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Title: Giotto
Author: Quilter, Harry
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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      Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).

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   _In the lower church of Assisi_]




Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington
Crown Buildings. 188, Fleet Street

(All rights reserved.)

London: R. Clay, Sons, and Taylor,
Bread Street Hill, E.C.



My only object in writing these few words of preface is to state
plainly the share of originality which belongs to this essay. This is
rendered necessary because the subject of the work has occupied the
attention of many authors of far greater ability and experience than
that of which the present writer can boast.

The extent, then, to which this essay is original is as follows:--The
facts of Giotto's life have been taken from Vasari's _Lives of the
Painters_ and compared with those given by all later writers on the
same subject. As these later authors are mentioned throughout the
book, wherever their opinions are quoted, I need not give a list of
them here. The descriptions of the pictures and sculptures of Giotto
are, in all cases, written by myself after careful study of the
originals. In no case whatever is an opinion expressed upon the merit
or meaning of a work which I have not personally examined; this
applies to all pictures and statues mentioned in the essay as well as
to those of Giotto.

The descriptions of Padua, Assisi, and Florence were written on the
spot, and the vignettes of the two former towns are reduced from
sketches made by myself on purpose for the present work.

The fresco of the _Unknown Madonna_, formerly attributed to Giotto,
and still ascribed to him by the monks of Assisi, is reproduced here,
by chromo-lithography, from a watercolour drawing made by me at Assisi
in the spring of last year--its only use is to show readers the kind
of colouring prevalent in Giotto's work.

Lastly, for all criticisms, theories, and illustrations given in the
essay, I am alone responsible, except in cases where the name of the
author is subjoined in a footnote.

     _May, 1880_.


       CHAPTER I.                                       PAGE

     INTRODUCTORY                                          1

       CHAPTER II.



     FRESCO-PAINTING                                      28

       CHAPTER IV.

     CIMABUE                                              33

       CHAPTER V.

     GIOTTO                                               41

       CHAPTER VI.

     THE CHIEF FUNCTION OF PAINTING                       53




     GIOTTO AT PADUA                                      68

       CHAPTER IX.

     GIOTTO'S STYLE                                       86

       CHAPTER X.

     GIOTTO AT ASSISI. THE UPPER CHURCH                   94

       CHAPTER XI.

     THE LOWER CHURCH OF ASSISI                          111


     GIOTTO'S LATER WORK AT FLORENCE                     128




       S. MARIA NOVELLA, FLORENCE                                   36

       FLORENCE                                                     42

     PADUA. FROM A DRAWING BY THE AUTHOR                            71

       CHAPEL, PADUA. _Photograph_                                  74

       CHAPEL, PADUA. _Wood Engraving_                              76

       PADUA. _Photograph_                                          80

       ARENA CHAPEL, PADUA. _Photograph_                            82






"As in passing through life we learn many new things, so do we forget
many old things, and gradually the remembrance of them is lost from
among men. Therefore those persons do not reason well who do not study
to perpetuate useful things by writing, because in such case posterity
will hereafter seek in vain for their origin, perfection, and

       *       *       *       *       *

"Such as are ignorant of things done and past before themselves had
any being continue still in the estate of children, able to speak and
behave themselves no otherwise; and even within the bounds of their
native countries (in respect of knowledge or manly capacity) they are
no more than well-seeming dumb images."--_From the Dedication of an
anonymous translation of Boccaccio's Novels, &c._ 1634.

       *       *       *       *       *

"And so it is with all truths of the highest order: they are separated
from those of average precision by points of extreme delicacy, which
none but a cultivated eye can in the least feel, and to express which
all words are absolutely meaningless and useless. Two lines are laid
on canvas, or cut on stone: one is right and another wrong. There is
no difference between them appreciable by the compasses--none
appreciable by the ordinary eye--none which can be pointed out if it
is not seen. One person feels it, another does not; but the feeling or
sight of the one can by no words be communicated to the other. That
feeling and that sight have been the reward of years of
labour."--_John Ruskin._ 1853.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I offer this little work as long as I live to the correction of those
who are more learned. If I have done wrong in anything I shall not be
ashamed to receive their admonitions; and if there be anything which
they like, I shall not be slow to furnish more."--_Wilhelm of Bamberg,
circa 1000 A.D._


  Page 28, line 3 from bottom, _for_ Tambrani        _read_ Tambroni.
   "    46,   " 23   "  top       "   hand               "   panel.
   "    68,   "  6   "   "        "   O'er               "   O'erspread.
   "    70,   "  8   "   "        "   chi                "   ché.
   "    76,   " 12   "   "        "   Baptism of Lazarus "   Raising of
   "    84,   " 16   "  bottom,   "   Selvatia           "   Selvatica.
   "    95,   "  1   "   "        "   Sulasio            "   Subasio.
   "   105,   "  3   "   "      Appendix C has been omitted for want of
   "   123,   "  8   "   "      _for_ Scavegni        _read_ Scrovegni.
   "   128,   "  5   "  top       "   Links              "   Lamps.




The biographies in this series[1] are intended to help in the
preservation of the memories of those great artists, who, leaving to
the world the legacies of their genius, have not all died, but live to
this hour in the far-reaching influence their works exert. That such
men lived, worked, and perished, is almost the sum of knowledge that
most of us can boast of with regard to them; we here try to add the
simple story of their lives, and perhaps a few touches of description
as to the friends they loved, the country they lived in, and the times
in which they worked; so that, perhaps, they may become in some
measure to us, not only wielders of the chisel and the brush, but men
like ourselves, with moments of frailty as well as exaltation, with
lives more or less difficult through fading ambitions and frequent
failure, but nevertheless bound to us by the tie of a common humanity,
and claiming our sympathy and love, not only for the beauty they have
left us, but because they also carried the burden, and fought the
fight that we are fighting to-day. If it be true, as George Eliot
tells us, that the aspect of affairs for the race, is largely altered
by the influence of "those who have lived faithfully hidden lives, and
rest in unvisited tombs," it is none the less true, that there is some
danger in regarding those whose achievements are of historic
magnitude, as if they belonged to a separate order of humanity, and
were removed alike from its every-day joys and sorrows; and we shall
gain a knowledge by no means to be despised, if we once bring fairly
home to our consciousness the fact that the seeds of greatness
flourish in no other soil than that which we all possess; that the
divine light of genius glorifies natures that are subject to the like
joys, sorrows, and passions as our own, nay, that even, "like the
fierce light that beats upon a throne," it often reveals faults of
which the weakest of us might well be ashamed, as well as virtues of
which we are all capable. It is not by elevating the great to a
passionless region of undisturbed supremacy of life and action, that
we show them our truest reverence, or learn from them our most worthy
lesson, but by seeing them as they were in sober truth. If we would
knit into firmer unison the varying struggles, failures, and triumphs
of our great brotherhood, we must learn to look upon genius, not as
some cold, unapproachable excellence that finds its work in alien
spheres of imagination and action, but rather as a keener insight into
the truths of thought and feeling, with its relations to the everyday
aspects of life, no less than to its most exalted phases.

It will not be wasted time to the busy dwellers in the England of the
nineteenth century, to be led back in spirit to those old Italian days
when as yet civilisation dozed upon the stream of time, when the Arno
and the Tiber ran their course unspanned by other bridges than those
grey stone ones that remain to this day, when under the shadows of the
Umbrian mountains, the rushes of Thrasymene wavered not with the rush
of the locomotive, but the sighing of the breezes, and on the hills of
Assisi the brethren of St. Francis chanted their earliest anthems,
and took their first solemn vows of poverty and obedience. It will not
be wasted time, if a thrill of kindly sympathy can be raised within us
for that old life without whose struggles our fuller knowledge could
never have existed, when the world was plainly divided into soldiers
and scholars, rulers and ruled, men of action and men of thought, when
the good was encrusted with no uncertainties, and the evil mitigated
by no doubts, and all the lives of men were poured along a deeper and
narrower channel than now. Though we should not regret, we should
still remember kindly those times and all that they wrought for us,
and the lessons that they teach, though our lives be cast in a far
different mould.

It is not possible now for a new regenerator of art to cause a new
departure for art by plain reference to natural fact, as did the
subject of this book six hundred years ago; but how long has it been
impossible? For little more than twenty years! Strange as it may seem
to many of our readers, a large portion of the very best art of the
present day is based upon principles which were derived from the works
of Giotto and his immediate successors, and such men as Millais,
Holman Hunt, Rossetti, and Burne Jones, would never have painted as
they have done,[2] had it not been for the Umbrian shepherd boy, whose
story we are about to tell. The quality which they found in Giotto's
work, of simple unswerving truth to the facts of nature and life, this
it is which lies at the root of all their work, this it is which they
sought to find in vain in the pictures of later artists, however
superior such might be, and were, in beauty of form and refinement of
colouring. Forced and eccentric as the work of the modern
pre-Raphaelites at first seemed, it was indubitably based upon a sound
principle--the principle of painting what they saw, and consequently
what they believed in, rather than what they might have seen. They
took up the theory that nature was essentially beautiful and,
carrying it a step further than was usual, drew the conclusion that if
they were absolutely faithful to nature, their work could not be

It is hardly too much to say that this principle has gone far to
effect as great a change in modern art as the practice of Giotto
effected in that of six hundred years ago. Even those artists who have
been most antagonistic to the pre-Raphaelite movement, as it is
called, have had their practice modified by it; and though they have
continued to uphold the necessity for following rules of art,
conventionally graceful arrangement of line, and contrasts of light
and shade as the chief elements of pictorial beauty, have still been
forced by their antagonists into bringing their works more into
accordance with natural fact.

Upon this point, however, this is not the place to dwell; it is
sufficient to bear in mind that the influence of Giotto, of which we
have spoken, is one which is even now modifying our art, and that
therefore it will be no small help to the right understanding of
present pictures and picture theories, to understand clearly what
reform it was that Giotto introduced into Italian painting, and how it
comes about that after so long an interval of time his work has come
to form a sort of rallying point for young English artists of our own

There is still another reason for dwelling upon the work of this old
pre-Raphaelite painter; which is, that there is one considerable
section of the English art-world who unite in declaring the essential
and necessary superiority of the Venetian and Florentine painting, say
of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and in speaking in
despairing terms of the hopeless ugliness of modern civilisation. I
often wonder whether those worthy elders, had they lived in the times
of Giotto, would not have referred in terms of despairing eulogy to
the old Roman mosaics of the fifth and sixth centuries, and contrasted
their beauty with the innovating tendency of the shepherd painter, who
actually inserted portraits of living people into his sacred pictures,
and vulgarised the most holy subjects by the insertion of personages
who looked actually glad, or surprised, or sorry, just as they might
have done in actual life!

But it surely is not the case that art alone, of all the great
influences of the world, reached its apogee in the Middle Ages, and
that nothing henceforth remains for it but stagnation or decline. Can
we believe that progress will go on in all else, and that art alone is
doomed to stand still for ever, like a sort of Lot's wife, looking
backward to Venice and Florence, as she to Sodom? Such cannot be the
belief of those who hold that progress is not the result of an
accidental conjunction of fortunate circumstances, but rather that of
an universal law of nature, which ordains that we move for ever
forward, though the steps of our advance are rarely perceptible. It is
possible that all the older forms of art must die--as they seem to be
dying now, of inanition--ere the fuller art be born, but nevertheless
the fuller art must come in its season, and whatever be its
distinguishing characteristic, this at least is certain, that it will
be more in unison with the facts of nature and life, as we now know
them, than a reflection of the faded beauties of ancient story. So
that we are justified in looking with special interest upon the works
of the man who first asserted the principle of the broad relation of
art to life, and painted legends of the Madonna, or whatever were his
subjects, not in the ancient symbolical manner, but as incidents that
happened in the work-a-day world, and were witnessed by spectators,
such as might have really existed, some of whom were curious, some
scornful, and some indifferent.

Whatever changes art may undergo in the future, our debt will be none
the less to those who have made it such as we know it now, to those
early workers who struggled against difficulties and solved them for
us, and whose imperfections formed the groundwork of our fuller
knowledge. And chief of these, as the first who introduced a rational
and verifiable manner of painting, is Giotto Bondone, the pupil of
Cimabue, who not only cast on one side the arbitrary forms of
representation handed down from the Byzantine artists, but, as we have
said, introduced into his pictures the element of natural life, and
carrying his reform into the very heart of his subject, adopted for
his characters not only appropriate action and natural positions, but
made the whole picture tell a story of human life, instead of making
it a composition of more or less graceful lines and variegated

This will be treated of in subsequent portions of this essay, it is
sufficient to say here that painters were not slow to follow the
example thus set, nor the public to appreciate the change. It was so
sudden and of such marked importance, the advantages gained were so
great, that the new method of painting, completely vanquished the
traditional one, even in the artist's own lifetime; and with the whole
weight of tradition, and with the Church's dislike to innovation to
contend with, it succeeded in permanently establishing itself in
public favour.

From the time of Giotto's early manhood to the death of Titian, the
history of painting is mainly the history of the principles which the
former artist taught his pupils and exemplified in his works.

Even in landscape painting, which was hardly if at all practised in
his time, the advance made by Giotto was remarkable, as he substituted
for the ordinary conventional background, scenes in which nature was
represented faithfully, though with many shortcomings of perspective
and errors of proportion such as were inevitable in a first attempt.
However, for two hundred years afterwards the advance in landscape was
very slight,[4] and in some respects his designs of leaves and
foliage, especially some of those in the sculptures on the Campanile
at Florence, are still worthy of our admiration for their fidelity, no
less than for their beauty.

And lastly, to conclude this introductory chapter, it may be worth
while to attempt to answer the question of what analogy we can find
between the work of Giotto and that of the present day, and what
lessons we can derive from the former. Now that we have had our road
cleared of the many difficulties that beset the old Italian artist,
have we any left that he can teach us how to master, and if so, what
are they?

The answer is a very simple one. In his time art was suffering its
restriction to a certain class of subjects, the religious; and a
certain way of representing those subjects, the conventional. This
restriction had engendered a purely formal and unemotional art, and an
almost total suppression in pictures of the elements of fancy and the
realisation of natural fact. In the present day, as in the thirteenth
century, art suffers from restrictions, the difference being, that
instead of being imposed from without, they are imposed from within,
or in other words, they are developments from her own practice. The
effect of the great advance in art made in the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries has been to make modern artists look at nature in a
particular way, _i.e._, in the manner in which the painters of that
day originated; and instead of aiming at beauty through truth to
nature and life, they rather aim at it through an imitation of the
works of Raphael and Titian. The perfection of _technique_ reached by
those masters and their contemporaries, has raised the admiration of
all later painters to such a degree that they have exalted the methods
of this Renaissance painting into a religion, and seek to find in the
laws of chiaroscuro, composition, balance, and harmony of colour,
which they can deduce from the pictures of that period, the source of
the inspiration that renders those works immortal. Thus art is still
in service, in service to itself; it has but burst one set of fetters
that it might "gather the links of the broken chain to fasten them
proudly round her." No longer bound by superstition and formalism; she
is bound by bonds of her own making, and falls down, like Narcissus of
old, in worship of her own fair face. Indeed the present error is
really a deeper one than that which Giotto vanquished, for throughout
all the degradation of art in the early centuries of the Christian
era, there was one principle which had been clung fast to, and that
was, that pictures should represent things worthy to be represented;
it is true that the range was narrowed and its treatment governed by
rule, but it may be doubted whether this was not preferable to our
present indifference of what it is that is painted, or whether
anything should be painted at all.

For it must be noticed that many modern writers on art seem to hold,
and artists to exemplify, the principle, that one subject is as good
as another; in fact, that the treatment is everything, the meaning of
the work wholly subsidiary. Art no longer exists to depict worthily
worthy things, but rather like an æsthetic Blondin balances itself
solemnly on a tight-rope of its own construction, seeming to pride
itself upon its removal from the vulgar crowd, and moves onward with
abstracted gaze, heedless of the oft repeated cries of "Come down."

Yet now, as in the older centuries, men sorrow and hope, succeed and
fail, and woman's beauty is as fair, and her heart as tender, as under
the Italian sunshine six hundred years ago; there may be at the
present hour in the cottages of England, as then mid the hills of
Vespignano, peasants' children in whom the inspiration of art is
struggling for utterance, needing but the chance that Cimabue gave to
Giotto, to give to mankind new lessons of beauty and truth. In a word,
now as then, the subjects of art and its power are the same as they
have ever been, and men have not ceased to be the same because the
fashion of their dress is changed, and they no longer display their
emotions with the frank egotism of the Middle Ages. And, as has been
said, the history of Giotto is the history of the man who first in
painting gave expression to all the diverse emotions of men, who
refused to believe that traditional arrangements of line, and
profuseness of colouring, could be efficient substitutes for the vital
facts of nature and life; who taught that painting is but one of the
means by which man speaks to man, and that therefore the words it says
are as important, perhaps more so, as the way in which they are said.
So I repeat the history of this old pre-Raphaelite is doubly
important to us at this day, not only as the founder of the great
schools of Italian painting, but as the energetic reformer in whose
works our artists may find an exhortation to cast away formulas for
facts, and rely for the beauty and attractiveness of their pictures,
more upon their correspondence with nature, than their subservience to
artistic tradition.


[1] This essay was originally written for, and will ultimately appear
in, the series of "Illustrated Biographies of the Great Artists,"
published by Messrs. Sampson Low, and Co.

[2] See _Pre-Raphaelitism_, by John Ruskin. 1862.

[3] In this connection the following quotation from Mr. Ruskin's
description of the origin of English pre-Raphaelitism may be found
interesting. He is here speaking of Messrs. Millais, Hunt, and
Rossetti: "Pupils in the same schools receiving precisely the same
instruction, which for so long a time has paralysed every one of our
painters; these boys agree in disliking to copy the antique statues
set before them. They copy them as they are bid, and they copy them
better than anybody else; they carry off prize after prize, and yet
they hate their work. At last they are admitted to study from the
life, they find the life very different from the antique, and they say
so. Their teachers tell them the antique is the best, and they must
not copy the life. They agree among themselves that they like the life
and that copy it they will. They do copy it faithfully, and their
masters forthwith declare them to be lost men. Their fellow-students
hiss them whenever they enter the room. They cannot help it, they join
hands and tacitly resist both the hissing and the instruction.
Accidentally a few prints of the works of Giotto, a few casts from
that of Ghiberti, fall into their hands, and they see in them
something which they never saw before; something eternally and
everlastingly true."

[4] "From Giotto's old age to the youth of Raphael the advance
consists principally in two great steps: the first, that distant
objects were more or less invested with a blue colour; the second,
that trees were no longer painted with a black ground but with a rich
dark brown, or dark green one."--_John Ruskin._



If we would gain a true and adequate conception of the works and merit
of any painter, it is necessary for us not only to examine his special
productions, but to become in some measure acquainted with the state
in which art was during his time. And not only is it necessary to take
into account the actual amount of progress then manifested in one
particular branch, such as painting, but to consider also the
tendencies of the age, if we would separate the influence exercised by
the artist's work, and define its true significance. Therefore readers
will not think it irrelevant to the right telling and understanding of
the life of Giotto, if they are first asked to consider for a short
time the condition of art in the year 1276; and in order to thoroughly
comprehend this condition, we must for a moment carry our thoughts
back a thousand years further still, and think of those days when art
and paganism flourished side by side in the Grecian republic.

It would be difficult at any time, impossible in the short space at
our disposal, to explain the peculiar action and reaction of Greek art
upon Greek religion; we must content ourselves with noting the fact
that the two were absolutely inseparable--that the religion owed its
influence over men's minds in no small degree to the power of art, is
as indisputable as that art gained enormously in dignity and strength
by being considered as the greatest exponent of religion, and by all
its most important achievements being consecrated to that service. But
if the Greek art was on the one hand indissolubly connected with the
national religion, it was, on the other, no less connected with the
national life. If the wisdom of Zeus, the pride of Juno, and the
tenderness of Venus ornamented one side of the amphora, the struggles
of the chase and the contests of the gymnasia adorned the other; nor
did it seem to the people that there was anything extraordinary in
thus mingling the doings of their neighbours, and the actions of their
gods. Why! their gods, after all, were but neighbours of a higher
order, and had even been known to succumb to the craft or bravery of
men. The barrier between seen and unseen scarcely existed; but nature
passed through almost imperceptible gradations, from the dryad of the
woodland, to the ruler of Olympus. Had their religion, their art, and
their life stood apart, as, unhappily, religion, art, and life stand
apart now, the rise of Christianity could never have produced the
withering effect upon all works of imagination which we know occurred;
for it could not have taken away, at one blow, both the motives and
the subjects of art, however it might have changed the mode of their
representation; nor would Christianity have been opposed to it in like
manner, had it not clearly perceived that it was one of the great
instruments in the hands of the pagan priests. Unable to pervert to
spiritual conceptions an art whose only conception of spiritual things
was the perfection of bodily ones, ascetic Christianity had no choice
but to discourage the practice of art altogether, and this is what
actually happened. Gradually as the study of the nude figure was
abandoned, the ignorance of the artists of the real outlines of the
human form increased; and gradually, as the first broad Christian
theory of fellowship and brotherhood, faded through the help of the
priest into a stern, asceticism, enforced by Church tradition, all
representations of vigour and manly beauty were considered to verge
upon the profane, till at last we find in the work of the fifth to the
tenth centuries, an almost total absence of all study of either nature
or man; the former being totally disregarded, the latter represented
under rude types, which were repeated from age to age without variety
or improvement. Splendour of material and colouring were made to atone
for poverty of conception and absence of thought, and the great art of
those ages was one which the Greeks had only considered worthy to
decorate the floors of their palaces. This art of mosaic, which about
the fourth century[5] began to supersede painting in tempera and
encaustic, was peculiarly fitted to be the servant of asceticism. In
the course of its practice all the flowing lines of drapery became
harsh and stiff, the limbs lost their suppleness and movement, the
face its expression and life, and in fact the whole picture became
less a representation of an occurrence, than a type to recall
some subject to the mind. If we remember that many of the facts
of the Christian religion were such as almost to defy absolute
representation, we shall discover another reason for the adoption of
this work. It is to be noted that, according to Pliny, mosaic began to
be in vogue in Rome about 170 years before Christ. Kugler asserts that
this art was an invention of the Alexandrian age, but in this he
appears to be mistaken, and it is more probable that the Greeks
received it from Persia and Assyria (through their Ægean colonies and
the histories of Phoenician merchants), in which countries the art
seems to have been of great antiquity,[6] The finest examples of these
wall mosaics are to be found in Rome and Ravenna, and, at a later
date, in the decoration of St. Mark's, at Venice, to which we shall
hereafter have occasion to refer. Another kind of art of great
importance at this time was Illumination, the earliest traces of which
are found towards the close of the second century, when the present
form of leaves sewn together at the back superseded the rollers which
had been previously used. The first embellishments were simple
enlargements and variety of colouring in the letters; from this, the
advance to borders and illustrative designs was comparatively
rapid.[7] The earliest examples of importance remaining at the present
day, are the _Dioscorides_, in the library at Vienna, and the
_Virgil_, in the Vatican, both of which are supposed to be of the
fourth century.

