes the roots of happiness, and forsakes the ways of peace, the
great souls whom it may chance to produce will all pass away from it
helpless, in error, in wrath, or in silence. Amiable visionaries may
retire into the delight of devotional abstraction, strong men of the
world may yet hope to do service by their rebuke or their satire; but
for the clear sight of Love there will be no horizon, for its quiet
words no answer; nor any place for the art which alone is faithfully
Religious, because it is Lovely and True.

       *       *       *       *       *

The series of engravings thus completed, while they present no
characters on which the members of the Arundel Society can justifiably
pride themselves, have, nevertheless, a real and effective value, if
considered as a series of maps of the Arena frescoes. Few artists of
eminence pass through Padua without making studies of detached
portions of the decoration of this Chapel, while no artist has time to
complete drawings of the whole. Such fragmentary studies might now at
any time be engraved with advantage, their place in the series being
at once determinable by reference to the woodcuts; while qualities of
expression could often be obtained in engravings of single figures,
which are sure to be lost in an entire subject. The most refined
character is occasionally dependent on a few happy and light touches,
which, in a single head, are effective, but are too feeble to bear due
part in an entire composition, while, in the endeavour to reinforce
them, their vitality is lost. I believe the members of the Arundel
Society will perceive, eventually, that no copies of works of great
art are worthily representative of them but such as are made freely,
and for their own purposes, by great painters: the best results
obtainable by mechanical effort will only be charts or plans of
pictures, not mirrors of them. Such charts it is well to command in as
great number as possible, and with all attainable completeness; but
the Society cannot be considered as having entered on its true
functions until it has obtained the hearty co-operation of European
artists, and by the increase of its members, the further power of
representing the subtle studies of masterly painters by the aid of
exquisite engraving.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Giotto and his works in Padua - An Explanatory Notice of the Series of Woodcuts Executed for the Arundel Society After the Frescoes in the Arena Chapel" ***

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