The influence of tradition, asceticism, and sacerdotalism, acted in a
precisely similar way to restrain the art of illumination, as it did
to destroy that of painting and sculpture. At first the Byzantine
school of illuminators greatly surpassed those of the Western world,
but, as Humphreys says, "They belonged to a sinking and not a rising
civilisation, and we find them gradually deteriorating after the tenth
century, and never originating a new style or gradually progressing to
more intricate or beautiful treatment of their subjects, but on the
contrary, uninfluenced by the change and progress that was at work in
Western Europe, they plodded on in the traditional track; the ancient
costume and the bright gold of their miniatures of the fifth century
still continuing in practice to the later period of Byzantine
illumination; and even in the year 1846, M. Papetie found the monks of
Mount Athos decorating portions of their monastery with figures of the
apostles and evangelists of the old approved pattern, and painted on
the traditional gold grounds, the exact counterpart of those of the
fifth century."[8]

We have spoken of the Byzantine mosaic and illumination, and have only
to mention their architecture to complete our account, for it must be
remembered that almost every artistic impulse of these centuries was
due either mediately or immediately to the influence of
Constantinople, which, however stationary, or even declining in its
civilisation, was yet the great centre of enlightenment.

It is quite impossible I believe to give in a few lines any
description of the peculiarities of Byzantine architecture, dependent
as that style was upon a combination of the Grecian, Roman, and
Arabian methods of building. We know that one element in the style was
the combination of the round dome with the ancient temple, and that
the shape and size of the building was in the first place determined
by the necessities of its worship. As is pointed out by Professor
Brown,[9] "the Christian mode of worship required a style of building
considerably different from the heathen temple. Instead of a mere
sacristry for the priest, the term at which the pomp of processions
ended, and in the front of which, under the vault of the sky,
sacrifices were performed, shelter was now required for the multitude
offering their prayers, according to ritual, and receiving instruction
from their pastors. New places for sacred edifices were therefore
required, and those of great dimensions, with ample space and superior
accommodation within the interior." The result of this demand led to
the selection and adaptation of the most suitable buildings which were
then available, and these happened to be the ancient basilicas or
halls of justice, of which, as they are the origin of all Christian
churches, the following description may be interesting to some of my
readers:[10] "A basilica was a public edifice of the ancient Romans,
consisting of an oblong interior divided in its width into three
divisions by two rows of columns. At the upper end it had a large
niche or tribune, where courts of justice were held. The basilica was
a place of general resort, like an exchange of modern times. These
places also became to be used by the Christians for their place of
meeting, and afterwards churches were built on the model of the
basilicæ, and the name of basilicæ is still affixed to the principal
churches in Rome. To a building of this kind there was added a
transept, to give a cruciform shape; and so the general plan of our
churches came to be adopted."

If the exigencies of room and haste led to the transposition of these
ancient exchanges into churches, and fixed the form of the Christian
architecture of the future; the zeal of the new faith also determined
in no small measure the style of adornment of their interiors. For,
again, the haste for their decoration was so great that the
importation of marble from the quarries nearly twenty miles from Rome
was too slow a method for the Christians to adopt, and they
"immediately commenced the work of demolition among the classic
edifices of antiquity erected by the pagan Romans, chiefly for the
value of the materials."[11] This was probably the origin of the
method of incrustation, which forms such a remarkable feature in the
Byzantine architecture, and indeed is, according to Ruskin, its most
typical feature. The process of changing a basilica into a cathedral
being somewhat akin to that of changing a barrack into a palace, the
rich materials had to be used as sparingly as possible, in order to
make them sufficient for the concealment of the original poverty of
the structure, and this naturally led to the blocks of marble being
divided into thin slabs, in order to gain as much surface decoration
as possible, and caused also the delicate proportions of symmetry and
uniformity in the Grecian temples to be neglected, since the
proportions had to be taken as they were found, and made the best of.
If we then add to this first origin of the Christian architecture, the
influences which were likely to attend upon its transference to the
East, we easily perceive how its more elaborate decorations and
peculiarities arose. The employment of coloured marbles, which arose
first from the necessity of making use of the scattered fragments of
the ancient temples, was continued, through a love for the
picturesqueness of the effect produced; the elements of size,
proportion, and simplicity, on which the structure of the Grecian
temples had been founded, once lost sight of, those of variety and
intricacy took their place. Eastern magnificence covered the walls
with gold and colours, while the necessities of excluding the fierce
sunshine of the East, narrowed the windows, and produced the chequered
gloom, through which the lustre of the golden crucifix, and the silver
lamp, alone shone clearly. Such was the rise of the Byzantine
architecture, which, however lacking it may be in strictness of taste
and correctness of method, has always been powerful over men's minds
to an almost unparalleled extent.[12]

And in this architecture and decoration everything was subordinated to
the religious impression; from its meanest detail, to the very shape
of the church itself, everything was a type of the Christian faith and
hope, and was neither valuable nor precious, save as the symbol of the
unseen divinity. It can be easily imagined how quickly art sank wholly
under this influence, and became the mere servant of the popular
superstition. As in ancient Greece, so in Byzantium, the priests used
art for their great lever to move the imaginations of the people; the
difference being only that as the religion was of a different kind, so
was the art. This world was a hospital; "health and heaven were to
come";[13] that was practically the belief of these early ages of the
Christian Church. It is indeed the theory of the Church at the present
day. So art no longer sought to find her gods in an apotheothised
humanity, but substituted arbitrary types for the things unspeakable;
thus a hand reaching down from the sky typified the Almighty; a dove
was the recognised symbol of the spirit, and so on.[14]

And as the Church gradually encroached more and more upon the lives of
the people, and as with its increasing influence it asserted its
supremacy on every domain of human life; so it extended its power of
repression upon the subjects as well as upon the methods of art. Not
only was the barrier raised against all representations of bodily
strength, grace, and beauty, but even in the delineation of sacred
subjects, the artist was forbidden to render them in any way human by
using his powers of conception and modification. Hardly even was a
variation of grouping or the introduction of a figure allowed in the
treatment of the religious events; and for hundreds of years St. John
and the Virgin stood in the same attitude, at the right and at the
left hand of the cross, and Christ, in the centre of the picture,
gazed upon the spectators with the placid eyes of divine power, of
which no agony could avail to dim the Godhead. To the end of the
eleventh century all expression of pain upon the face of the Saviour
was entirely absent, absolutely forbidden by the priesthood. He was
depicted as standing upon the cross with erect head and widely open
eyes,[15] and in aspect, as Crowe says, "either erect or menacing."
While this spirit of representation continued, it was manifestly
impossible for art to improve. All study of the nude discouraged, if
not forbidden, all the worth of material beauty despised, all
originality of conception sternly interdicted, and all expression of
human emotion considered as irreligious, the unhappy painters had no
opening left them for anything but slavish imitations of their
predecessors. It would take me too long to show how this
anti-naturalism of the Church came to be in some degree modified;
probably one of the chief causes was the recognition by the priesthood
of the progressive tendency of the times, and the consequent
relaxation of the harsh restrictions which had fixed the limits of
pictorial art. In every age the essential principle of the Catholic
religion in its dealings with secular matters has been an adoption of
the tendencies which it could not repress, and the endeavour to turn
them to its own advancement. It may well be that the growing
naturalism of pictorial representation from the twelfth century to the
end of the thirteenth was sanctioned by the Church from this cause. In
any case, during this period religious art took its first hesitating
steps in the right direction. Slowly the crucifixes represented the
Saviour with downcast head and closed eyes, and his body no longer
stood erect upon the cross, but swayed outward in the pain of death.

Such was the state of painting at the beginning of the thirteenth
century, purely devoted to religious subjects, and representing those
subjects according to established forms--influenced chiefly by the
traditions of ancient art which were received from the schools of
Byzantium, but fettered by those traditions being embodied in
Christian types, and complicated by the introduction of Church
symbolism. Thus, for instance, in the treatment of the drapery in the
mosaics executed at Venice by the Greek, Apollonius, something of the
ancient manner may be observed through all the figures; but the
rigidity of the lines, the meagreness of the bodies, and the
lifelessness of the composition are entirely due to the influences of
asceticism which prevailed in the early Church.

Sculpture was in an identical position till the celebrated pulpit at
Pisa was made by Niccola Pisano in 1260; in which the same imitation
of the antique, combined in a lesser degree with the restraining
influences above mentioned, forms a nearer approach to the Gothic
naturalism of Giotto than we can trace elsewhere. Pisano's gift in
design was a far lower one than Giotto's, though he was much greater
in sculptural skill, for in his works the new element is not so much
the rejection of tradition for the sake of nature, as the partial
rejection of ascetic religion for the sake of imitating the antique.
It is true that by this adherence to the form of Grecian sculpture he
far exceeds the works of his contemporaries and predecessors of the
Middle Ages, but that is only because the schools he imitated had
studied nature so devotedly; there is in his work much of the spirit
of the antique, but little of the spirit of nature on which the
antique was founded. According to Crowe,[16] in the later work of
Niccola Pisano there is a reference to natural models observable, but
I have not seen the pulpit at Siena of which he is speaking; and it is
notable that there were several pupils of Pisano engaged upon this
work, and that Crowe admits that where the references to nature occur,
precisely there "is the master's ability least visible," so it is at
least possible that they may not have been the work of his own hand.
Many other architects and sculptors of the thirteenth century there
are; but we cannot spare space to do more than mention their names.
Arnolfo, Giovanni Pisano, Fra Guglielmo, and the three Florentines,
Lapo, Donato, and Goro are the chief; their doings are described by
Crowe in his chapter on the progress of sculpture in the first volume
of the _History of Painting in Italy_, in which there is a full
description of the manner of each, and an examination of the
questionable statements of Vasari concerning them.

What is interesting with regard to the subject of our biography in
respect of these sculptors is, that they were the forerunners of that
revival of the study of nature, in which he subsequently played the
most important part. It does not appear to me that they actually
attempted, as is asserted by Crowe, "to graft on the imitation of the
antique a study of nature," but rather that their imperfect naturalism
arose from a misrepresentation of the antique work, and an almost
total rejection of the Byzantine formalism. It is a curious example of
Ruskin's dictum that the energy of growth in any people may be almost
directly measured by their passion for sculpture or the drama, that
just at the time when Italy was beginning that splendid forward
movement which crowned, with a blaze of light, the dark mountain of
the Middle Ages; just then sculpture should have as it were leapt into
full life after a sleep of nearly a thousand years.

According to Lanzi[17] the improvement of mosaic followed that of
sculpture, and a Franciscan friar named Fra Jacopo Torriti, surpassed
all the contemporary Greek and Roman workers in mosaics. "On examining
what remains of his works at Santa Maria Maggiore at Rome, one can
hardly believe that it is the production of so rude an age, did not
history compel us to believe it. It appears probable that he took the
ancients for his models, and deduced his rules from the more chaste
specimens of mosaic still remaining in several of the Roman churches,
the design of which is less crude, the attitudes less forced, and the
composition more skilful, than were exhibited by the Greeks who
ornamented the church of San Marco at Venice. Mino surpassed them in
everything. From 1225 when he executed, however feebly, the mosaic of
the tribune of the church of San Giovanni at Florence, he was
considered at the head of living artists in mosaic. He merited this
praise much more by his works at Rome; and it appears that he long
maintained his reputation."

There is no doubt that the art of mosaic was in full practice in Italy
at this period, and was not, as has been supposed, confined to the
Greeks. There is a curious passage in the work of the Abbé
Montfaucon[18] who made an extensive tour through Italy in 1695, to
the effect that in the cathedral of Spoleto above the front entrance,
he saw a piece of mosaic work made in the year 1207, with the
following inscription:--

     "Hic est pictura quam fecit sat placitura,
     Doctor Solfernus hac summo in arte modernus.
     Annis inventis cum septem mille ducentis
     Operarij Palmenus," &c., &c.

Translation of the above inscription--

     "This picture, which will please well, was made by Doctor
     Solfernus, the ablest of the moderns in this art, in the year
     1207. The workmen were Palmenies," &c., &c.

I can find no other record of this Doctor Solfernus, but there can be
little doubt that the art was at this time generally known throughout

We need not pause here to examine the question of whether Kugler is
right in asserting that towards the close of the ninth century the art
of mosaic had almost ceased in Italy; that it had done so at Rome
appears certain; but at Venice, and also in southern Italy and Sicily,
the art, if discontinued, was soon revived by the importation of Greek
artists, and continued in full practice from the eleventh to the end
of the fifteenth century, when it may be considered to have received
its death-blow from the hand of oil painting.[19] It may, I think, be
assumed that the arts of mosaic and painting were carried on at Rome
during the tenth century, but were probably in a very declining state,
and were quite superseded by the superior skill of the Greek artists.

There was a school of painting at Pisa as early, according to Lanzi,
as the beginning of the twelfth century, and he gives an account of "a
parchment containing the _exultet_, as usually sung upon Sabbato Santo
(which) is in the cathedral, and we may here and there observe painted
on it figures in miniature with plants and animals: it is a relique of
the early part of the twelfth century, yet a specimen of art not
altogether barbarous. There are likewise some other paintings of that
century in the same cathedral, containing figures of our Lady, with
the Holy Infant on her right arm: they are rude, but the progress of
the same school may be traced from them to the time of Giunta." We may
notice that Crowe and Cavalcaselle give the eleventh century as the
date of the earliest pictures (crucifixes) at Pisa, but their only
authority for this is the negative one of the Saviour's upright
position, which, as we have mentioned above, was always observed up to
the eleventh century. There is, however, no sufficient ground for
believing that after this date the erect position was invariably
departed from. Giunta of Pisa painted in the first half of the
thirteenth century, and was the best of the Pisan school as far as is
at present known. It is, however, supposed by some who are most
conversant with early Italian painting, that this school subsequently
developed some great artists whose works are still to be seen, though
their names have unfortunately perished; this would, however, be
denied by Cavalcaselle.

I have spoken as shortly as I could of the sort of art in painting,
mosaic, and sculpture which preceded Giotto; but before I close this
very imperfect, and I fear confused and tedious, historical sketch,
there is one other source of artistic influence which I must briefly
mention, that is the influence of the Lombardic architecture of the
twelfth century, which is seen to the greatest perfection in the
cities of northern Italy, and which Mr. Ruskin once asserted to be the
"root of all the mediæval art of Italy--without which no Giottos, no
Angelicos, and no Raphaels would have been possible." The influence of
this architecture upon Giotto, and his intense liking for it, is
evident from the frequency with which he introduced it into the

The Lombardic is the development in the West of the Romanesque
architecture, whose leading feature was the round arch; it is the
Byzantine style, without some of its Eastern characteristics, but with
other peculiarities derived from Western sources.

Perhaps its most special feature, the one in which it has been without
a rival in any bygone age, and is without a rival still, is in the
decorative use of brick and terra-cotta. The very name has reference
to this, for in the great plains of Lombardy where there is little
stone, clay was naturally used as far as it possibly could be, to
supply its place; and mouldings and statues which would have been
carved from the solid stone or marble under more favourable
circumstances, were here moulded out of brick. Hence arose a style
which, as it could not depend upon the richness of its material, or
the difficulty of its workmanship, could gain its only reward from
its delicacy of invention and grace of design, and in which the actual
building of its sculptured tiles formed no inconsiderable part. This
elevation of an ignoble material into value and dignity was, as Grüner
says, actually effected in the Lombardic churches, and to them belongs
that subtle charm which we involuntarily experience on discovering the
perfect adaptation of simple things to great uses. Though nowhere
carried to such perfection as by the Lombards of the twelfth century,
this decorative use of brick was by no means a discovery of the more
modern times, as we see from the following extract from Thomas Hope's
_Historical Essay on Architecture_:--"The ancient Romans wherever they
found clay more abundant or easier to work than stone, used it
plentifully, both in regular layers throughout the body of the walls
as we do, and in an external reticulated coating, which has proved to
be as durable as stone itself, from the fineness of its texture and
the firmness of its joints. Indeed far from considering brick as a
material fit only for the coarsest and most indispensable groundwork
of architecture, they regarded it as equally adapted for all the
elegances of ornamental form--all the details of rich architraves,
capitals, friezes, cornices, and other embellishments. Sometimes it
owed to the mould its various forms, and at others, as in the
_Amphitheatrum Castrense_, and the temple of the god Ridiculus, to the

I almost despair of conveying an idea of the peculiarities of this
architecture to those who have never seen any examples of it, its
chief elements being those of simplicity and intricacy, solidity and
lightness; it appearing, in fact, to be a mass of contradictions. Its
Byzantine origin, or rather the influence on it at some time of
Byzantine art, is clearly perceptible in the variety of colour which
is employed; yellow, and white, and red, and green, and black tiles
and bricks being used alternately, with the utmost skill and the
greatest variety of effect. But it is to the varieties of tower and
cupola and dome that Lombardic architecture shows its most distinctive
character; every combination of round arch vaulting with square,
hexagonal, or circular towers, was used by them with a boldness, and a
disregard of convention for which I know no parallel. And the result
justified their daring.

Constructed first simply on the model of the old Roman basilica, then
modified and extended by the influence of the art which Greek workmen
brought from Constantinople, combining the fancy of the Arab, the
roughness of the Goth, and the formalism of the Greek, this
architecture grew from the seventh to the twelfth centuries, like a
flower or tree, rejecting none of the influences with which it was
surrounded. It may be possible, I have no doubt it is, for those who
are skilled in the science of architecture, to discover the elements
of a correct uniform style in these Lombardic buildings; but I confess
that to me it seems but as the result of people who were prepared to
make use of anything that came in their way, and had never formulated
a method of building at all. The Roman arch, the Byzantine dome, the
Arabian minaret, the square tower, the mosque, the basilica, and the
temple, were all mingled here in a confusion of detail, which was yet
executed with the utmost simplicity, we had almost said poverty, of
material, and of which it is difficult to say whether the first
impression produced, is wonder at the variety, indignation at the
eccentricity, or delight at the effect of the whole building.[21]

I have now touched on the chief sources of artistic influence in Italy
towards the middle of the thirteenth century, which, briefly summed
up, are these--an art of painting which had become little more than a
handicraft, carried on in Rome after the recipes of long perished
masters, and in other parts of Italy either dormant, or kept alive
only by such men as Giunta of Pisa, and the pupils of the Greek
artists; an art of mosaic work which also owed its chief, if not its
only, importance, to Byzantine workmen, and which was even then
engaged in decorating the shrine of St. Mark at Venice, with Grecian
designs. In sculpture, the Pisani, father and son, and their pupils
and fellow workers, trying to revive classicalism as a barrier against
the false state of religious art, but failing to see that, after all,
the strength of the ancients lay not in their ideal, but in their real
perfection of nature--and so losing itself in the wilds of imitative
and traditional art; and lastly, there were flourishing in Italy, two
great schools of architecture closely allied, the Byzantine and the
Lombard, and gradually spreading was a third school destined to
destroy them both, which we have nicknamed Gothic. Try to realise the
artistic state of the country amongst this medley of dead and dying
styles, with the whole influence of the classic past in favour of the
traditional mode of painting and sculpture, and the whole strength of
the priesthood arrayed against any attempt to make fresh inroads upon
the sacred realm of Church symbolism and scriptural formalism; the
Church still holding fast to the ascetic theory as the one saving
grace, perhaps even the more strongly, because the ascetic practice
had become a thing of the past.


[5] See Kugler's _Handbook of Painting_, edited by Lady Eastlake,
1874, pp. 17 and 18, for a description of the origin of mosaic art.

[6] For origin of mosaic work see Pliny xxv., xxxiii., xxxv. See also
the _Iconographic Encyclopædia_, by Heck, translated from the German
by Spencer F. Baird, New York, 1851, vol. ii. p. 77, &c., and
Fosbroke's _Cyclopædia of Antiquities_, 1840.

[7] See _Art of Illumination_, 1844, and _Illuminated Books of the
Middle Ages_, 1849. By Henry Noel Humphreys.

[8] For more on this subject see the _Nouveau Traité de Diplomatie_ of
the Benedictines.

[9] Brown's _Sacred Architecture_, 1845, pp. 24, 25.

[10] Brown's _Sacred Architecture_, 1845.

[11] Cadell's _Italy_, vol. ii. p. 339.

[12] For a very interesting description of this feature in Byzantine
work see _The Stones of Venice_, by John Ruskin, vol. ii.

[13] Ruskin's _Crown of Wild Olive_, Introduction.

[14] For an account of Christian Symbolism, see Mrs. Jameson's _Sacred
and Legendary Art_.

[15] See _A New History of Painting in Italy_. By J. A. Crowe and G.
B. Cavalcaselle, 1864; vol. i. chap. 4.

[16] Lord Lindsay, in his _History of Christian Art_, asserts that in
painting, the schools of Giotto, Siena, and Bologna spring immediately
from the work of Niccola Pisano. Vol. ii., p. 113. See, for an account
of his pupils, pages 115 _et seq._ of vol. ii.

[17] _History of Painting in Italy_, vol. i. p. 9; Roscoe's
translation, 1828.

[18] See _The Antiquities of Italy_, translated from the original
Latin of Bernard de Montfaucon. London, 1725.

[19] For a full discussion of this question see Kugler's _Handbook of
Painting, Italian Schools_, vol. i. pp. 43 _et seq._

[20] For an interesting account of building in terra-cotta, and the
various operations of drying, baking the tiles, &c., see Grüner's
_Terra-Cotta Architecture of Italy_. Introductory Essay. 1867.

[21] See also chapter xxii. of Hope's _Historical Essay on



     "Ascend the right stair from the further nave
       To muse in a small chapel scarcely lit
     By Cimabue's Virgin. Bright and brave
       That picture was accounted, mark, of old;
     A king stood bare before its sovran grace,
       A reverent people shouted to behold
     The picture, not the king, and even the place
       Containing such a miracle grew bold."


As we shall have occasion, in the following pages, to speak of fresco,
secco, and tempera, as distinguished from oil painting, it will be
wise to try and understand clearly what these methods of work are, and
in what respects they differ from, exceed, or fall short of, the
modern practice.

Tempera[22] is the old name for any vehicle used in painting. The two
great divisions of painting in the Middle Ages were fresco and secco;
shortly put "fresco," meaning the painting on walls when the plaster
was wet; "secco," the painting when it was dry. In fresco painting no
vehicle was used but water; in secco painting a tempera was used
composed of white and yolk of egg. Thus, in Cennino Cennini's
_Treatise on Painting_, written in 1437,[23] he says:--"Two sorts are
good, but one is better than the other. The first tempera consists in
the white and yolk of an egg into which are put some cuttings from the
top of a fig-tree; beat them well together, then add some of this
tempera, and not in too great quantity, to each of the vases (of
colour), as if you were diluting them with water. The second kind of
tempera is the yolk of the egg only, and you must know that this
tempera is of universal application on walls, on pictures, and in
fresco, and you cannot use too much of it, but it would be wise to
take a middle course."

It is to be noted that in his instructions for colouring in fresco,
Cennini is very particular to state several times that no vehicle is
to be used except water. All frescoes at this time were re-touched in
secco, with temperas such as above described; the fresco seems to have
been somewhat similar to the first painting in oil, and to have
received all its more minute details from the subsequent work in
secco. This was almost inevitably the case, as from the haste with
which large spaces of the wall had to be covered, there could hardly
be time to put in much detail, besides, many of the colours employed
could not be used in fresco,[24] though all were used to finish works
originally painted in fresco. Secco had an especial province of its
own; all _pictures_, as distinguished from wall paintings, being
executed in it. It must be remembered that in the time of Giotto the
use of canvas was not yet introduced, and all small designs were
painted upon linen cloths, stretched tightly over the surface of a
smooth panel, and covered with coats of plaster carefully trimmed;[25]
the next step in the preparation of the ground was to substitute
parchment stretched over wood for the prepared linen.

It must be noticed that from the time of Cennini to that of Raphael,
the practice of completing the fresco in secco grew gradually to be
considered as a mark of an inferior artist, though it was never wholly
discontinued (according to Mrs. Merrifield's treatise), except by a
few "very expert artists, formed chiefly in the school of the
Carracci." It is perhaps not always borne in mind by those
unacquainted with painting, that the range of colouring in fresco is
strictly limited; no colours being employed in it by the early
Italians except such as were natural, and nearly all the more
brilliant colours are artificial, such, for instance, as lake,
vermilion, azure. The blues were more fugitive than any other hues,
and in many cases have wholly disappeared, turned green or black, or
flaked off from the surface of the walls.

Thus it will be clearly understood that the difference between
painting in fresco and painting in secco, or (as it is more commonly
called) in distemper, lies in two things, the kind of vehicle
employed--water in the first, and glue of some sort (chiefly of egg)
in the second method; and in the nature of the colours used, the first
being restricted to tints comparatively simple and elementary, the
second able to make use of the most elaborate colours obtainable. The
first method is eminently suited to the expression of great thoughts
in simple language, the second is more adapted to give pleasure, from
the exquisiteness of the colours employed, and the skill with which
the details are elaborated. The latter is the painting of the studio;
the former the painting of the church, the palace, or the
market-place. I do not think this difference is sufficiently
understood in the present day; it does not appear as if painters had
grasped the fact that the greatest strength of fresco lay in its
emancipation from all the necessities of minute detail and careful
elaboration; a freedom gained by the nature of the material. It is not
that in itself this freedom is a good thing, but that it affords the
artist a means of expression which he can hardly gain through the
medium of painting in oil. In much the same way as a modern
dining-room, however perfect in its decoration and gorgeous in its
upholstery, can never give us the same effect as the rough pillars of
some ruined temple; so does the comparative rough sublimity of fresco
afford to a true artist a means of expressing great thoughts and lofty
ideas in a comparatively facile manner. For it must be remembered he
has not only spaces to decorate of a size commensurate with his
subject, be it ever so important, but he has hardly to do more than to
express his great thought clearly, and all small details are lost in
the splendour of his conception. This is the real power of size in
painting; a large picture, if it be not finished with the care of a
small one, needs to be a representation of some thought which gains in
grandeur from the size of its canvas; there can be no justification
for covering ten feet square with the representation of an incident of
no particular importance, or a scene of no particular beauty; for with
every added foot of space which the artist takes up, he really makes
an added claim to importance, and a subject which might have been of
sufficient interest to have justified a painting on a minute scale,
does but betray its insignificance when delineated on a large one. The
whole of art being but the nicest possible adaptation of means to
ends, it rightly shocks and repels us when we find an artist wilfully
violating these conditions, and, in order to appear of greater
importance in our eyes, making what might be a tolerable molehill,
into a very indifferent mountain. This was very clearly seen by the
old Italian masters, who almost invariably chose fresco as the medium
for their most important works, assigning to oil painting a lower

In connection with this subject the following quotation of
Michelangelo's opinion may be interesting:--"Quand il fut question de
peindre dans la Chapelle Sextine, le frère Sebastiano, peintre
Vénitienne, conseiller de le Pape, de forcer Michel Ange à le faire à
l'huile, et la mur fut préparé à cet effet. Le grand homme arrive, et
fait degrader cet apprêt, disait fièrement que la peinture à l'huile
n'était bonne que pour les dames, les personnes lentes, et qui se
pique l'adresse, tels que le frère Sebastiano; et l'ouvrage fut fait à
fresque, parce que à genre de peinture méprise cette attention à
manoeuvre; vain merite qui est perdu pour elle. La touche disparait
dans l'enduit qui la dévore, elle n'occupe pas l'âme du grand artiste,
qui alors tout entière aux caractères, aux formes, aux expressions, et
à la saillie des corps. Son goût ne se manifeste pas sans science, sa
main ne s'occupe que d'expérience, et il se livre tout entier à cette
tâche difficile--la seule digne de lui. S'il la remplie, la spectateur
est transporté, et comme l'auteur, il va cherche rien au-delà."[26]

We cannot stay to define the limits, within which it seems to us that
this is a correct expression of the merits of fresco, but that it is
in the main true is indisputable, and it is impossible to tell the
good effect which might be produced upon the art of the present day,
by encouraging our young painters to work in fresco, simply requiring
of them that they should have something to say, and say it clearly. No
theories as to the production of a great school of painting, will, I
think, be able to map out a better means of attaining good art, than
this simple one of making clear expression of a great subject the
first object. Curiously enough, the only English artist who seems
thoroughly to have understood the great scope of fresco painting was
Fuseli, and in his lectures at the Royal Academy may be found a clear
and enthusiastic exposition of this method.


[22] Though frequently wrongly used as synonymous with secco.

[23] Recent researches by Signors Gaetano and Carlo Milanesi
(Florence, 1859) prove this date, which is given by Tambroni and in
Mrs. Merrifield's translation, to be only that of the copy of the
original MS. Cennini's work was originally written in all probability
at least ten years earlier.

[24] In fresco some colours cannot be used, as artiemen, cinnabar,
azuno della magna, mina, biucca, verdesume, and lacca.--_Cennini._

[25] According to Mrs. Jameson, _Lives of the Painters_, p. 8, all
movable pictures were, up to 1440, painted on panels of prepared wood;
an evident mistake, made from a superficial examination of the back of
the pictures.

[26] _Encyclopédie Méthodique._ Paris, 1788.



     "I say 'Consider it' in vain; you cannot consider it, for you
     cannot conceive the sickness of heart with which a young
     painter of deep feeling toils through his first obscurity; his
     sense of the strong voice within him, which you will not hear;
     his vain, fond wondering witness to the things you will not
     see; his far away perception of things that he could accomplish
     if he had but peace and time, all unapproachable, and all
     vanishing from him, because no one will leave him peace, or
     grant him time."--JOHN RUSKIN, _Political Economy of Art_.

Look back six hundred and forty years, and linger in fancy by the side
of the Arno, where Florence in the height of her power and beauty,
stood then as now, and you may hear the joy-bells ringing across the
swift river for the birth of one of her proudest sons. Thirty years
more, and the whole city will rise in procession to honour him, and
bear his work in triumph to the quiet church of St. Mary; and six
hundred years later, the representation of that honour will hang on
the walls of an English gallery; and people will talk, question, and
whisper about _The Cimabue Procession_. They may well admire it and
ask its meaning; for to the painter it commemorated we owe the art of
England as surely, as that to Leighton we owe the picture which
represents the old master's triumph.

In two ways are we indebted to Cimabue for the emancipation of
painting; first, for the work which he did himself accomplish; and
second and in chief, for his discovery and education of the shepherd
boy, whose fame was ultimately to eclipse his own.[27] I say that the
master's fame was to be eclipsed by his pupil, but that must be taken
with one most important reservation. However much we may be convinced
of Giotto's superiority, we are always forced to bear in mind the
fact, that had it not been for Cimabue, that superiority would in all
probability never have been known. Differing in the particulars of the
story, all the accounts of Giotto's early life agree in this important
fact, that it was Cimabue who discovered his early talent, who
persuaded his father to let him enter his profession, and who educated
him as a painter at his own expense, from the time that he was ten
years old. Is not this a greater monument to Cimabue's name, than any
amount of Madonnas carried in triumph through the "street of
gladness?" Rightly understood, is it not even a surer testimony to the
fact of his being a true artist; for does it not prove that the
painter had more devotion to his art than his fame? To see in a youth,
poor and unknown, the signs of genius, greater perhaps than your own,
to take him from his obscurity, and to instruct his ignorance,
careless of the effect which may be thereby produced upon your own
reputation, and finally to stand aside while he wins the honour which
is his due, but which nevertheless would have fallen to your share,
had it not been for your own action; this seems to me as great a
sacrifice of petty pride, and as great a triumph over natural
selfishness, as can well be conceived. And this is what Cimabue did,
urged by no duty, and without possible reward, save that of doing his
best for his art and his pupil. We owe him then a double debt: for
his own work in loosening the bonds of tradition, and for the
instruction of the artist whose paintings and sculptures were to
inaugurate the real methods of art, and extend its province, from the
mere exponent of religious legend to the representation of the
passions of humanity and the beauty of nature.

What little is known of the life of Cimabue we can give in a very few
words. Even Vasari, garrulous as he is, has little more to tell us,
than that he lived, painted certain pictures, received certain
honours, had a pupil called Giotto, whose fame eclipsed his own, and

"In the year 1240 Giovanni Cimabue, of the noble family of that name
was born at Florence, to give the first light to the art of painting."
Then follows the account of his Greek instruction in the art of
painting, which is doubted for various reasons by most modern
authorities, chiefly, it appears because Vasari has made him paint in
the chapel of the Gondi, which was not built at that time. Crowe and
Cavalcaselle however do not give any other explanation of Cimabue's
teaching; and Lindsay says he painted in the subterranean church under
the instruction of the Greeks; while Lanzi, in the _History of
Painting_, suggests that the paintings of the Greeks who are supposed
to have instructed Cimabue, may be seen in the chapels of the old
church beneath the sacristy of S. Maria Novella.

The point, however, is of little importance. After painting various
works at Florence and Pisa, all of which have now perished, he was
invited to help in the decoration of the church at Assisi. According
to Vasari, he there painted in both the upper and lower churches, but,
with some few exceptions, little of these frescoes remain; and the
whole question as to the authorship of the five remaining frescoes in
these churches has long been a favourite battle-ground for critics.
Vasari, Lanzi, Rumohr, Eastlake, Crowe and Cavalcaselle, and many
others having all theories more or less inconsistent with one another.
I shall content myself with noticing the chief theories on the subject
when I speak later on of the work of Giotto at Assisi. After this,
Cimabue returned to Florence, and executed his great panel, the
_Virgin Enthroned_, a picture of colossal size, which was placed in
the church of S. Maria Novella; this was the work which was carried
through the city by a triumphant procession of the people. "It is
further reported, and may be read in certain records of old painters,
that whilst Cimabue was painting this picture in a garden near the
gate of S. Pietro, King Charles the Elder of Anjou passed through
Florence, and the authorities of the city, among other marks of
respect, conducted him to see the picture of Cimabue. When this work
was thus shown to the King it had not before been seen by any one;
wherefore all the men and women of Florence hastened in great crowds
to admire it, making all possible demonstrations of delight. The
inhabitants of the neighbourhood, rejoicing in this occurrence, ever
afterwards called that place Borgo Allegri, and this name it has ever
since retained, although in process of time it became enclosed within
the walls of the city."[28]

Vasari has little to tell us of the incidents of Cimabue's life, nor
can I find any other records likely to be authentic, which have fuller
details. In a short time after the execution of this Madonna, the
artist was appointed to superintend the building of Santa Maria del
Fiore, in conjunction with a celebrated architect, Arnolfo Lapo, and
he died, whilst the building was still unfinished, at the age of
sixty.[29] If he adopted Giotto in 1286, _i.e._ when the latter was
ten years of age (the time given by most of the authorities), his
pupil must, according to the time given by Cennini, have just finished
his novitiate when his master died; as, in his treatise on painting,
that author gives thirteen years as the time in which the art of
painting can be acquired. As it may well be that amongst my readers
there be some who are desirous of knowing the shortest time in which
it is possible to learn to paint, I will quote the words of the
treatise. They may perchance aid amateurs to think a little more
justly of what the mechanical difficulties of painting were, even in
the rude days of early pre-Raphaelitism:--

   _In the Rucellai Chapel, S. Maria Novella, Florence._]

"Know that you cannot learn to paint in less time than that which I
shall name to you. In the first place you must study drawing for at
least one year, then you must remain with a master at the workshop for
the space of six years, at least, that you may learn all the parts and
members of the art; to grind colours, to boil down glues, to grind
plaster (gesso), to acquire the practice of laying grounds on
pictures, to work in relief, and to scrape (or smooth) the surface,
and to gild; afterwards to practise colouring, to adorn with mordants,
paint cloths of gold, and paint on walls for six more years, drawing
without intermission on holy days and work days. And by this means you
will acquire great experience. If you do otherwise you will never
attain perfection. There are many who say you may learn the art
without the assistance of a master. Do not believe them; let this book
be an example to you, studying it day and night. And if you do not
study under some master, you will never be fit for anything; nor will
you be able to show your face among the masters."

There is another curious statement about Cimabue, and one which is
very significant of his intense care for the best interests of art; it
occurs in an MS. commentary upon Dante, called the _Anonimo_, and was
written while Giotto was still living, that is before 1330.[30] The
author says:--"Cimabue of Florence, a painter of the time of our
author (_i.e._ Dante) knew more of the noble art (that of painting)
than any other man, but he was so arrogant and proud withal, that if
any one discovered a fault in his work, or if he perceived one himself
(as will often happen to the artist who fails from the defects in the
material that he uses, or from insufficiency of the instrument with
which he works), he would instantly destroy that work, however costly
it might be." There could be no surer testimony to the light in which
Cimabue regarded his painting than this of the old Florentine
commentator's, and it is amusing to see how, six hundred years ago,
artists were liable to exactly the same amount of mistaken blame and
misapprehension as they are to-day. [It is not six months ago since I
heard one of the greatest of our living painters severely censured,
because he would not part with a portrait which did not come up to his
standard of good work, and though the opinion was expressed in the
choicest slang of the nineteenth century, it was almost an exact
equivalent for the words of the author _Anonimo_; for I suppose "he
did it for swagger," really means much the same as "proud and

The changes introduced by Cimabue into the conventional
representations of religious subjects were numerous, and though each
slight in itself, formed, when taken as a whole, a very marked
progression from the Byzantine manner, but whether owing to respect
for his early masters, or from the almost overpowering effect of
Church tradition, the artist never wholly succeeded in shaking off the
established forms of painting in the general arrangement of his
figures and backgrounds.

If we compare his great picture in S. Maria Novella with one of a
similar subject by Guido of Siena, his predecessor,[31] in the Church
of S. Domenico at Siena, we shall find that the main lines of the
composition are much the same. Nevertheless the advance is very
clearly marked. The folds of the drapery have lost much of the
stiffness and angularity, and the attitude and expression of the
Virgin, though still wanting life and energy, are simple and
comparatively natural. A still greater improvement may be noticed in
the gestures of the angels which support the throne, and in the action
of the child Saviour on the Virgin's lap. In this picture there is, I
think, a direct contradiction to the assertion of Crowe[32] that "in
the flow of his drapery Cimabue made no sensible progress;"[33] though
in other respects that author does full justice to the improvements
introduced by the artist. Many other modifications of style are
noticeable in Cimabue's works, especially the manner in which he
abandoned what we may call the mosaic-like manner of painting, which
had been in use for so long a time, and blended one colour with
another instead of leaving it as a bright patch, divided by a sharp
line. Much of his colour has either faded or disappeared entirely, but
enough is left to show that it must have been originally very rich in
hue, and though of a deep tone, free from the heaviness and obscurity
which was so prevalent in the work of the Byzantine artists. In the
_Enthroned Madonna_ of the Lower Church at Assisi, which is
indisputably one of his works, the colouring is far richer and deeper
than anything remaining of Giotto's, though it does not possess the
exquisite clearness and delicacy of the latter; and is comparatively
monotonous. This picture has however suffered so severely from damp,
that it cannot be judged fair to say what the colour has, or has not,
been, though it is still beautiful, and fortunately unrestored.[34]

In the Accademia of Florence there is another colossal Madonna by
Cimabue, also an altar-piece representing the same subject as that of
the one in S. Maria Novella, the arrangement, however, being slightly
different. Instead of the six guardian angels who support the chair on
which the Virgin is seated (in the former picture), there are here
eight, and beneath the throne in niches stand four prophets; the
thirty medallions of saints which surround the frame in the former
picture are here absent. I am unable to give an accurate description
of the differences between these two pictures, as I have only studied
the one in the Accademia;[35] but there is, according to Crowe and
Cavalcaselle, "a more obstinate maintenance of the old types" in the
latter picture: and it is certainly true, from my own observation,
that the colour has sustained such injuries from restoration and time,
as to be almost entirely destroyed. This picture was originally of the
gable form, but some ingenious artist, who considered that an
unpleasant shape for a picture, has supplied the two triangular pieces
necessary to complete the oblong, and painted thereon two cherubim, as
poor in conception, colour, and execution as could well be imagined.
The old shape of the work is still clearly visible, and in any other
country than Italy would be at once restored.[36]


[27] I have, throughout this essay, followed the mass of authority
which describes Giotto's father as a poor tenant farmer, or lower
still in the social scale; but the most recent researches go to prove
that he was in well-to-do circumstances, was, in fact, of the rank of
"Cavaliere," and it is certain that Giotto inherited some property
from him.

[28] Vasari, _Lives of the most Eminent Painters, &c._, vol. i. p. 42.

[29] Lord Lindsay gives the date of his death as 1302, on the
authority of Ciampi.

[30] See notes to Mrs. Foster's translation of Vasari.

[31] There are excellent engravings of both these pictures in Kugler's
_Handbook of Painting_, pages 105 and 109 of the fifth edition.

[32] _History of Painting in Italy_, vol. i. p. 205.

[33] Look, for instance, at the natural manner in which the border of
the Virgin's drapery falls into its folds. The woodcut of this picture
here given does little more than show the arrangement of the picture;
but even here the advance is perceptible.

[34] Vol. i. p. 206. Vasari attributes the loss of colour in
Buffulmacco's pictures to the use of a peculiar purple mixed with
salt, which corroded the other colours; possibly this may be the case
with Cimabue's.

[35] Since writing the above sentence I have been to the Rucellai
Chapel for the purpose of studying the great Cimabue referred to
above, the description of which is accordingly given in a later

[36] It is noticeable that in Lindsay's _Christian Art_, it is to the
influence of the sculptor, Niccola Pisano, rather than that of
Cimabue, that Giotto owed his study of nature, &c., vol. ii. p. 82.



     "Where Cimabue found the shepherd boy,
     Tracing his idle fancies on the ground."

     ROGERS's _Italy_.

Giotto was born[37] at the small village of Vespignano, about fourteen
miles from Florence, amidst surroundings, the chief characteristics of
which are very beautifully described by Mr. Ruskin in the following

"Few travellers can forget the peculiar landscape of that district of
the Apennines. As they ascend the hill which rises from Florence to
the lowest peak in the ridge of Fiesole, they pass continually beneath
the walls of villas bright in perfect luxury, and beside cypress
hedges inclosing 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 walls of gleaming silver;
and shining 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 clouds hover 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 exists. Only a gray 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, dropping back from the central crest of the Apennines,
leave a partial wilderness of scathed rock and arid grass, withered
away here by frost, and there by strange lambent tongues of earth-fed

Giotto's name is, according to Lord Lindsay, a contraction of
Ambrogiotto. In the modern sense of the word, he appears to have had
absolutely no education, for we find him when ten years old engaged in
tending sheep upon the hill-side. It is noticeable that for one who
was to effect the change in art which Giotto subsequently produced, no
amount of early training could have been so beneficial, as the silent
undogmatic one, that he received amongst the fresh meadows, and under
the blue skies. The native genius within him grew gradually in
strength, unhelped save by the influences of rustic life, and
unhindered by tradition or example. It was no doubt to these early
shepherd days, that he owed the strong sympathy with nature that he
retained during his whole career, and his power of representing simple
facts of animal life. Throughout all his pictures, even those of
his latest period, whenever he got a chance of introducing an animal
he always seized it eagerly, and the little touches of dog, donkey,
and ox nature which may be found scattered here and there in his
works, form one of its most peculiar and pleasing features; especially
when we consider that this was to artists an absolutely virgin soil.
Thus in the fresco at Assisi[39] representing the birth of Christ,
perhaps the most remarkable portion of the picture is the manner in
which the two donkeys are poking their heads over the manger to
examine the child, with that expression of happy placid stupidity, so
well known to all who have ever had to do with these animals. And
again, in the sculpture of the shepherd, forming one of the series
round the base of the Campanile at Florence, the expression of the
puppy's face, (grave consideration mixed with a sense of
responsibility) as he watches the sheep filing past the shepherd's
tent, is wonderfully natural, and worthy of Sir Edwin Landseer, except
that it is in one way much too good for him, in its thorough
dogginess; Landseer always intensified his animals' feelings to the
very verge of caricature. Hence one reason why he was so commonly and
universally popular.

   _On the Campanile, Florence._]

At any rate, such was Giotto's early life, spent in simple rural
duties, and untroubled by school-boards and science primers; but when
he was about ten years old, a strange event occurred which changed the
whole current of his history. For there came riding through the valley
the famous painter of Florence, Cimabue, then at the height of his
reputation, and passed close to where the boy shepherd was sitting
neglectful of his duties, trying to draw one of his flock with a piece
of sharp slate upon the surface of rock.

We may suppose that there was something in the work which the painter
knew to be genius, for according to all the legends, he does not
appear to have hesitated in the least, but after asking the boy if he
would like to go with him, and receiving a glad answer in the
affirmative, he obtained the father's permission, took him to
Florence, and installed him in his own studio.

It must be remembered that an artist's studio was a very different
place in 1286, from what we call by the same name at the present time.
It resembled a workshop, in which the pupils prepared and ground the
colours under the master's direction, deriving what instruction they
might from seeing him work and hearing him talk; nor were they allowed
to touch brush or pencil till they had rendered themselves thorough
masters of the preparation of the various colours, temperas, &c. A
mastery which, as we have seen, was supposed at that time to take
about six years to acquire.

So the boy lived with his master in Florence, and worked, much as a
house painter's apprentice works now; drawing, no doubt, at every odd
minute in the meantime, in fear and trembling, and thinking art was a
very much longer business than he had bargained for, when he left his
home to become a painter.

Many days no doubt he looked out from the rough building where he and
his fellow pupils were grinding the master's colours, and saw Cimabue
standing in the shady garden, before a great glory of crimson drapery
and golden background, and many a time his heart sank within him as he
looked, and he thought it impossible that he could ever acquire that
marvellous skill. But on these early days all the biographies are
alike silent, there is not even an apocryphal anecdote of Vasari's to
enliven the darkness; and whatever we may fancy, we know absolutely

The next point of Giotto's life where history takes up the record is
at the incident of the O. Briefly told, this is as follows. About
1296,[40] according to Lord Lindsay, Boniface VIII.[41] was desirous
of adding to the decorations of St. Peter's, "and sent one of his
courtiers from Treviso to Tuscany to ascertain what kind of man Giotto
might be, and what were his works." On his way the messenger received
designs from various artists in Siena, and then came to Giotto, told
him of his mission, and no doubt showed him the elaborate designs
which he had received from the Sienese artists. Whereupon Giotto drew
with one sweep of his arm a circle in red ink, of perfect accuracy,
and gave it to the messenger, refusing to send any other design,
"whereby," says Vasari, "the Pope and such of his courtiers as were
well versed in the subject, perceived how far Giotto surpassed all the
other painters of his time."

Whatever truth there may be in the details of this incident, it is, as
Ruskin points out,[42] significant in showing the manner in which the
Pope and his counsellors judged of art: _i.e._, that the best workman
was the best man, which for a rough and ready test is not altogether a
bad one.

The date of Giotto's visit to Rome is still further fixed by an
assertion of Baldinucci's that there is a record in the Vatican in a
register, to the effect that the mosaic of the _Navicella_ (which is
still in the portico of St. Peter's though enormously damaged), was
executed at Rome in 1298. If this be true, and though quoted by Crowe
it is not contradicted, it fixes the date of Giotto's visit as at all
events not later than that year. Of the works of Giotto at Rome I
shall speak in a subsequent chapter, in which I shall endeavour to fix
upon the analogy of style, the order in which Giotto painted at
Florence, Padua, and Assisi. It should have been noticed that Crowe
and Cavalcaselle make the incident of the O occur in the time of
Benedict XI, by supposing that that Pope sent from Avignon "at the
request of Petrarch, to seek out the best artists of Italy for the
purpose of restoring and adorning the churches and palaces of Rome
which were falling into decay." This, however, leaves Giotto's first
visit to Rome in 1298 unaccounted for, and contradicts Vasari and
Lindsay, apparently without sufficient cause, for it seems highly
improbable that if the painter had been already engaged in painting
and designing mosaics for St. Peter's, that in after years the Pope
should have thought it necessary to have a proof of his skill.

However, the date of this visit to Rome is of little importance, as
the whole of the works of Giotto in that city have been long
destroyed, with the exception of the mosaic of the _Navicella_, and
some small panel pictures in the Sacristy of St. Peter's.[43]

About the year 1300 it seems probable that Giotto returned to
Florence, and in the following year painted in the Chapel of the
Podesta--commonly called the Bargello. It was here that Giotto
introduced (I believe for the first time in the history of mediæval
Italian art) accurate portraits of living people into his picture of
_Paradise_. It is here that the famous portrait of Dante in his early
manhood was discovered after having been covered with whitewash for
two hundred years.

It was with the greatest difficulty that an American named Kirkup, and
Signor Bezzi obtained permission from the Italian government to remove
the whitewash from this fresco of _Paradise_ at their own expense.[44]
All the frescoes in this chapel are very greatly injured by time and
neglect, whitewash and restoration, and especially the Dante portrait,
which has suffered most of all from the last-mentioned cause. As I
shall have little occasion to refer to the works in this chapel in
subsequent chapters, I may here say that in my opinion Crowe and
Cavalcaselle have erred in attributing all of them to Giotto.[45]
There are many which show little, if any, trace of the master's hand,
and others which are apparently imitations by pupils; as, however, the
frescoes are all exceedingly defaced, it is not worth while to dwell
minutely on this point.[46]

In less than two years from the date of this picture of the
_Paradise_, Dante was exiled to Verona, and for three or four years
Giotto did not see him again. In the year 1306, when Giotto went to
Padua to paint the Arena Chapel, Dante also settled in that town.[47]

Within a year from the painting of the Bargello, Giotto married a
lady, of whom, no matter what may have been her virtues or
attractions, posterity knows little or nothing, save that she bore the
painter several children, and that her name was Ciuta di Lapo. It was
shortly after this period of his life that he produced what must on
the whole be considered the greatest work of his life--the decoration
of the Scrovegni Chapel at Padua. This was a small barn-like edifice
of perfectly plain exterior, which had just been built by Enrico
Scrovegni on the site of an old Roman amphitheatre, and dedicated to
the Madonna.

According to some accounts, Giotto himself was its architect; but this
has only been surmised from the fact of his decoration being so
admirably suited to the building. The fact probably being that had the
building been of a different or more elaborate shape, he would have
treated it in a different manner. As it was, the extreme simplicity of
the arrangement of the frescoes, is most happily in harmony with the
simplicity of the architecture. Here he seems to have lived for
several years, and here as we have said came Dante in 1306, having
passed the intervening years of his exile at Bologna. According to
Baldinucci, our painter had no less than six children, all of whom
were of a surpassing ugliness; and it is recorded that Dante remarked
upon this circumstance to him, pretending to be surprised that one who
could paint such beautiful figures should have such ugly sons; to
which Giotto replied by a jest more suited to his own times, than to
ours. Indeed, all that the biography of Giotto amounts to after this,
is an account of his various jokes and eccentricities, most of which,
I must confess, seem to me of very poor quality, somewhat akin to the
pleasantries told at the tea-table of a humorous schoolmaster, or to
those which are murmured between the pauses of the work, at the weekly
meetings of a Dorcas society. However, all the historians agree in
asserting that he was a man of infinite jest, and the humour of these
anecdotes may well have evaporated in the course of six hundred years.
The following, which I give as it occurs in Vasari, derives a certain
interest from the quaint simplicity with which the biographer tells
it, and the naïve way in which justice is depicted as of course being
on the side of the best speaker, is not without a certain amount of
significance, even in our enlightened nineteenth century.

"Giotto, as we have said before, was of an exceedingly jocund humour,
and abounded in witty and humorous remarks, which are still well
remembered in Florence. Examples of these may be found not only in the
writings of Messer Giovanni Boccaccio, but also in the three hundred
stories of Franco Sacchetti, who cites many amusing instances of his
talent in this way. And here I will not refuse the labour of
transcribing some of these stories, giving them in Franco's own words,
that my readers may be made acquainted with the peculiar phraseology
and modes of speech used in those times, together with the story
itself. He says there in one of these, to set it forth with its proper

"'_To Giotto, the great painter, is given a buckler to paint by a man
of small account. He, making a jest of the matter, paints in such sort
that the owner is put out of countenance._'

"Every one has long since heard of Giotto, and knows how greatly he
stood above all other painters. Hearing the fame of the master, a rude
artisan, who desired to have a buckler painted, perhaps because he was
going to do watch and ward in some castle, marched at once to the
workshop of Giotto, with one bearing the shield behind him. Having got
there he speedily found Giotto, to whom he said, 'God save thee,
master! I would fain have thee paint me my arms on this shield.'

"Giotto, having observed the man and considered his manner, replied
nothing more than--'When wilt thou have it finished?' which the other
having told him, he answered, 'Leave the matter to me;' and the fellow
departed. Then Giotto, being left alone, began to think within
himself, 'What may this mean? Hath some one sent this man to make a
jest of me? However it be, no man before ever brought me a buckler to
paint; yet here is this simple fellow who brings me his shield, and
bids me paint his arms upon it as though he were of the royal family
of France. Of a verity, I must make him arms of a new fashion.'
Thinking thus within himself, he takes the said buckler, and having
designed what he thought proper, called one of his scholars and bade
him complete the painting. This was a tin scullcap, a gorget, a pair
of iron gauntlets, with a cuirass, cuishes, and gandadoes, a sword, a
dagger, and a spear. Our great personage, of whom nobody knew
anything, having returned for his shield, marches forward and
inquires, 'Master, is the shield painted?' 'To be sure it is,' replied
Giotto; 'bring it down here.' The shield being brought, our wise
gentleman that would be, began to open his eyes and look at it,
calling out to Giotto, 'What trumpery is this that thou hast painted
me here?' 'Will it seem to thee a trumpery matter to pay for it?'
answered Giotto. 'I will not pay five farthings for it all,' returned
the clown. 'And what didst thou require me to paint?' asked Giotto.
'My arms.' 'And are they not here,' rejoined the painter; 'is there
one wanting?' 'Good, good,' quoth the man. 'Nay, verily, but it is
rather bad, bad,' responded Giotto. 'Lord, help thee, for thou must
needs be a special simpleton; why, if a man were to ask thee, "Who art
thou?" it would be a hard matter for thee to tell him; yet here thou
comest and criest, "Paint me my arms!" If thou wert of the house of
the Bardi, that were enough; but thou! what arms dost thou bear? Who
art thou? Who were thy forefathers? Art thou not ashamed of thyself?
Begin at least to come into the world before thou talkest of arms, as
though thou wert Dusnam of Bavaria at the very least. I have made thee
a whole suit of armour on thy shield, if there be any other piece,
tell me, and I'll put that too.' 'Thou hast given me rough words, and
hast spoiled my shield,' declared the other; and going forth, betook
himself to the justice, before whom he caused Giotto to be called. The
latter forthwith appeared, but on his side summoned the complainant
for two florins, the price of the painting, and which he demands to
be paid.

"The pleadings being heard on both sides, and Giotto's story being
much better told than that of our clown, the judge decided that the
latter should take away his buckler, and should pay six livres to
Giotto, whom they declared to have the right. Thus the good man had to
pay and take to his shield; whereupon he was bidden to depart, and not
knowing his place had it taught to him on this wise."

In 1307, Giotto appears to have finished his work at the Scrovegni
Chapel, and removed to Florence, where he ultimately settled down. Of
this period of his life little, if anything, is known. He went to
Assisi some time after this, when I have found it impossible to
discover.[48] He painted during these latter years at Florence, in
four chapels of the Santa Croce, at Ravenna (and at Ferrara and
Verona, according to Vasari); probably also he made excursions from
Florence into many of the neighbouring towns, but no certain traces of
his work exist. In 1328 he was commissioned to paint the portrait of
Charles of Calabria, the son of Robert of Naples, and in 1330 was sent
for by the latter to adorn some of the Neapolitan churches. On his way
back to Florence, he painted at Gaeta and Rimini some frescoes which
have quite perished. These were his last works in painting, with the
exception of some produced during a brief visit to Milan in 1335, for
which he obtained the permission of the government to absent himself
from the superintendence of the Cathedral and Campanile. The year
previous he had been made master of the works of the Cathedral, and
chief builder to the city of Florence; and while he was still engaged
upon his bell tower and the cathedral façade, before his eyes had lost
their lustre, or his hand its cunning, he died suddenly in 1336.

Such is the life of our old master as far as we can gather it from the
scanty materials before us: to what does it amount? That a boy showed
signs of genius; that a man fulfilled his early promise; that a great
painter was for once a prophet in his own country and in his own time;
and that all history can tell us of him, is that he made bad jokes,
and had six ugly children. Such, I say, is the history of Giotto as I
have gathered it from the chronicles of Vasari, Baldinucci, and Lanzi,
Kugler, Rumohr, Crowe, and Jameson; but there is another history of
the man, of greater worth and fuller meaning than can be found in
these musty records; there is that which the painter has written with
his own hand, in colours which yet retain much of their pristine
brightness. The best record of the artist is neither his questionable
witticisms, nor these rough outlines of his life, but that which
shines forth clearly still on the walls of Santa Croce and the arches
of Assisi. What that record means to us, I will try to explain.


[37] "The date is disputed. Crowe now gives 1266, but I have,
throughout, followed Vasari and other writers who give 1276. All the
chronology of Giotto, except the date of his death, is highly
uncertain."--H. Q.

[38] "At Pietro 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."--J. R.

[39] This fresco is, I think, the work of one of Giotto's pupils, but
probably executed from the master's design, or under his
superintendence, or in any case is an imitation of Giotto's method of
introducing animal life into his compositions.

[40] After working at Assisi and Pisa, according to Vasari, who is
followed by Kugler. It is quite clear that Kugler is wrong in
supposing that when Giotto visited Rome in 1298, he had previously
executed the frescoes on the ceiling of the Lower Church at Assisi,
for those works are evidently later than those of the Upper Church,
and even in point of time it is impossible that both series could have
been painted prior to 1298, when the painter was but twenty-two.

[41] Vasari says Benedict XI., but Rumohr shows it was Boniface who
invited Giotto to Rome. Schorn, in note to Vasari.

[42] _Giotto and his Works in Padua._ Published for the Arundel

[43] Portions of what is called the Stefaneschi altar piece; I am
informed very fine in quality, but cannot speak from experience.

[44] It was subsequently defrayed by the Tuscan government.

[45] Crowe considers them to be undoubtedly his.

[46] That the large fresco of _Paradise_, in which the portraits of
Dante and Corso Donati occur is by Giotto, is, I think, quite certain.

[47] The house where Dante lived is still shown to strangers.

[48] I may here say once for all that owing to my ignorance of the
Italian language, and the small amount of time at my disposal, it has
been out of my power to undertake that research amongst the MSS.
stored in the public libraries of Italy by which alone could the
accurate chronology of Giotto's life be determined.



     "All honour and reverence to the divine beauty of form! Let us
     cultivate it to the utmost in men, women, and children--in our
     gardens and in our houses. But let us love that other beauty
     too, which lies in no secret of proportion, but in the secret
     of deep human sympathy. Paint us an angel if you can, with a
     floating violet robe and a face paled by the celestial light;
     paint us yet oftener a Madonna, turning her mild face upward
     and opening her arms to receive the divine glory; but do not
     impose upon us any æsthetic rules which shall banish from the
     region of art, those old women scraping carrots with their
     work-worn hands, those heavy clowns taking holiday in a dingy
     pot house, those rounded backs and stupid weather-beaten faces
     that have bent over the spade and done the rough work of the
     world."--GEORGE ELIOT.

Before I speak in detail of Giotto's pictures, it will be well to
consider very shortly what are the chief characteristics of good
painting, and in what proportion the beauty of form, of colour,
sentiment and thought, should be combined, in order to give us work of
the highest order. And such a preliminary inquiry is the more needful,
since the whole history of art is the history of the development of
one or more of these characteristics, rather than the development of
their just combination. If we look back at the greatest schools of the
fifteenth century, we find that each of them had one main object in
their art, which they pursued to the detriment of the others. However
much, for instance, we may admire the feeling of Raphael, we perceive
the lack of the qualities which we find in Titian--however much we
delight in Titian or Tintoretto, we feel that there is something
lacking which we had in Raphael. And so on with every school, till at
last we discover that the deficiency is not one in the individual
painter, but is rather owing to the end which he and those of his
school proposed to themselves; and whether it be the Florentine
striving after expression of emotion, or the Venetian after expression
of the truths of shade and colour, each is alike defective. In later
times this becomes still more evident in the works of the Dutch
painters, and it may be seen at its utmost height in the works of the
majority of modern artists, whose aim is commonly restricted not only
to one phase of feeling, but to one special manifestation of such
phase; not to the seeking of colour, say, as the main object, but to
the seeking of one particular colour.

If then every art school which the world has hitherto known, has been
in some way partial in its choice of subject and the aims it has
proposed to itself, let us think which partiality is the least
blameable, and, in fact, what is the best thing that a painter can
give us. Is it perfection of form, or of colour, intensity of feeling,
or depth of meaning? If we can't have all, what should we choose first
and cling to most securely?

Now, at the present day, there is amongst those who care for art, a
rapidly-increasing class who give a most decided answer to this
question; one, which if we can at all accept its reasoning, will
settle the matter for ever. "Art," they say, "has but one real
province, that of the simply sensuous; in whatever degree you admit
other elements you so far weaken the art." To use the expression of a
member of this school, what is wanted is "a solid sensuousness."

Now whatever else is true, this is false--"falser than all fancy
painted;" and, should it once come to be believed, will reduce art to
a worse slavery than the one from which Giotto rescued it. It would
really be hard to conceive that such a notion was really abroad did we
not read it in book, essay, and article, and see the consequences of
its prevalence in the works of our painters. Just think: here we have
an influence notoriously one of the most powerful in the world, one
that appeals equally to both sexes, to all classes, ages, and nations
of men; and we are asked, or rather told, with the true _sic volo, sic
jubeo_ accent, that we must use it for but one thing, and that is the
encouragement of sensuous pleasure. It is so utterly contrary to
truth, and productive of such evil results, that I really lack the
patience to speak of it and its exponents with common courtesy. But
leaving on one side the injurious effects of such a doctrine, it is
worth while to observe that it is really destructive of art itself.
The one vital principle of all art is its freedom; its concern with
every fact of nature or humanity, whether it be the form of a cabbage
or the sufferings of a Christ. Take your solid sensuous feeling and
welcome, but don't forget that that's but one, and a comparatively
unimportant, fragment of men's nature; and give us also their power of
endurance, their moments of rapture, their deeds of heroism, their
every-day sufferings, and their rarer joys. I put that quotation from
George Eliot at the top of the chapter, because it expresses far more
clearly and beautifully than any words that lie in my power, this
essential fact, that art is concerned with no one phase of human
feeling or external nature, but finds adequate material in whatever is
connected with men's lives.

Well, then, leaving on one side this pestilential heresy of art for
art's sake, this talk about gracious curves, and sensuous images,
secrets, twilights, silences, and all the rest of the jargon; we find
on thinking over the subject carefully, that there is one truth, which
art from its very nature is more fitted to express than any other, and
indeed that it is a truth which can and should enter into every work
of art, and that is the truth of beauty. The more we see of the world
and its varying actions and interests, the more certainly do we
discover one fact, that there is a kernel of beauty beneath almost the
roughest husks and rinds of human nature, and that in the natural
world there is also a beauty far superior to that which lies on the
surface, a subtle essence of loveliness only to be perceived by
earnest students, after long and patient study. All the subtler and
rarer manifestations of this beauty, are necessarily disregarded by
the mass of men engaged in the hard struggle of life, and it is these
which form the great province of the artist. His work is to say to us
in his picture "Look at this subject! It is beautiful, not only as you
would have thought, for its arrangement of line and colour and the
interest of its composition, but because I have penetrated into the
depth of the meaning involved; I have seen something which you would
not have seen, but yet something which was there, and if you think,
you will see that it must have been so." Every picture worthy of the
name of great, is thus a record of penetrative insight as well as mere
skill of painting; and the greater it is, the nearer it approaches in
the complexity of its meaning to the personality of a human being, and
receives a different interpretation from every one who sees it.

Again, of landscape painting, why is it that a picture of any natural
scene will move hundreds of people who would have derived little or no
enjoyment from the scene itself? Why, for instance, could Fred Walker
paint a street at Cookham or a country lane in a shower, so as to give
an amount of pleasure quite incommensurate with the importance or
loveliness of his subject? It is because he saw in it a beauty which
cannot be seen, except through him; for it is a beauty made up of the
scene itself and his actual feelings about it. Could you photograph
instantaneously lane and figures, and rain clouds, in the very colours
of nature, you would not gain a picture which would affect you in as
powerful a way. Who ever derived real pleasure from a photograph of a
landscape? Nature is beautiful always, but representations of nature
made by machinery have little beauty, and no interest. I cannot dwell
upon this theme--it would lead me too far from my subject--suffice it
to say, that in landscape, no less than in figure painting, it is the
spiritual insight of the painter which gives the highest value to his

To sum up shortly--truth of form, and colour, and expression, will
make a fine, perhaps even an impressive picture, but hardly a great
one; in order to do that the artist must be possessed of the power of
seizing the essence of the scene, of penetrating beneath the first
commonplace view of the subject, and finding every element of true
meaning and beauty which lies in his subject. If he once does this, he
is a true artist, and his errors of detail will become fewer and fewer
with time; if he fails in this first requisite, if he has no story to
tell except one that every one of his spectators could tell equally
well, then, no matter what may be his technical perfection, he will
never be a great artist to the end of time. To close this somewhat
long, but, I think, necessary digression, just remember what art was
when Giotto's work began. It was in a condition of double bondage,
first to the service of the Catholic Church, and second to itself, in
the perpetuation of traditional methods of work.

Always representing the same thing in the same way, its records had
become little more than variations in the arrangement of coloured
draperies. Every detail of the composition was executed upon a given
plan; the very position of the Virgin's head and the Saviour's hands
were absolutely conventional. The study of animals was almost unknown;
that of landscape nature absolutely so; all attempt at expression of
any feeling but resignation, devotion, or divine peacefulness was
perfectly discontinued; laughter, curiosity, or scorn, might have had
no existence, for any trace of them which can be found in the pictures
of the time. A picture was then nothing but a composition of
traditionally graceful lines and pleasant colours, set against a gold
background, and offered generally to the service of the Church, in
much the same spirit as the coloured German prints of the Madonna are
hung up at the little road-side shrines in Italy to this day.

In fact, art was very much in the way to which some good people of the
present day would reduce it, and represented nothing save in a partial
and symbolical manner. It was wholly unconnected with all the varying
incidents and emotions of real life, and existed only to give form to
certain traditions, and fulfil certain prescriptive offices. Its aim
was not to become of real use to man, to enter into his joys and
griefs, to console, and to enlighten him, but only to serve as a
faithful servant to the Church. Painting had gazed so long at things
heavenly, as to have almost forgotten there was an earth at all, and
so to the very ordinary-minded people who fortunately compose
nine-tenths of the world's population, its influence was too remote to
have much significance. It might represent saints, martyrs, and angels
faithfully, but what was wanted were true representations of men and

Bearing this well in mind, let us examine Giotto's works, and see what
change, if any, he effected in the popular practice, and what is the
peculiar merit of his works at this day, when we are six hundred years
further on the march of progress.


[49] Those who are interested in this subject will find an article
discussing it in the _Spectator_ of November 10th, 1877, entitled "The
Human Element in Landscape Painting."



But little remains to us of the work of Giotto's student days, and
those years immediately following; but sufficient is known to show
that his first works were, as we should naturally expect, executed in
Florence itself.

The following description of some of these frescoes is taken from
Vasari. "The first pictures of Giotto were painted for the Chapel of
the High Altar in the Abbey of Florence, where he executed many works
considered extremely fine. Among these an _Annunciation_ is
particularly admired; the expression of fear and astonishment in the
countenance of the Virgin, when receiving the salutation of Gabriel,
is vividly depicted;[50] she appears to suffer the extremity of
terror, and seems almost ready to take flight. The altarpiece of that
chapel is also by Giotto; but this has been, and continues to be,
preserved,[51] rather from the respect felt for the work of so
distinguished a man, than from any other motive."

The large _Madonna Enthroned_, of which we speak at length a little
further on, was also executed at this period. This was painted for the
altar of the church of the Ognissanti, and is probably the first
quite certain work which now remains of this master. There is a
Madonna in the Brera Gallery at Milan which, if Giotto's work,
probably belongs to an early period, but is (according to Professor
Dobbert) of a less formal character; but I have not seen this work,
and cannot speak as to its authenticity or character.

Giotto also painted at this time in the church of the Carmine,[52]
which was burnt in 1771, but a few of these frescoes were rescued and
engraved by Thomas Patch;[53] according to Waagen, two of these
fragments are in Liverpool, one in the collection of Mr. Rogers, and
others in the Campo Santo of Pisa. The picture in the National Gallery
attributed to Giotto is a fragment of one of these frescoes, and
represents the heads of two of the apostles. Whether these two heads
are by Giotto's own hand is almost impossible to say, but they are in
any case works of his school, and of an early period. Judging by the
type of face, I should think it less probable of the two uncertainties
that they were executed by Giotto; but the matter is of little
importance, as the qualities they possess chiefly are not those we
find in Giotto's work. The two heads are genuine early fresco at all
events. There are several other works in the refectory, Pisa,
attributed to Giotto by Vasari, amongst which are a _Tree of the
Cross_, a Last Supper, and scenes from the life of St. Louis, a figure
of the Virgin, and a St. John and the Magdalene at the foot of the
cross; the last three of which are now concealed by whitewash, and the
authorship of any of the pictures in the refectory is considered
doubtful by Rumohr. Of the two series of panels illustrating the
lives of Christ and St. Francis, I have spoken at length below; it is
sufficient here to say that Vasari assigns them to Giotto.

Vasari makes Giotto execute various paintings, amongst them the whole
Assisi series, and the frescoes (since discovered not to be by this
master) in the Campo Santo of Pisa, between these early works and his
visit to Rome. This, however, is impossible, from the date of that
visit being fixed by strong evidence between the years 1296 and 1298,
which leaves the young painter the barest time possible to execute his
numerous early works in Florence after his six years' apprenticeship
to Cimabue. In 1296, however, occurred the incident of the O related
elsewhere, and in that or the following year Giotto visited Rome at
the invitation of Pope Boniface VIII.[54]

According to Vasari, he here executed a large picture in the sacristy
of St. Peter's, "with five others in the church itself--these last
being passages from the life of Christ; all of which he executed with
so much care, that no better work in distemper ever proceeded from his
hands.... The Pope having seen these works of Giotto, whose manner
pleased him infinitely, commanded that he should paint subjects from
the Old and New Testaments entirely around the walls of St. Peter's;
and for a commencement the artist executed in fresco the angel seven
toreccecia high, which is now over the organ: this was followed by
many other pictures, of which some have been restored in our own days,
while more have been either destroyed in laying the foundations of the
new walls, or have been taken from the old edifice of St. Peter's and
set under the organ, as is the case with a Madonna that was cut out of
the wall that it might not totally be destroyed, and being supported
with beams and bars of iron was thus carried away and secured for its
beauty in the place wherein the pious love which the Florentine
doctor, Messer Nicolo Acciainoli, has ever borne to the excellent in
art, desired to see it enshrined, and where he has richly adorned the
work of Giotto with a framework composed of modern pictures and of
ornaments in stucco. The picture in mosaic known as the _Navicella_,
and which stands above the three doors of the portico in the vestibule
of St. Peter's, is also from the hand of Giotto--a truly wonderful
work, and deservedly eulogised by all enlightened judges; and this not
only for the merit of the design, but also for that of the grouping of
the apostles, who labour in various attitudes to guide their boat
through the tempestuous sea, while the winds blow in a sail which is
swelling with so vivid a reality that the spectator could almost
believe himself to be looking at a real sail. Yet it must have been
excessively difficult to produce the harmony and interchange of light
and shadow which we admire in this work, with mere pieces of glass,
and that in a sail of such magnitude--a thing which even with the
pencil could only be equalled by great effort. There is a fisherman
also standing on a rock and fishing with a line, in whose attitude the
extraordinary patience proper to that occupation is most obvious,
while the hope of prey and his desire for it are equally manifest in
his countenance."

The above must be taken for what it is worth, as all the works named
in the quotation have perished, with the exception of the _Navicella_
and one other.[55] I have preferred to quote Vasari's description of
the _Navicella_ to any more elaborate one, for its simplicity, and a
certain strain of honest enthusiasm rare in contemporary criticism.
The remark about the extraordinary patience of the fisherman, and his
mingled hope and desire for prey, is delightful in its unconscious
satire. This mosaic still remains, but so defaced by restoration as to
have little traces of the original which roused Vasari's enthusiasm.

The production of these various works in Rome occupied Giotto six
years, at the end of which he returned to Florence in the year 1302,
and was employed to paint frescoes in the hall of the Podesta, or as
it is now more commonly called the Bargello. I found it impossible, as
I have said above, on examining these frescoes carefully, to believe
that the greater portion of them were executed by Giotto;[56] and
owing to damp and restoration the majority have suffered so severely,
as to render it a question of little but antiquarian interest whose
work they originally were. The large fresco of the _Paradise_ at the
end of the chapel, in which are the famous portraits of Dante and
Corso Donati, has been greatly restored, especially the Dante head,
which has been wholly re-painted. The portrait, nevertheless, is one
of great interest, and the spirit of the composition has been
preserved by the restorer, though the painting itself is hard and
heavy compared with the untouched work of our master.

It was shortly after the execution of this work, that Giotto prepared
the designs for the façade of the Duomo, which were executed by Andrea
Pisano; and in the succeeding year Giotto married, and shortly
afterwards removed to Padua.

The large _Madonna Enthroned_, by Giotto, bears the greatest
resemblance to the manner of Cimabue of any of this master's work.
Before the throne, which is raised on two high steps, and surrounded
with a canopy and pillars crowned by Gothic arches, kneel two angels
in white, each bearing a vase of flowers in her hand; on either side
of the throne appear six saints and angels. The Madonna is heavily
painted, and clothed in a white under-robe, with a long blue-green
mantle covering the lower portion of the figure. The Virgin gazes
straight out of the picture with something of the peculiar lack-lustre
gaze so invariably found in the pictures of the Byzantine masters, and
which was seldom absent from the faces of Cimabue himself. The two
front angels on the east side of the throne are in green, and offer to
the Virgin a model of the church (in which the picture was to serve as
an altarpiece) and a crown. The infant Christ has his hand raised as
if to address the spectator; in his face there is little of the
infantine playfulness or expression which is to be found in Giotto's
later work, as, for instance, in the fresco of the _Presentation in
the Temple_ in the Arena Chapel, where the infant Christ is struggling
to escape from the high priest to the Virgin, who stretches her arms
towards him. Indeed, throughout this picture, there is hardly to be
found a trace of the characteristic merits of Giotto's later work, and
it must have been executed in the early days of his apprenticeship to
Cimabue, whose method of arrangement has been almost slavishly copied.
The type of face, however, both of the Virgin and the Christ, are of a
broader, heavier type than in the Byzantine model, the chin fuller and
less retreating, the eye less elliptical, and the expression, though
somewhat blank, has not that drooping, half-dreamy look of the older
schools. If we turn from this Madonna, to the gigantic one by Cimabue
which hangs on the opposite side of the entrance in the Accademia, we
can see clearly the advance made by Giotto even in this early work.
Besides the differences above mentioned, there is a fresher, more
life-like air about the whole picture; the figures are arranged less
for graceful lines, and more in accordance with nature; the drapery is
not so severely conventional in the arrangement of its folds, there
is a nearer approach to the sweeping curves of nature than to the
formal vertical lines which had grown common from the imitation of
Byzantine mosaics.

When, however, all these differences are noted and allowed their full
value, we can only conclude that this work of Giotto's is one of his
earliest and least spontaneous productions, and that the colour in it
must have suffered great deterioration. Like nearly all the pictures
painted upon panel of this period, the colour has probably darkened
and lost much of its original beauty, and this will perhaps account
for the work having little of that purity of tint that is so
noticeable in Giotto's frescoes. Of the ten small scenes from the life
of St. Francis, which are generally attributed to Giotto, the same
remarks apply as to the series of scenes from the New Testament spoken
of below, and the assertion must be reiterated that there is no reason
to attribute either of these series to the hand of Giotto, the
colouring especially being contrary to the general work of that
master. There is a crude vermilion tint employed in almost every one
of these panels that may be sought for in vain in any of the frescoes
at Padua, Assisi, or in the Santa Croce at Florence.

With regard to the twenty-two small designs on panel which are in the
Accademia under the title of being portions of the great altarpiece at
Santa Maria Novella, it scarcely admits of doubt that they are bad
imitations of the master rather than specimens of even his earliest
work. If we take the slightest of the drawings in the Arena Chapel and
compare them with one of these panels, we shall find a total
dissimilarity, both in colour and design. These works do not err on
the side of incompleteness of design or a tentative method of
execution. They rather belong to a school which carries its execution
farther than its thought, and is in fact a complacent imitation of the
work of Giotto. I see in these no traces of Giotto's work, though
many traces of his manner, and feel sure that if these designs belong
in any way to Giotto, they must have been utterly spoilt in the
re-painting. They do not, however, seem to me to have been his
designs, as even in the sadly-spoilt frescoes in the Bargello, can the
traces of the master's handiwork be clearly seen, despite damp,
whitewash, and restoration, and it is excessively improbable that
these smaller panels should have needed or received equal alteration.

They are in all probability the work of Taddeo Gaddi, or one of his
pupils; but this is hardly the place to enter upon the discussion of
their authorship, further than to explain it not to belong to the hand
of Giotto.

In the chapel of the Castellani, in the Santa Croce, is the crucifix
generally ascribed to Giotto by Lord Lindsay and other writers, but it
is difficult to discover any ground, save such as is derived from
popular tradition, for such an assumption. The lines of the figure are
stiff and formal, the colour lifeless and heavy, and the whole work
seems to belong to the Sienese school in the character of the design.
It should be noted that this work is set far back behind a double row
of huge pewter candlesticks, and great branches of artificial flowers,
and is placed immediately beneath the only window that lights the
chapel, so that it is impossible to speak with certainty of the merits
of the colouring. A curious instance of the difficulty of deciding a
work to be by Giotto on account of the merit or originality of the
design is to be seen in this very chapel, where there are seven
frescoes on the right of the crucifix, by Agnolo Gaddi, which are full
of so-called Giottesque traits. Very evidently Giotto's influence was
in the air, and the very winds of heaven seem to have carried the
matter. In the Baroncelli Chapel we have an opportunity of comparing
undoubted works by Taddeo Gaddi with those frescoes in the Upper
Church at Assisi, which I have refused to consider as Giotto's; but
if these Florentine ones be by the same hand it has undoubtedly
advanced in skill; the architecture, especially, is of a considerably
more elaborate character, and is more akin to that of the Lower Church
at Assisi. It must be noticed too that there is in these Gaddi
frescoes, more observation of nature than in those of the Upper
Church; in one composition alone are there no less than four different
species of trees introduced into the background; orange, palm, a
species of laurel, and a round-topped tree, which might be anything
from a sycamore to a cedar. Various characteristics of Giotto's works
are to be traced in these frescoes; the colouring is evidently an
unsuccessful imitation, and gesture and action are used somewhat
overmuch, without helping to tell the story, as we can fancy would be
done by one trying to follow Giotto's method.


[50] How a certain reviewer would have scoffed at Giotto for
representing the Virgin in this manner!

[51] It has been removed since, and its whereabouts is not now known.

[52] There is a dispute about the period when these frescoes were
executed, but the weight of evidence is in favour of their having been
done at the earliest period of Giotto's artistic career.

[53] Mr. Thomas Patch does not seem to have appreciated the master
much, for he can see little difference between his work and that of
the other painters of the same period, _e.g._ the Sienese and Pisan

[54] According to Baldinucci, Vasari says Benedict IX., and Crowe and
Cavalcaselle, Benedict XI (1303). _Vide supra_, p. 35.

[55] Portrait of Boniface VIII. preserved under glass in the church.
Ed. Flor.

[56] I may perhaps mention that Mr. Fairfax Murray, who accompanied me
to the Bargello, and gave me his valuable opinion as to the authorship
of the frescoes, also felt certain of Giotto only having painted one
or two of the number.



     "These temples grew as grows the grass:
     Art might obey, but not surpass;
     The passive master lent his hand
     To the vast soul that o'er him planned,
     And the same power that built the shrine
     O'erspread the tribes that knelt therein."--_Emerson._

Fancy a wet, cloudy, spring day in an old Italian town; the only
objects visible in the little grass-grown square where the hotel
stands, being two or three mournful carriages, with the sorriest
steeds harnessed to them, that even Italian feeding can produce, and
surrounding these, houses of mildewed stone, faced occasionally with
brown plaster, large flakes of which are peeling off in every
direction. The drivers have long since given up all hope of even a
stray tourist, and ensconced themselves in the low wine-shop that you
may see at the corner of the square, whence the sound of their voices
and the smoke of their cigars, break forth occasionally into the heavy

Every now and then a slippered figure, with white stockings down at
heel, and black stuff petticoat wrapped carefully over its head,
hurries by on some domestic errand, or a stray dog limps dejectedly in
and out of the carriage wheels, in search of stray scraps of sausage
or cheese, which might indeed well be there, since the drivers eat
both, pretty well all day long. To close the picture, an Englishman
in a tweed suit, staring contemplatively at the prospect from the
doorway of the principal hotel, and wondering whether it was really
worth while to travel half across Europe, in order to reach such a
resting-place: wondering also whom he shall get to direct him to the
Arena Chapel, for this is Padua, once most learned of universities,
and now dullest of cities, and it is here that Giotto painted the
Scrovegni Chapel from floor to ceiling.

After more or less contradictory directions and several fruitless
attempts, I discovered the entrance to the enclosure wherein the
chapel stands, and being by this time wet, tired, dirty, and
considerably out of temper, immediately resolved to leave it to the
next day to see the pictures, and returned to my hotel depressed in
spirit, but trying to look forward to the morrow. All was unchanged in
the square, save that the dog had departed, and the vetturini grown a
trifle more noisy; so after a solitary dinner, wherein the landlord
figured as sole attendant, and macaroni formed the principal dish, I
turned into my room, and consoled myself with concocting an imaginary
leader to the _Times_ on the fallacy of believing that Italian weather
was better than English, and so to bed.

Never was change more complete than that I woke to the next morning. A
blazing sun, such as we see in July only, shone in the midst of a blue
sky, and streamed brightly in upon the paved bedchamber, and a fresh
little breeze rattled cheerfully to and fro the big window-shutters,
and hinted at its being time to get up. A glance into the square
revealed my vetturino friends cheerfully cracking their whips at
imaginary flies, and, seated by the side of the fountain, a
brown-skinned maiden in the whitest of linen and heaviest of earrings,
was amicably partaking of a chunk of sausage, with the youngest of the
party. The very dog had turned up again, and looked at least twice the
size that he did yesterday, and was sitting at a respectful distance
from the last-named couple, watching for scraps with cheerful

Now, if ever, it appeared to me was the time for a first favourable
impression of a great artist, and so, hurrying through dressing and
breakfast, I started for the chapel. Venting the content of my soul as
I went along, in the solitary Italian phrase I was master of, I waved
my hand to the young coachman, and said, _ché bel' tempo_. He looked
down at his dark-eyed damsel; she was sitting on the step of the
carriage by this time, and if ever a coachman agreed with any one,
which is doubtful, that young fellow did with me; though I gathered
his assent merely from his eloquent looks, for of what he said I have
not the faintest conception.

So, like Æneas, with hope and fortune favouring me, I drew near to the
great wooden gate which marks the entrance to the Arena. The large
gates are immovable, but a little lattice door opens if you push it
deftly at the right moment after having rung the bell, and on
entering, you see a long garden, where currants and apple-trees,
acacias and vines, almonds and poplars, are all mixed together in a
confusion of greenery. At the end of the narrow gravel walk rises a
house, not unlike an English suburban villa, much out of repair, in
front of which two or three small children are tumbling about in
perilous proximity to an old well, while at what should be the
dining-room window, stands a girl twisting up her long, black hair,
with the most perfect composure. Anything more delightfully unlike the
usual aspect of a show place could hardly be imagined, and at first
(not being able to see the chapel at all) I thought I had mistaken my
direction for the third time, but there was the servant evidently
getting ready to receive me, and, as I had undoubtedly rung the bell,
I walked boldly up to the house.

  [Illustration: PADUA.
   _From a drawing by the Author._]

A few steps explained the matter. The chapel stands to the right of
the house, at the edge of the orchard, and the servant was doing up
her hair previous to bringing out the keys. The chapel outside is
simply a barn-shaped building, with a gable roof, absolutely
undecorated in any way whatever, unless a round-arched door, with the
remains of a very small fresco above it, can be called decorative. The
entrance is at the west end of the building, which is lighted from the
south side only, by six long narrow windows. The gable roof hardly
projects at all beyond the walls. The whole appearance of the chapel
being somewhat like those box-like constructions drawn by children, to
represent a house. If it be a proper criticism to call a thing ugly
which has only been constructed for a certain purpose, and which has
fulfilled that purpose fairly well for six hundred years, the
Scrovegni Chapel may fairly be called by that name; but personally I
must confess to a feeling of gratification at finding there was
absolutely no attempt at architectural embellishment in the whole
building, and many will probably share this feeling. Knowing that the
interior was absolutely covered with frescoes, each of which was
almost priceless, it seemed to me appropriate, both to the pictures,
and the simplicity of style in the master who executed them, that
their covering should be not sculptured marble or vaulted stone, but
simply plain, honest building.

After all the chapel was hardly more to the frescoes than is the
canvas to the picture, and it afforded a refreshing contrast to the
way in which things are done nowadays, to remember that Enrico
Scrovegni,[57] wishing to build a temple to the honour, and for the
service of, the Virgin, thought it more necessary to give her the work
of genius within her shrine, than to adorn its exterior with costly
materials and sculptured ornament. Given that it was a choice between
Giotto's frescoes and elaborate architectural design (and we may
suppose that a plain citizen could not afford both), then we can look
at this homely building with pleasure rather than repulsion, as we do
at the rough coating of some precious stone. And if we do not grumble
at the plainness of the building, still less will we do so at its
position in the quaint garden-close, where flickering shadows from the
bright leaves of the acacias dot the gravel path, and where from
behind the chapel rises the humming of the custodian's bee-hives.[58]

Is not this such a surrounding as we might best desire for our
painter's work? In front of his masterpieces, an orchard green and
gay, with trembling leaves and flashing sunshine, and human with the
soft voices of laughing children; and behind, a rich meadow, where a
few cattle doze lazily through their time, and long ranges of
bee-hives stand in the very shadow of the chapel; and if the eye lifts
its gaze from meadow and orchard, with a sense of something wanting to
the full agreement of the surroundings and the painter's mind, it
meets the great dome of the neighbouring church rising against the
cloudless sky, as it might in one of Giotto's own frescoes, and is
satisfied. So with the rustling of the leaves, and the murmur of the
bees in our ears, and something of the bright sunshine in our hearts,
we enter the chapel where the custodian waits patiently enough, having
had experience of many tourists and their foolish ways.

A long vaulted chamber plainly divided by a high arch into nave and
chancel, lighted by six high narrow windows, all on the right hand
wall, the entire interior surface covered with frescoes, three tiers
of which run from the ceiling to within about eight feet of the
ground; at intervals, below this lowest tier, there are other frescoes
of smaller size in monochrome, symbolical of the various Christian
virtues and vices, surrounded by craftily painted borders, imitating
mosaic of coloured marbles.

Wherever the eye turns it meets a bewilderment of colour pure and
radiant, and yet restful to the eye; tints which resemble in their
perfect harmony of brightness the iridescence of a shell, and seem to
be possessed of something of the same strange quality of imprisoned
light. From the blue ceiling, with its medallions and golden stars, to
the lowest range of mosaic, there is literally not a spot where the
eye cannot rest with pleasure; and the whole interior, owing perhaps
to its perfect simplicity of form, and the absence of all other
decoration than the frescoes, presents less the aspect of a building
ornamented with paintings, than that of some gigantic opal in the
midst of which the spectator stands.

It is difficult to speak without seeming exaggeration of the effect
produced, or to attempt to convey to those of my readers who are not
familiar with the spot, the peculiar qualities of the colouring in
these paintings. In England, and to the majority of Englishmen, pure
colour, bright colour, and _staring_ colour, are almost
interchangeable terms, and depth of colour is but too frequently
understood to mean depth of _shadow_. Now you must quite get rid of
the idea that the colouring of these frescoes is crude or violent,
because I call it "pure."

If there is one quality of our master's work which is more certain
than another, it is the general harmony of his tints, the absence of
any discordant effect from his paintings. The great difference between
his system of colouring and that of later masters is, that his harmony
is gained by means of the combination of broad masses of comparatively
simple tints, while later artists discovered that by paying greater
attention to the gradation of colour, its subtle variations of light
and shade, and its enhancement by means of complementary tints, they
could produce a greater truth to nature, as well as a greater amount
of colour beauty, than in any other way--and one, moreover, which was
applicable to all the varying conditions of nature. Giotto's system
was one which he would have been the first to discard, had it occurred
to him to paint a picture save in full daylight, for its beauty is
incompatible with any other effect. It must always be remembered in
thinking of his work, that he was the successor of men who absolutely
banished shadow from their pictures; for the gloomy hues of the older
Byzantine pictures were not representative of shadow, any more than
their rich tones represented light; and Giotto's master, Cimabue, had
revolted from the darkness of his predecessors' pictures to
comparatively light tints.

It was, of course, impossible for Giotto to work out an entire system
of chiaroscuro for himself (as a matter of fact it took another two
hundred years to accomplish that advance); the marvel is that by his
exquisite arrangement of tint he was able to compose pictures which
are to this day comparable in colour beauty to those of the great
masters of succeeding ages, though they are not comparable in subtlety
of colour, nor is there ever such beauty of a special colour gained as
in the work of the later artists.[59]

  [Illustration: PARADISE.
   (_Greatly restored._)]

The series of paintings comprises illustrations of the apocryphal
history of Joachim and Anna, the Virgin's parents, the life of the
Virgin up to the period of the Annunciation, and finally, a set of
illustrations of the life and passion of Jesus Christ, culminating in
a fresco above the choir showing Him enthroned in glory. Thus the
series forms one connected history, supplementing which there is on
the great wall above the door a representation of the last judgment.
Every fresco is surrounded by a frame, painted in imitation of
coloured mosaic, and at intervals, beneath the lowest row of the
scenes from the life of Christ, there are representations of the
Virtues, each of which has its corresponding Vice facing it upon the
opposite side of the chapel. In the arrangement it should be noticed
that each Virtue has its head turned to the portion of the Last
Judgment fresco representing Heaven, or to the fresco of Christ in
Glory; each Vice looks towards the portion representing Hell. These
symbolical figures are in greyish green, with occasionally a
background of dull red; the historical works are in various colours.

This arrangement is probably due in some measure to the rules of
Byzantine art, but here the resemblance ends; nothing can be more
original, owing less to tradition, than the composition of the various
pictures in this series. They are not so much an improvement upon
Byzantine art, as a wholly new departure; the difference is something
like that between the gallop of a horse, and the fierce rush of a
locomotive, not only a greater pace, but a changed mode of
progression. It is difficult to see how the one could have ever
developed into the other, and there is no clue left, save such as may
be found in that lonely shepherd life led by the young artist, amidst
the olive groves and grey hills of Vespignano. I subjoin a table of
the subjects of these series in the order in which they here occur;
but I do not propose to weary my readers with a description of the
composition of each picture; it will be sufficient if I indicate the
main features of a few of the most important.[60]

The order of the drawings in the Arena Chapel is as follows:--

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

The first of this series which deserves especial attention is that
numbered two in the above table, the representation of Joachim's
retirement to the sheepfold, after his offering has been rejected by
the high priest. This is especially remarkable as being the first of
his series of the Arena frescoes in which Giotto's early training
shows itself. Nothing can be more marked than the evident delight of
the painter in depicting any form of this shepherd life. Throughout
his works every opportunity of introducing animal nature, especially
sheep nature, is eagerly seized and made the most of, and, as in this
fresco, the animals have invariably a character of their own, and are
by no means walking gentlemen in the scene represented. Look, for
instance, at the varied action of the sheep in this composition,
and the eager welcome that Joachim's dog is giving to his master. In
the third and fourth pictures, too, of the _Sacrifice of Joachim_, and
the subsequent appearance of the angel, is the delight of the painter
in animal idiosyncrasies apparent, as in the two rams butting at one
another, and the air of quiet watchfulness in which the dog lies down,
with a sense of responsibility strong upon him.

   _In the Cappella dell' Arena, Padua._]

The _Meeting of Joachim and Anna_, chiefly remarkable for the grace
and beauty of the two leading figures; it is somewhat curious to
notice how the position of Anna's head suggests that of a famous
modern picture, perhaps the most celebrated ever painted in England,
the _Huguenots_, by Mr. J. E. Millais, R.A. _A propos_ of this fresco,
Mr. Ruskin remarks, that the artist has heightened the effect of the
leading figures by wilfully coarsening the features of the subordinate
characters, and that the horizontal lines of the architecture enhance
by contrast the beauty of the curved draperies. I am, however,
inclined to think that the first of these contrasts is accidental, as
the type of face of the servants in this composition, is found
throughout the minor characters in Giotto's pictures; indeed, it may
be noticed that, whether from his own uncomeliness, or some other more
recondite reason, the painter had a curious difficulty in depicting
beautiful faces, that belongs to him alone of contemporary masters.
This does not apply to beauty of gesture or line, to which he was
excessively sensitive.

8. The _Presentation of the Virgin_--the Virgin represented not as a
child, but, as Lord Lindsay remarks, a dwarf woman. The figure of Anna
in this picture is one of the least graceful in Giotto's works.

10. The _Watching of the Rods at the Altar_.--Chiefly characteristic
as showing Giotto's power of seizing the expression in the simplest
actions, which is most characteristic of the subject; in this fresco
the eagerness of the watchers is shown with a quite unmistakeable
plainness, especially in the three centre figures, though all of these
have their backs more or less turned to the spectator.

11. The _Espousal of the Virgin_.--Some of the figures in this
composition are very fine, such, for instance, as those of Joseph, the
high priest, and the youth behind, who is in the act of breaking the
rod over his knee. Mr. Ruskin remarks of this last figure that in
Perugino's treatment of the same subject (at Cannes) there is "nothing
in the action of the disappointed suitors so perfectly true and
touching as that of the youth breaking his rod in this composition of

12. The _Return of the Virgin Mary to her Home._--The figure of the
violin-player in this composition is remarkable, not only for its
beauty, but for being identical with that of one of the attendants in
the fresco of the _Daughter of Herodias dancing before Herod_, in the
Santa Croce at Florence. It is a very quiet picture, full of slow
movement and dignified grace, but a little wanting in the variety of
action which is generally characteristic of Giotto's work, and more
severe in the lines of the drapery.

13. The _Annunciation_--the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. These
are two single figures which together encircle the arch above the
entrance to the choir of the chapel, and are as beautiful as any of
the compositions; especially fine is the attitude of the lines of
drapery of the angel's figure. Giotto seems not to have attempted to
render the Virgin's face beautiful either in expression or feature.

16. The _Salutation_--almost the first fresco where Giotto's full
powers are seen. I know no two figures more finer in their way than
those of the Virgin and Elizabeth. Here the plainness of Mary's face
seems quite obscured by the beauty of its expression, and every line
of the two figures helps to tell the story. This picture is smaller
than the others, owing to its place beneath the figure of the Virgin
in the _Annunciation_, and is nearly bare of all background.

17. The _Nativity_.--This Nativity is doubly interesting from the fact
of the subject being repeated at Assisi in the lower church[61] in the
series generally attributed to Giotto. The one at Padua is as
beautiful as any of the Arena frescoes, and in every way finer than
the Assisi rendering, which latter is almost certainly the work of one
of Giotto's pupils, and is as stiff and mechanical in its general
arrangement as the former is easy and natural.

I need not enter into the reasons which have convinced me of Giotto
not having personally executed the Assisi Nativity, as they are given
at length in a subsequent chapter.[62] The varied action of the
angels, the natural gestures of the Virgin and the shepherds and the
quiet harmony of blue and grey colour (in which this fresco is almost
entirely painted), are especially worthy of notice. Very noticeable
too are the attentive animals, and the natural manner in which the
Virgin turns half round in her bed to place the child in its
attendant's arms. On the right are the shepherds listening to the
angels, who fly hither and thither above the mountain background; on
the left, the ox and ass stretching their heads towards the Virgin's

18. The _Adoration of the Magi_.--The composition of this fresco in
its leading figures is very fine, and somewhat more elaborate than
customary in this series. The artist has tried very hard to get some
expression of interest in the camel, who is being held by an attendant
on the left of the picture, and has actually succeeded to some extent,
despite the Noah's-ark-like appearance of the animal, caused no doubt
by Giotto's insufficient acquaintance with its shape.

19. The _Presentation in the Temple_.--There are two incidents in this
scene, for the right interpretation of the latter of which I am
indebted to Mr. Ruskin. The first of them is the naturalism of the
child, which is evidently struggling to leave the high priest's arms
and get back to its mother, who holds out her arms to receive it; the
second being the approach of an angel to Simeon, who is supposed by
Mr. Ruskin to typify the angel of death, "sent in visible fulfilment
of the thankful words of Simeon: 'Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant
depart in peace.'" The drapery of the Virgin in this fresco, though
simple, is very fine.

20. The _Flight into Egypt_.--One of the simplest of the series. The
colour in several places completely gone, as, for instance, in the
Virgin's robe, which, originally blue, is now a yellowish white, the
dark shadow of the drapery alone remaining. The patient pace of the
tired ass on which the Virgin is seated, if contrasted with that of
the one on which Christ is riding in the fresco of the _Entry into
Jerusalem_, will show how minute was Giotto's observation and
appreciation of animal life.

21. The _Murder of the Innocents_.--Perhaps the least pleasing of the
series, though no doubt much of its lack of beauty is owing to the
change of colour which this fresco has sustained, a change which, from
some unknown cause, has been much more radical than in most of this
series. The composition could, however, have been at no time a
beautiful one, and the heap of stiff wooden dolls (for such they seem)
that represents the slaughtered innocents is simply ugly. The fresco,
however, is full of action, and the figure of the leading executioner,
who stands drawing back his sword to pierce the child, whom he holds
head downwards in his left hand, is one of the most vigorous Giotto
ever conceived.

22. The _Teaching of Christ in the Temple_.--This fresco is so much
injured by damp as to be practically destroyed.

23. The _Baptism of Christ by John_.--Wholly Byzantine in its
arrangement, especially in the water, which is depicted as a heavy
green wall, reaching half way up the fresco and covering Christ's body
as high as the chest. Mary and Joseph stand on the right bank,
attendants on the left, Christ in the centre of the picture, with a
glory streaming down upon him. It is somewhat curious to observe that
Giotto has made a compromise in the garments of the Apostle John, and
while clothing him in a pink robe, for the sake of the fresco's
colour, has allowed a little bit of the camel's-hair garment to be
seen beneath the long drapery.

24. The _Wedding in Cana_.--A touch of nature in the fat butler in the
foreground, who is swigging away at the wine before taking it to the
table; otherwise this fresco is one of the most commonplace of the
series. It is worthy of notice that in all cases where Giotto has to
represent a scene in which the actors are seated, the artist seems to
lose much of his attractiveness; to become more commonplace. It is as
if the dramatic instinct in him refused to work freely except when he
could depict varied actions.

25. The _Raising of Lazarus_.--This is another fresco full of the
various attitudes of surprise and energy in which Giotto delighted so
much. The pose of the principal figure of the disciples should be
noticed, as it is very characteristic of our artist, and occurs in
many of his frescoes where surprise or grief has to be indicated. The
body is bent slightly forward with the arms thrown abruptly back, the
hand hollowed with the palm towards the ground, the fingers held
together and the thumb as much spread out as possible. The figures of
the two attendants in this fresco, who are raising the heavy slab
which covered the tomb of Lazarus, are of very marked action; the one
on the right trying to raise the slab to his shoulder, while the
left-hand one, with feet planted firmly wide apart, is just bending to
the strain of lifting his end of the stone from the ground, or as a
rowing man would say, is just "getting his weight on."

26. The _Entry into Jerusalem_.--Greatly injured by damp but still
interesting. Notice the figure of the woman, whose cloak has tumbled
over her head in her excitement, and the haste with which the two boys
in the background are climbing the palm-trees to get a good view.

27. The _Expulsion of the Money-changers_.--Like the last this
composition is one of varied interest, but the left-hand portion of it
having been considerably damaged by damp is scarcely intelligible. The
attitude of Christ is energetic, and there is a fine contrast in
feeling between the two money-changers on the right hand of the
picture, one of whom shrinks away, while the other seems inclined to
stand his ground, while the precipitation with which the goat is
leaping out of the little pen is one of those little semi-burlesque
touches of animal life which Giotto introduces whenever he gets a


28. The _Hiring of Judas_.--A small composition of four figures,
placed on the wall beneath the arch of the choir, immediately beneath
the _Angel of the Annunciation_. Judas has already received the bag of
money, and the high priest, with one finger raised, like a sort of
ecclesiastical Dogberry, is just giving him his last instructions. The
Devil, too, in the shape of a black hobgoblin, with claws and tail, is
also giving the apostate advice, whispering it into his ear. The small
fresco beneath this and in the corresponding place on the other side
of the choir is simply painted with a representation of an arched
ceiling, wall, and window, apparently intended to give the impression
from a distance of there being a side transept to the choir.

29. The _Last Supper_.--In this, as in all his frescoes of seated
figures, Giotto is less at home than usual. It is curious to notice
that the attitude of John in this fresco is the same as was adopted in
all the later renderings of this scene. The moment chosen is the usual
one of the Saviour's speech--"He that dippeth his hand in the dish
with me, the same shall betray me."[63]

30. The _Washing of the Feet_.--Very characteristic of Giotto and
wonderfully true to life in the positions and actions of all
concerned. Notice the apostle tying his sandal on the left of the
picture, and the one who is about to have his feet washed, holding up
his long robe lest it should get wet.

31. The _Betrayal_.--This composition is much more thickly filled with
figures than most of the series, and is one of the finest, though
hardly one of the most beautiful. The figures of Christ and Judas are
both grand in their respective ways, and stand out vividly from the
crowd that surrounds them. There is no mistake about what is
transpiring; one does not have to look for the action in a middle of
graceful lines, but it presents itself strongly and at the first
glance. The figure of the high priest who points out Christ to the
soldiery is also very fine, dignified and yet eager in action, and
with a mixed expression of triumph and anxiety. In colour this fresco
bears comparison with any in the chapel.

32. The _Trial_.--"And Pilate rent his garments," &c. Chiefly
interesting for the very beautiful figure of Christ, who stands with
hands tied and body slightly bent, half turned away from his judge,
the face expressing resignation, but in an even greater degree
removedness from the scene around, possessed by some over-mastering

33. The _Crown of Thorns_.--Here Giotto is again in a somewhat
burlesque humour: the delight of those who are here mocking, tickling,
pinching, and smiting Christ is evidently the ruling motive of the
picture. It is noticeable that here there are only servants engaged in
the derision and tormenting, not soldiers, according to the commoner

34. The _Bearing of the Cross_.--In this fresco the figures of both
Christ and Mary are fine, that of Christ being similar to the attitude
at the trial above referred to.

35. The _Crucifixion_.--One of the most beautiful of the series. The
Magdalen kneels at the foot of the cross, weeping bitterly; St. John,
half fainting, is supported by two disciples on the left of the
picture; on the right the soldiers squabble over the division of
Christ's robe; the Saviour looks down upon the Magdalen, and above the
cross fly here and there angels.

36 and 37. The _Entombment_ and the _Resurrection_.--These are the two
most beautiful frescoes in the chapel, so beautiful that they throw
all the others into comparative shade, and fortunately they are both
little injured by damp. In the first, Christ is being prepared for
burial by the disciples and the two Maries. The Magdalen supports his
feet upon her knees; the Mother lays one arm upon his breast, whilst
she raises his head towards her with the other in a last embrace. St.
John bends over the body in Giotto's usual attitude of grief and
horror; other disciples and attendants stand round weeping and
watching; in the background are mountains, and above them a choir of

In the _Resurrection_, the soldiers sleep beside the red porphyry tomb
where Christ was laid, and on which, at head and foot, sit the
white-winged, white-robed angels. Nearly in the centre kneels the
Magdalen in a long robe of crimson, which shrouds her form from head
to foot all but her face; to the extreme right of the picture stands
Christ, half turning away from the kneeling woman, one arm
outstretched as though warning her "_noli me tangere_."

38 and 39. The _Ascension_, and the _Descent of the Holy Spirit_.--The
former of these two frescoes, which form the concluding ones of the
series, is very formal in its arrangement--the Christ being in the
centre of the picture, with hands raised to the choir of angels, who
hover on both sides. Below, the disciples are also in two groups, nor
is there very much to dwell upon in their expression or gestures. The
whole fresco seems as if Giotto had felt himself more fettered by the
traditional manner of representing the scene, or less at liberty to
treat it in his own peculiar fashion, than in the preceding scenes of
the series. The _Descent of the Holy Spirit_ is very similar in the
arrangement of the seated figures to that of the _Last Supper_, and is
only remarkable for its very delicate colouring.

  [Illustration: "NOLI ME TANGERE."

This picture of the _Descent of the Holy Spirit_ completes the series
of the history of the Virgin and our Saviour, and we have only now to
mention the symbolical figures in monochrome, which are painted at
intervals beneath the lowest row of frescoes, and which it is probable
were an after thought of Giotto's, possibly suggested to him by Dante,
who, as I have said, was living at Padua during the time when Giotto
was occupied in painting the Arena Chapel.

Be that as it may, it is the fact that in no other place does Giotto
show much tendency towards symbolical representation; these are the
only figures of the kind that we know to have been executed by his
hand. In this arrangement all the Virtues are painted upon the right
side of the chapel, and have their faces turned to the heavenly side
of the great fresco above the door; the Vices are on the left, and
look in like manner to the part of that fresco representing hell. The
list is as follows:--


     1. Hope.
     2. Charity.
     3. Faith.
     4. Justice.
     5. Temperance.
     6. Fortitude.
     7. Prudence.


     8. Folly.
     9. Inconstancy.
     10. Anger.
     11. Injustice.
     12. Infidelity.
     13. Avarice.
     14. Despair.

This list is in the order in which the frescoes are placed round the
chapel, beginning on the right hand of the doorway and returning to
the left of the entrance; it will be seen, therefore, that the
corresponding Virtue and Vice face each other throughout the series.

Some of these allegorical figures are very beautiful; especially there
should be noticed _Charity_, holding a basket of fruit in one hand and
stretching forth the other to the _Almighty_, who bends down from
heaven to place some fruit in her hand. As Mr. Ruskin has remarked,
the figure is made to trample upon money-bags, as if in contempt.
_Hope_ also is a very beautiful figure flying upward with outstretched
arms, and an expression of rapture and longing upon her face. After
these _Justice_ and _Temperance_ are the finest. Of the Vices,
_Injustice_ is perhaps the most interesting, if it is only for the
sake of giving a clear example of how far Giotto understood the nature
of trees. The foreground of this fresco being a wood, behind which
sits _Injustice_ in a cave, with a sword in his left hand and a
grappling-hook in his right, to catch the unwary traveller, who is
represented in a small predella to the picture, being robbed and
stripped of his clothes. _Anger_ too is a fine figure, rending her
garment apart in futile wrath, and so is _Despair_, with clenched
fists and downcast head. On the whole, this series of Virtues and
Vices is a remarkable one for the plainness with which the thing
symbolised is shown, and the penetration which has led Giotto in
almost every case to the real root of the Virtue or Vice. For a full
description of these most interesting frescoes the reader cannot do
better than refer to the little book written for the Arundel Society
by Mr. Ruskin, entitled _Giotto and his Works in Padua_.

       *       *       *       *       *

     NOTE.--"This chapel, built in, or about, the year 1303, appears
     to have been intended to replace one which had long existed
     upon the spot; and in which from the year 1278 an annual
     festival had been held on Ladyday, 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. Scrovegni's purchase of the ground would 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 Scrovegni 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 Selvatica states it, but, more accurately, the
     'dignity' of the Virgin against the various heretics by whom it
     was beginning to be assailed. His knights were at 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 powerful 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 supposition.'

     "Enrico Scrovegni 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 this 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
     to 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 martyrdom 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 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."--From _The Arena Chapel at Padua_, by JOHN RUSKIN.

  [Illustration: JUSTICIA.


[57] See note at the end of this chapter for Ruskin's account of the
chapel's use and its founder.

[58] I beg the custodian's pardon, for on going to the chapel again
this year, I find that it is the Royal Society of Api-Culture who are
responsible for the dozen or so of hives.

[59] It would take me at least a page to justify and define this
assertion. I must trust my readers to understand that it is written in
no depreciation of later artists, and that it only refers to colour as
seen in light, scarcely modified at all by shade.

[60] Throughout this book I have purposely avoided, wherever it was
possible, long descriptions of the subject matter of the pictures
mentioned. The almost inevitable tendency of such description, unless
it is done with the greatest reticence as well as skill, is to
withdraw the reader's attention from the artist, either to the author
or the subject spoken of, and as my main endeavour in writing this
book has been to bring the peculiarities of the artist into constant
prominence, it would have defeated my purpose to enter into
descriptive writing.

[61] See Lower Church of Assisi, Chapter X.

[62] See Chapter on the Lower Church of Assisi, p. 111.

[63] Almost the only artist who ever thoroughly vanquished the
difficulty of representing the Last Supper, without stiffness of
arrangement, was Tintoretto in his great picture in the Scuola San
Rocco. The celebrated Leonardo fresco at Milan of this subject suffers
in a measure from the same difficulty as Giotto's work, though in a
less degree.



     "There is in truth a holy purity, an innocent _naïveté_, a
     child-like grace and simplicity, a freshness, a fearlessness, a
     yearning after all things truthful, lovely, and of good report,
     in the productions of this early time which invest them with a
     charm peculiar in its kind, and which few even of the most
     perfect works of the maturer era can boast of; and hence the
     risk and danger (which I warn you of at the outset) of becoming
     too passionately attached to them, of losing the power of
     discrimination, of admiring and imitating their defects as well
     as their beauties, of running into affectation in seeking after
     simplicity, and into exaggeration in our efforts to be in
     earnest; in a word of forgetting that in art, as in human
     nature, it is the balance, harmony and co-equal development, of
     sense, intellect, and spirit, which constitutes
     perfection."--LORD LINDSAY'S _Christian Art_.

I feel my inability to convey to my readers any adequate idea of the
general style of Giotto's painting, and this not so much because it is
a complicated one or difficult to understand, as because of its very
simplicity. A few points may be mentioned in which it differed from
that of his predecessors in Italy, from the pictures of the
Renaissance period, and lastly from those of our own time; but when
all is said, the peculiar beauty of the colouring, the simplicity and
purity of the feeling, the strength and directness of the painter's
aim, and the unstudied grace of his compositions will remain to baffle
any description that can be given.

First let me note that previous to the time of Giotto (since the
decay at least of Greek art) colour in painting meant almost
exclusively the arrangement of gorgeous hues on a golden background.
The tints used being little, if at all, gradated, but laid on more in
the manner of a mosaic than a modern picture. Derived, as were the
traditions of painting, from manuscripts of Mount Athos and mosaics of
Byzantium, they were almost wholly confined to the composition of pure
colours in pleasing juxtaposition, and these colours were almost
invariably full and deep. It may, perhaps, make my meaning clearer if
I take an antithetical example from the art of the present day.
Everybody knows the characteristics of French landscape painting, a
beautiful tone of grey and black, and perhaps a few other tertiary
tints, and no form or colour whatever, depending entirely on the
gradation for its beauty. Well, before Giotto there was no such thing
as tone, save in pure colours; and gradation of colour was practically
unknown. The colours used were dark and rich, purples and crimsons and
deep blues, and here and there orange and green and heavy blue-blacks.
These, laid upon a gold ground, more or less ornamented with chased
designs, formed the chief portion of the pictorial art of the
centuries preceding Giotto. Looking into one of these pictures was
like looking into a decaying fire, where amidst masses of dark shade
there still burnt gloomily here and there, patches of glowing cinders
and bright flame. Hung in the dim recess of a chapel or an oratory,
lighted by the faint glimmer of the silver lamps, these works of
Christian art may well have harmonised with the dark ages of
superstition which gave them life, but they were essentially
unsuitable for having any real effect upon men's minds, apart from
their religious uses. They had no connection with the real life of the
world, full of varying emotions and conflicting passions; they had no
affinity with the times when the hardbound earth cracked at the close
of winter, and the sun shone once more in a blue sky, and all men's
"pulses throbbed together with the fulness of the spring."

This was the first change that Giotto made in artistic method. "Away
with the gold background," he said; "let us have the blue sky," and,
as in the days of creation, "it was so." This we may fancy was the
first step, but with it came many others. With the introduction of the
sky came a corresponding lightening of the tones used throughout the
picture, a corresponding increase in the amount of light depicted in
the composition.

And, as over the whole of Byzantine art, there had brooded a gorgeous
gloom, through which the tints only revealed themselves dimly and
slowly, as we may see at the present day, the hues of tropic sea-weed
glow faint beneath the waves of the China Sea, so over Giotto's
frescoes there shone a calm, full light, not bathed in sunshine or
enhanced by contrasted shade, but a plain clear breadth of day,
sufficient to reveal clearly each object in the picture.

Just think what a change this one alteration in tone must have brought
about! what an instrument it was for the correcting of the absurd
traditions which then governed the practice of painting. It must have
been like that produced by a _Times_ leader upon the iniquities of
local boards of guardians; namely, delight and amazement to the world
at large, horror and consternation to the idiots who had done ill by
stealth (though strictly in accordance with rule), and blushed to find
it fame.

So keep this fact well in view, that the great change effected by
Giotto was the change from rush-light to daylight, and it was only
after this that further advance became possible. Do not run away with
the idea that he gained thereby the whole truth; far from it. There
were two centuries and a half of painters to come after him before
the whole truth of light and shade was mastered, for Giotto may be
said to have practically ignored shade altogether.

Nor did he advance much further in the _gradation_ of colour than his
predecessors had done; his paint is generally put on in broad flat
washes, with little attempt at gradation; its beauty depends chiefly
upon the exquisite manner in which these washes are combined with one
another. Thus he never reaches to the utmost beauty of colour, which
is only obtainable with the utmost gradation of light and shade; but
his work presents itself like a landscape, ere the sun rises, on a
fine summer's morning, when each object lies clearly and a little
coldly defined, in the shadowless air.

It must be remembered that with the attempt to master the intricacies
and gradation of light and shade, came also the use of secondary and
tertiary tints, to an extent unknown in the time of Giotto, who may
almost be described as the last of the pure colourists, taking pure in
the sense of primary. Chiaroscuro went on gradually advancing in
importance, relatively to colour and subject, till in the times of
Rembrandt we find it absolutely thrusting colour and subject out of
the field altogether, and making the flash upon a tin pannikin, or the
obscurity of a cottage kitchen, of equal importance with the grandest
traditions of our race.

What is perhaps best known as the special quality of Giotto's art is
his study of nature; and it is right that I should say a few words
upon this somewhat indefinite phrase, and try to show in what Giotto's
study of nature consisted, and wherein it differed from that of
preceding painters.

If we were able to return in reality to the old times when our painter
lived, I do not fancy we should find--as many good people
suppose--that the folk of that day were ignorant that there were such
things as domesticated animals and birds, trees and flowers, clouds
and sunsets. You may be very sure that mediæval Florentines on the
ridge of Fiesole, have often paused to watch the sun gilding the
spires of Florence, much as the English traveller does; and young
lovers wandering idly amongst the almond-trees by the Arno, plucked
the blossoms, and admired their loveliness, as we do to-day. It was
only that somehow the idea had never occurred to any one that these
things were suitable for pictures; there was a notion that it would be
a sort of irreverence to put such vulgar details into religious
scenes--arising perhaps from a similar feeling to that which makes
many well-trained Christians dislike to pray for any specially desired
object. Perhaps it was owing to Giotto's early training, or rather no
training, in the midst of a wild mountain country, perhaps only to his
rough humorous, anti-reverential character, but probably to the
combination of circumstance and individuality, that made him introduce
into his compositions all sorts of extraneous matter. That to the last
he entertained a strong sympathy with his early shepherd life, it is
impossible to doubt, and in the designs for the decoration of the base
of the Campanile, only two of which he lived to execute with his own
hand, there is a singularly beautiful bas-relief, illustrating the
pastoral life, in which the sheep, and the puppy watching them, are as
fine as anything we have from his hand.

The great difficulty of accounting for Giotto's introduction of
hitherto unused matter into his pictures, lies in the fact that it
does not seem to have been due especially to any partiality on his
part for this or that branch of nature, as to a principle of getting
to the bottom of his subject, whatever it was. He appears to have had
a power of grasping the spirit of whatever scene he was engaged upon,
and illustrating that appropriately, which is, as far as I know,
unequalled in the records of painting. And it is noteworthy that this
spirit is with him always the reverse of eclectic: no painter can be
more entirely free from all principles of aristocracy; his sympathies
are always with the people; the view he takes of any subject is the
plain, common-sense view, such as plain, common-sense people can

Connected with this is the third great characteristic of Giotto,
perhaps the strongest in his whole nature, and certainly the one which
was least in accordance with the spirit of his time. This is his
strong dramatic power.

This power shows itself in almost every work of the master's we have
left us, and even survives his death, and lives in the work of his
pupils. His pictures are not alone scenes, they are SITUATIONS, on
each the curtain might fall without any sense of incongruity. Besides
their appropriateness of gesture and oneness of feeling, they possess
the great characteristic of dramatic art, in making the scene live
before you, subduing its various incidents into one strain of meaning,
yet keeping each incident complete and individual, as well as making
it help the main purpose. In most of Giotto's pictures there will be
found a diversity of action and expression, all of which lead up to
the main action, and help to enforce and illustrate it. A minor point
in which the same quality shows, is in the amount of emotion which
this painter is capable of expressing by a single gesture, an amount
so great that it occasionally runs some danger of lapsing into
caricature. This is especially plain in such pictures as the
_Betrayal_ and the _Entombment_, in the Arena Chapel. But where this
dramatic quality is most strongly marked is in the bas-reliefs on the
base of the Campanile; in all these Giotto has succeeded, not only in
choosing the most appropriate figures for illustrating his meaning,
but in seizing the very moment which is most significant.

To sum up these three main characteristics of Giotto's style, they
are--First, a lighter, purer tone of colour than had been in use
before the time of Cimabue, and a greater variety and purity of tint
than had been attained by that master, especially in the more distant
portions of the picture. Second, the introduction into his
compositions of a certain amount of natural detail which had been
before totally neglected, and the substitution of the portraits of
actual men and women for the imaginary beings that had formerly filled
up the backgrounds of the Byzantine pictures. Third, comes the power
of illustrating the real meaning of his subject, and not merely
suggesting it, as had formerly been the case, allied to which is the
dramatic quality of which I have just spoken.

I feel how barren is all this description to explain the progress in
art made by this artist--the progress from stagnation to movement,
from death to life, from symbolical types, to the things themselves.
It would appear unnecessary to dwell upon the few points in which his
work was technically deficient, or those in which he but repeated the
errors of his predecessors, but the following may just be mentioned.

The comparative dulness of the reds in use at that time, the lack of
depth of hue, and variation of colour in differing aspects of light
and shade; the comparative poorness of the drapery, as compared with
that of the later Venetian and Florentine masters; the deficiency in
the rendering of form, and the elementary amount of knowledge of
perspective and anatomy--on all these points might exception be taken
to his work with perfect justice, and yet when each had been given its
due amount of criticism, the wonder would still be that he
accomplished so much, and not so little. For two hundred years after
the death of Giotto the advance in the drawing of landscape was so
slight as to be almost imperceptible, and yet, compared with his
landscape, that of those that preceded him was as "moonlight unto
sunlight, and as water unto wine."

I have omitted in this description the main characteristic of Giotto's
style, and I have done so because it is so intangible that it can only
be felt, not described. This characteristic, hinted at by Lord
Lindsay in the quotation which is placed at the head of this chapter,
is the simple faith in which each of these compositions abounds; the
feeling conveyed to the spectator that thus, and no otherwise, did the
occurrence take place, and that the painter has not altered it a jot
or tittle for his own purposes. This must be felt to be believed, and
I only call attention to it here lest it should be supposed that it
has failed to impress me.



Of all the minor disadvantages of travel which have accompanied the
substitution of the locomotive for the coach, perhaps none is so real
an evil as the very partial impression an ordinary traveller derives
from a short visit to some interesting land. When Rome and Florence,
for instance, are brought within the compass of a day's journey, the
tourist is little likely to care to break his journey for
comparatively obscure cities, much less villages, scurries past "reedy
Thrasymene" without recognition, and scarce notices the towers and
churches of Perugia, rising green and grey on the mountain side. Still
less likely is our tourist to arrest his comet-like progression at a
rough country station, some fourteen miles from the old Etruscan city,
a station where very obviously, neither guard nor porter expects him
to alight, and which he has some difficulty in identifying by the help
of a nearly illegible inscription, as Assisi. And yet there was a time
when this forgotten town played no inconsiderable part in the world's
history, and was the central seat of an Order that reckoned princes
among its followers, and practically divided with the Dominicans the
spiritual sovereignty of Europe.[64] And even now, if any very
strong-minded traveller should be able to defy the ominous silence of
Bradshaw,[65] and the neglect of Cook, and more regardful of what has
been, than what is, spend a few days in the home of poverty, he will
not regret, we think, in after years his deviation from the accustomed
routine of travel; nay, if he gain no other advantage, he will at
least have had a brief space in which to take quiet breath, ere the
red-books and the _valet de place_ are again in requisition, ere St.
Peter's becomes No. 17 in the often consulted plan, and Rome takes "at
least a week to see properly." For at Assisi there is _no hurry_, and
so strong is the spirit of the place that the most energetic tourist
quickly succumbs to it; even those who rush over here from Perugia for
a day's excursion, treading softly ere they have been a couple of
hours in the city of St. Francis. And now we will suppose that "our
uncommercial traveller" has safely escaped the clutches of the three
or four inn touts whom his arrival has roused into unwonted energy,
and consigning his bag to the least ill-favoured, has set out manfully
along the dusty road leading from the station to the town; for be it
noted that Assisi is not strong in equipages, and the solitary rough
wooden box denominated omnibus, is hardly an attractive conveyance at
first sight, though ere long the traveller begins to look upon it as
an old friend, as it is to be found during the greater part of the
day, standing about in various unexpected parts of the town, being
apparently left wherever it has taken a passenger. One further
violence we must do to the mind of the well-instructed tourist,
namely, to beg that he will not accept guidance, nor torment himself
with details, archæological or otherwise, but simply open his eyes to
all the quiet influences of past devotion and present beauty which he
will find around him. And first, he will see by the side of the road
a vast church, in the most uninteresting style of Renaissance
architecture, not unlike a small edition of St. Peter's. This is St.
Mary of the Angels, little notable, save for its size, and a small
chapel it contains, where St. Francis first assembled his few
followers. In it there is only to be seen--a spoilt fresco, by
Perugino; walls dark with age, save where, here and there, the dim
lamplight falls upon the silver offerings of penitence and
thanksgiving; and some carved doors, more curious than beautiful.
These need not delay us much from the steep ascent to the town.
Another dusty mile of road, and Assisi lies before and above us,
rising a confused mass of tiled roofs and massive walls, from the grey
depths of the olive-groves which surround it. Not only on a mountain,
but of the mountain, does the town seem to be built, the ponderous
blocks of dim red and dusty yellow stone, scarcely seeming to have
more the characteristics of houses than of the cliffs above, save
where, here and there, a square tower of church or fortification lifts
itself into clear pre-eminence of definition from the tumbled
confusion of roofs, walls, and buttresses. Another turn in the long,
winding road, and the great attraction of the few sightseers who visit
Assisi, the Convent of St. Francis--with what Bradshaw calls its
"three superb churches," which are, in fact, two--stands revealed.
Picture to yourself a long mass of building, standing upon a double
range of tall arches, and pierced with a multitude of small windows.
This is the convent building itself; beyond it, on a level with its
roof, rises the Church of St. Francis, with its square campanile. Of
the same dull-yellowish colour as the other buildings of the town,
there is little beauty in the church from this point of view, save
that of massive strength, and a certain simplicity of design which,
when carried out upon so large a scale, almost amounts to grandeur.
So, leaving the convent on our left, we enter beneath a massive
square tower the first street of the city. It is difficult to say
whence comes the sense of extreme desolation which oppresses us, not
from the absence of life certainly, for at this point there are
commonly a few of the villagers and townspeople chatting round an old
fountain, and on every side resounds the squeaking of the pigs, that
every well-to-do inhabitant of Assisi keeps tethered on the
ground-floor of his house. Nor is it that there are no signs of
commercial enterprise, for we notice the hammered brass and copper
jars and cauldrons glimmering dimly in the recesses of one of the dark
shops, and some strings of onions and other vegetables in another. Is
it something, we wonder, in the construction of the town itself, in
its rough-hewn blocks of dusty stone, its huge buttresses, its
blocked-up arches, its weather-beaten tiles, the defacement of its
ruined fountains, and the general appearance of enormous toil with
which the city must have been constructed? Or is it still more the
case, that even at the first glance we connect the appearance of the
town with the state of the superstition to which it owes its
existence; whose power changed the small Etrurian village into a
shrine of the deepest sanctity and proudest priesthood, and having
done its work for good and evil, faded gradually away, and now finds
voice only on the trembling lips of the half-dozen monks who are all
that remain at Assisi of the famous Brotherhood? For whatever reason,
the place is desolate--desolate as no place can be which has not once
been great; and as we ascend the street, the impression deepens. Few
of the houses have glass to their windows; the old arched entrances
are blocked up with rough stone, and low, square doorways supply their
place; the ground-floor of the house is commonly used as a store-room,
a stable, or a piggery. The upper windows show us nothing within that
we are accustomed to connect with ideas of domestic comfort. Even the
massive ironwork seems to partake of the general desolation, and is
coated with the grey dust of centuries. Here and there we pass a
fountain, generally situated in a small grass-grown open space, with a
couple of earthen pitchers left to fill themselves leisurely; and over
all there is still the sense of death in life, needing a vigorous
effort on our part to endure. We begin to think there was some sense
in that philistine American we met at Florence, who smiled so
scornfully at our determination to visit Assisi, and to have thoughts
of the next train to a more lively spot. However, food and wine at the
modest little hotel quickly dissipate our loneliness; our musings on
St. Francis and his monks assume a more pleasant complexion, and by
the time we find our way down the long street to the convent, we are
in a fit mood to appreciate any beauty or pleasure which we may chance
to find there. And indeed he would be hard to please who could be
discontented with the enjoyment here provided, for whether it be
Nature or Art for which his "thirsty soul doth pine," here he may
satiate himself at leisure.

  [Illustration: ASSISI.
   _From a drawing by the Author._]

Everything on our way seems to tell the same story of departed
grandeur; the city is almost as deserted as one of those we read of in
the _Arabian Nights_. A beautiful arcade, each capital of whose
pillars is carved to represent a different species of vegetation,
incloses nothing; the house of the poet Metastasio is falling into
ruins, and scarcely can one decipher his coat of arms sculptured above
the door. No dogs bark, nor children scream, nor loungers stare as the
unwonted stranger passes through the market-place; the very _café_ has
been fain to part with its chairs and little tables, and now is only a
gaunt, bare room, in a corner of which sits, in half obscurity, a
melancholy woman sewing slowly. The market-place is certainly the most
gloomy part of the town, were it only from its contrast to the
market-places we are accustomed to see; and so let us hurry down the
long, grass-grown street, till at last a sudden breadth of light
opens before us, and straight in front, across a patch of green
meadow, rises the Church of St. Francis, while a little to the left a
steep incline leads down to the entrance of the Lower Church, called
incorrectly, in some works, the crypt, as the real crypt is beneath
this lower edifice. The Lower Church stands upon a shelf of rock, the
side of which slopes abruptly upward, against which one end of the
church is built. The position of the two churches may perhaps be
understood by thinking of them as situated upon two successive steps
of a staircase, the floor of the Upper Church being merely a
continuation of the upper step, and being thus immediately above the
roof of the Lower Church.

Let us pause before entering the church, and cast our eyes over the
scene before us. We stand on a little terrace half-way up the town,
looking down upon tiled roofs, grey walls, and greyer olive groves,
interspersed with some brighter greens of acacia and poplar. Beneath
us, winding away in long perspective, is the road to the station, with
the tall dome of St. Mary of the Angels forming a prominent blot upon
the landscape, and breaking the level monotony of the plain. On the
right a broad river-bed, nearly dry at the present season, stretches a
snake-like course towards Perugia, the towers of which are just
visible in the distance. In front of us, the valley of the Tiber
stretches away for miles and miles, broken only by long lines of
poplars and tiny villages, which, from the height at which we stand,
only show as gleaming spots in the sunshine. In the extreme distance,
purple mountains enclose the valley on every side, and immediately
behind us rises the mountain on which Assisi is built, crowned with a
ruined citadel, and black against the sky, the sharp pinnacles of
cypress-trees. Whichever way one turns, there is beauty--in the quaint
architecture of the old town, in the wild growth of the ancient
olive-trees, and their delicate tints of greyish-green and silver; in
the brighter colours of the plain, with its broad stretches of
sunshine and little shadows of cloud; in the ranges of mountains, the
darkness of the cypresses, and the brightness of the sky. And so
murmuring within ourselves that the old monk was no bad judge of
scenery, after all, we turn in beneath the broad portico of the

It is not known when this church first began to receive pictorial
adornment; but it is probably true that Giunta Pisano painted there in
1236, though there can be little doubt that anterior to this period
there were paintings the authorship of which is unknown, and whose
date is uncertain. The whole question of the authorship of the
frescoes at Assisi is discussed by Crowe and Cavalcaselle;[66] but it
is difficult to extract their real conclusion from the mass of
verbiage in which it is enveloped, and the limitations with which it
is encumbered. Nor can I attach much importance to the conclusion
which these authors have drawn from frescoes in such a terrible state
of decay, as those in the northern and southern transepts of the Upper
Church. But I do not propose to enter here upon the question of the
authorship of any of these frescoes, except such as are attributed to
Giotto; and even this had better be deferred till I have given my
readers some idea of the general appearance of the church. Its shape
is the usual Latin cross formed by a nave and transepts, without
chapels or side aisles. From the entrance, which is at the _east_ end
of the church, to the choir, the building is divided into four
portions by grouped shafts, five in number, only half of which project
from the walls from the capitals; from each group spring to right and
left pointed arches, in the centre of each of which is a long narrow
window reaching from the ceiling to within about twenty-four feet of
the ground, and from the capitals there also spring arches which cross
the building diagonally, and intersect at the summit of the ceiling,
thus forming triangular openings with curved bases, each of which is
filled with a fresco, most of them greatly obliterated. The shafts and
capitals have all been painted in various colours, as have also the
spaces within the side arches on each side of the narrow windows above
mentioned, and so have the faces and sides of each arch. The four main
portions, into which the ceiling is thus divided, are alternately
painted blue with golden stars, or filled with medallions and figure
subjects. The painting of the arches is in imitation of marble mosaic.
The intersecting arches of the roof are round (as in the Lower
Church), not pointed like the side arches, and on the sides of the
latter, which are double in width of the centre arches, there are
busts of various saints and martyrs of the church connected by rich
ornament and involved geometrical design. On either side of the
windows, in the second row from the roof, are the frescoes ascribed to
Cimabue, all of which are considerably defaced; above these are the
ones assigned by Vasari and Lord Lindsay to Giunta Pisano. The roof
was, while I was there, in process of utter destruction (by
restoration), and its ruin is by this time probably completed.

Underneath the windows there is a third row of paintings, thirty-six
in number, commonly supposed to be the work of Giotto, and beneath
this again painted bands of mosaic, and so to the floor, which is
alternately inlaid with squares and octagons of marble originally red
and white, but which has worn into the warm dusty yellow which seems
to overspread the whole of Assisi.

The choir is built and decorated in a similar manner, and its centre
occupied by a very elaborately worked iron screen (once bronzed and
gilt) erected upon a marble daïs, inlaid with glass mosaic, the
patterns of each step being different, but all intricate and
beautiful. The daïs is about ten feet high and thirty-eight feet long,
and the screen about nine feet high. Surmounting the screen there is
a narrow marble canopy, supported upon twelve marble pillars, with
capitals of acanthus leaves richly gilt, the convex side of the leaves
in the upper portion of each capital being very deeply cut and painted
vermilion. The screen surrounds a plain marble altar.

The arrangement of the choir is similar to that of the body of the
church, each of the transepts being similar in size and arrangement to
one of the four divisions already spoken of; the only difference is in
the size of the windows, which are exactly double of those in the
nave, though of identical shape, each having one pointed archivault;
but at the choir end of the church the window is treble in size. The
two sides of the choir which have no windows, are ornamented with
small galleries of tre-foiled Gothic arches supporting canopies.
Underneath these galleries are a row of paintings corresponding with
the lowest row of frescoes in the nave. There is a recess of about two
feet running the whole length of the church between the groups of
shafts just above the lowest row of frescoes, which serves to measure
the depth of the side arches, and also as a domain to the two lower
rows of frescoes. The colour on the shafts, and on the lowest portion
of the side walls, has almost entirely disappeared, and the whole of
the paintings in the church are much injured by damp. So much is this
the case, that it makes me doubt whether it is worth while going very
deeply into the question of their authorship, though this is a
favourite battleground with the biographers of early Italian painters.

Vasari boldly ascribes the whole upper portion of the church to
Cimabue, and the lower to Giotto: Lindsay asserts that Giunta Pisano
had painted the upper, Cimabue the middle, and Giotto the lower range
of compartments: Kugler, though somewhat indefinite, holds that he
worked out his apprenticeship in the Upper Church of Assisi, and
afterwards came again and laboured in the Lower one.

To sum up then the discussion of this matter, which is hardly an
interesting one to the general reader, my explanation of the probable
authorship of the lower row of frescoes would be the following. That
they have been painted by a pupil of Giotto's at the same time that
the master himself was at work on the frescoes in the Lower Church,
and that the only frescoes by Giotto in the Upper Church, are the two
almost monochrome compositions that are placed one on each side of the
principal entrance. It should be noted that these two are far more
conspicuous, owing to their isolated position, than any other frescoes
in the church, which may well have been the reason for their execution
by the master himself. And it is somewhat curious to observe that they
are both painted in little more than two shades of colour, and are the
only frescoes in the church so painted, as if Giotto were purposely
restraining his hand, so as not to spoil by contrast the cruder work
of his pupil. This pupil I believe to have been Taddeo Gaddi; but I
have not seen sufficient undoubted works by his hand, to render this
more than a mere conjecture, and there is no evidence on the subject
whatever, save such as may be inferred from the fact that Gaddi was
almost certainly present with Giotto at the time he painted in the
Lower Church.

Leaving the question of the actual authorship undecided just now,
notice how far this hypothesis, besides having strong internal
evidence in its favour, goes to solve the difficulties of this matter;
by it we account easily and naturally for the Giottesque qualities
which we find in these works, and also for their comparative feeble
significance. And by the effort to combine the Byzantine manner of
Cimabue with the simplicity of Giotto, we account for all the very
inferior architecture with which these pictures are crowded:
architecture which is to a certain extent Giottesque in form, but
seems to be wholly conventional in colouring and arrangement.

Giotto would naturally say to his pupil something of this sort: "Look
here, Gaddi, this a great chance for you to distinguish yourself; mind
you make the most of it. Don't forget that what you have to do is to
complete Cimabue's work; you must not make his compositions look more
absurd and unnatural than you can help; above all, your work must be
in keeping with his in colour, or you'll spoil the church. Mind you
preserve the character of the architecture, and keep it uniform
throughout; and if you let your work be a little conventional, it will
be all the better."

So we may imagine Giotto talking to his pupil; and the compositions
are exactly such as might have been produced after such an
exhortation, by an earnest, but not very brilliant pupil, in
attempting to combine as much as possible of the character of Giotto's
work, with the form of Cimabue's compositions.

Indeed, these frescoes frequently fall between the two stools of
naturalism and conventionalism, and have the merits of neither. The
architecture is throughout utterly absurd, worse, because not so
refined as that of the Byzantine, and quite without the beauty of
Giotto; an effort towards the simplicity of the buildings in the
frescoes of the Arena Chapel being nevertheless observable, though it
results only in a toy-shop architecture of the lowest order, yellow
and blue towers being stuck one against another.

The figures, too, show the attempt to depict emotion, but without
success; and lastly, the colouring, as at present seen, is crude, to
the verge of discordancy; but upon this last it would be unsafe to lay
much stress, as it is impossible to say what deterioration may not
have resulted from the damp, which in some places has actually
obliterated the composition altogether. This execution by a pupil
would also account for Giotto having restricted himself to shades of
grey, green, and blue in the two frescoes at the end of the chapel to
which I have above referred. The subjects of these are _St. Francis
preaching to the Birds_, and _St. Francis' Dream_; and amongst all the
Giottos I have seen, there is no more harmonious piece of colouring
than in the last named of these works.[67]

There is one piece of corroborative evidence in favour of these works
being by Taddeo Gaddi that I may quote for what it is worth, which is,
that in the series of panels in the Gallery at Berlin which formerly
were part of the frescoes in the Santa Croce of Florence, and which
are certainly, according to Crowe and Cavalcaselle, the work of Gaddi;
"the subjects are, in fact, more or less repetitions of those in the
Upper Church of Assisi." Now it seems more probable that Gaddi should
have repeated his own compositions than that he should have repeated
those of some unknown master, especially one of such comparatively
feeble powers.

Here I must leave the consideration of the authorship of these
frescoes; as I said in the beginning, it is a much vexed question, and
one that there is at present no positive evidence for deciding; the
one thing that is certain is that in a very short time, if it has not
happened already, the frescoes will, to all intents and purposes, have
entirely vanished.

Crowe and Cavalcaselle hold that there were a series of painters who
worked at the Upper Church, and that the whole history of the revival
of early Italian art is comprised and explained in these paintings,
and seem to hold that Giotto painted only one or two of these
frescoes; while, lastly, in one of Dr. Dohme's German series of
biographies, which is the latest work issued on this subject, we have
the author maintaining the thesis that Giotto painted all these
frescoes (in the lower row), and that when he had finished this series
he began again upon those of the Lower Church.

Of the various opinions, those of Vasari and Lindsay can, I think, be
shown to be wrong from a comparison of the dates of Giotto's works. In
the first place there is no evidence whatever to hint at two visits to
Assisi, except Vasari's statement that Giotto was invited to Assisi by
Fra Mure. Now Fra Mure, who was general of the Franciscan order, only
held that post between 1296 and 1302, and therefore if he invited
Giotto to complete the frescoes of the Upper Church, it must have been
between those years; but from a register preserved in the Vatican, the
famous _Navicella_ mosaic was executed by Giotto in 1298, and that he
was still at Rome in 1300, is proved by a portion of a fresco
representing Pope Boniface announcing the opening of the Jubilee,
which took place 1300, and upon the completion of which work Giotto
betook himself to Florence, and painted the famous frescoes in the
Bargello, in one of which the portrait of Dante occurs. Dante was
exiled in 1302, and this, and many minor considerations, point to the
date 1301-2 for the execution of these frescoes. It is therefore easy
to see that Giotto could not have had the possibility of accepting Fra
Mure's invitation between the dates of 1296 and 1302. The question
remains whether the lower row of frescoes were executed by Giotto at
any subsequent period?

Now there is a consensus of testimony that in Florence, in the year
1303, Giotto executed the designs for the façade of the Duomo,
afterwards carried out by Andrea Pisano; and that in the same year he
married. What happened during the next two years is matter of
conjecture: Vasari states that he proceeded to Avignon, which is
contradicted by Crowe and Cavalcaselle on the authority of Abertini;
and we can find nothing certain till we discover our painter at Padua
between 1305-6 painting in the Chapel of the Arena.

If the frescoes in the Upper Church be compared at all carefully with
those of the Arena Chapel, it is at once evident that if they be the
work of the same hand, it must have worked in a far earlier stage of
progress, and it is equally evident, that the transition from the
frescoes of the Upper Church to those of the Lower, is marked by an
abrupt interval of time.

It is impossible that Giotto could have so far fallen away in skill as
to execute the frescoes in the Upper Church subsequent to his painting
of the Arena Chapel at Padua; and it is nearly impossible from the
dates of his work that he could have found time to do them before. The
only hypothesis that seems to be left, if we wish to believe that
Giotto executed this series in the upper church, is that Giotto
accompanied Cimabue when he worked at Assisi, and painted the lower
row of frescoes under the direction of his master.

This theory does not seem to me likely for many reasons; first, it
would have been most probable that had Giotto and Cimabue visited
Assisi together, some evidence of such a visit would have been
discovered; secondly, it seems improbable that Cimabue would have
allowed his apprentice such license in composition and incident as is
here shown; and thirdly, the manner of the pictures is not as was
Giotto's early manner, semi-Byzantine, but rather errs in the opposite
direction, and seems a coarse imitation of Giotto's natural method of
depicting events. It will be noticed, in careful examination of these
works, that, as far as can be judged from the damaged state in which
they at present exist, the composition, and what artists call motive,
of the pictures are, as a rule, very superior to their execution,
which is blundering and unmasterly. I am led by this, and other
considerations of style and time, to come to the conclusion that these
works are not from the hand of Giotto himself, but were probably
executed by his pupils, while the master himself was painting in the
Lower Church. The likelihood of this hypothesis will be greater if we
remember that there are in the Castellani Chapel of Santa Croce,
frescoes which are undoubtedly by the hand of Agnolo Gaddi, which
betray many of the so-called Giottesque traits that we find in these
frescoes; and indeed the wonder would rather be demanded if this were
not the case, and if the inaugurator of a new style of painting did
not have his merits imitated by the students working under his

Again, it seems to be a gratuitous assumption on the part of Messrs.
Crowe and Cavalcaselle to hold that this lower row of scenes from the
life of St. Francis must be the work of successive artists merely
because they exhibit differences of merit. We should rather expect
that the same workman, or workmen, would improve in the course of so
long a series, especially if they were painted more or less under the
direction of a master like Giotto. In any case, a comparison of dates
renders it excessively improbable that Giotto paid two visits to
Assisi, and if this be so, we are, I think, justified in concluding
that the utmost connection he had with the frescoes of the Upper
Church was through the medium of his pupils.

Whether or no Crowe and Cavalcaselle are right in believing that other
painters besides Giunta and Cimabue had a hand in the upper rows of
frescoes, and, if so, who those painters were, are questions which are
just now beyond our subject; and very soon they will be beyond any
one's interest or power to answer, for the last traces of colour yet
remaining in these works are rapidly fading away. It is, however,
impossible to imagine with Vasari that all these upper rows of
pictures were executed by one hand, for the very strongest differences
in style, composition, and even (traces of) colour exists between

Thus in the fresco of the _Creation_, there is not the slightest
approach to naturalism of treatment; the Almighty stands within a
circle of vermilion and gold surrounded by a halo, which is apparently
intended to represent the sun; beneath him is the moon, with a man's
face in it, so that there should be no mistaking what it was intended
for; beneath the moon, floating in the air in a lozenge-shaped patch
of red, is Adam, while beneath him again are some sheep, and an animal
that may be either ox, dog, or fox, for it partakes of the character
of all three; and to the right of the picture is the sea, with several
gigantic fishes half in, half out of the water. The only other fresco
in this compartment which is yet decipherable, represents the building
of the ark, and is of like character. Compare, however, with these the
picture in the next compartment eastwards, representing the sacrifice
of Isaac. Large portions of the left-hand side of this work are
destroyed, but sufficient are left to show an attempt, rough, it is
true, but quite unmistakable, to represent a mountain landscape, with
a temple in the distance. Turn to the right hand of the picture: Isaac
is half sitting, half lying on the sacrificial altar, and Abraham
stands beside him with one hand upon the child's head, his left foot
firmly planted on the step of the altar, and his right arm swung up to
its fullest height above his head. Seldom have I seen a more vivid bit
of arrested motion depicted in any work of art; the painter has
actually caught the pause caused by the sudden appearance of the
angel, bidding the father to stay his hand. The action of all the
limbs is most remarkable in its intensity, even Abraham's long robes
fly out wildly behind his outstretched arm. It is impossible that
these two pictures can belong to the same hand, or even to the same
school--the first is entirely Byzantine in manner, and might have been
copied from a fifth century MS.; the latter lacks nothing but a
certain amount of fuller detail and a little more anatomical
knowledge, to stand as a faithful representation of the event it

We now come to the question of whether this fresco be one of the works
of Giotto, and again must answer it in the negative. In none of the
undoubted works by this master is there so advanced a naturalism as
here, especially in the treatment of the drapery, which is far nearer
to that of the Renaissance period than that of the Byzantine. It will
be found on a careful examination of the works in the Arena Chapel at
Padua, that the _main_ lines of the drapery are either straight (or
very slightly curved), and in some measure stiff; it would have been
almost folly to expect that this should be otherwise, remembering that
anterior to Giotto the treatment of drapery had been exclusively
founded upon the formal parallel lines of the Byzantine mosaics.

In all probability the Renaissance painters have here supplied the
place of a vacant or faded fresco with one of their own compositions,
and this is rendered the more likely as there are in the Lower
Churches several wretchedly bad Renaissance pictures.


[64] A small portion of this chapter appeared in the _Spectator_ last
year under the title of "The Shrine of Poverty," and is here reprinted
by the kind permission of the editors of that paper.

[65] I may as well mention that the hotel given by Bradshaw, though
the largest, is very poor in its accommodation, and the visitor would
probably do better to go to the Albergo Subasio close to the

[66] Pages 168-174 and 210-228, vol. i.

[67] In Appendix C, at the end of this book, will be found a list of
the works attributed to Giotto by Lord Lindsay, Crowe and
Cavalcaselle, Ruskin, and Dohme.



At first sight the church seems of small extent, as the entrance is in
a transept at the north side, and the eye looks across the nave
without perceiving it; but a few steps forward, and an abrupt turn to
the left, brings the church before us--a vast dim cave, glowing with
rich colour and subdued light. Looking up the nave, the building
appears to be lighted only by the narrow windows in the thick wall of
the apse, save where here and there a dull gleam from one of the side
chapels steals across, but hardly lightens, the gloom.

Nor is it alone in shape of roof and dimness of light that the
resemblance to a cavern exists, for it is visible too in the low
walls, whence the arched roof springs in massive curves, and in the
seeming absence of all support for the great arches, for the plain
stone pillars that support them, half embedded in the walls, and only
reaching to a height of eight feet from the ground, attract little
notice, and the arches seem to grow out of the walls as if in a
building of nature's own construction.

The division of the church, and the arrangement of the arches, is the
same as in the Upper Church; but everything which is there arranged so
as to give appearance of lightness and unsubstantiality, is here made
as ponderous in appearance as possible. The two churches might stand
for embodiments of light and shade, of graceful symmetry and rock-hewn
strength. And it is easy to see that this is no chance contrast caused
by the circumstances of the case, for where the windows give upon the
church, they are deep sunken in arched recesses, while the large
windows in the side chapel are more than half veiled by the arched
entrances to the chapels, which last form almost a separate row of
chambers, so wholly are they cut off from the nave. Half way up the
nave a massive iron grating divides the church, and further on,
beneath the centre of the great arches that form the body of the
choir, the high altar stands upon a daïs of four steps, its only
decoration being six massive candlesticks, whose huge lights reach
almost to the roof. The apse is the usual semicircle, pierced with
narrow arched windows, and within its shadow, are the desks and
pulpits where sit all that are left of the Franciscan Brethren. We
will not attempt to describe more than its general effect, and indeed
that is best done by simply saying that it closely resembles that of
St. Mark, at Venice. In detail, there is hardly the least similarity;
but in depth of light and shade, in profusion of rich colour gleaming
on every hand, in the general effect of its round arches, mosaic
pavement, and glimmering lamps, the similarity is striking. If the
lover of nature found the prospect without to his mind, the lover of
art can hardly fail to be satisfied with the prospect within. Above
the high-altar shine the four greatest works of Giotto, and to right
and left of the choir, roof and wall are covered with frescoes by
Giotto, Cimabue, Memmi, Gaddi, and others, every inch of space being
filled with paintings. Chapel after chapel opens in long series from
the choir, each rich in paintings, even the huge round arches of the
nave are painted in delicately-involved patterns to represent mosaics
of coloured marble. Here our traveller may well rest in silent wonder,
that so much beauty remains unvisited, for unvisited it is by nine
out of every ten tourists who pass by the gates of Assisi. There is,
perhaps--we will even say probably--no building within the limits of
the civilised world in which so much colour-beauty is concentrated as
in that of the Lower Church. For six hundred years have these walls
glowed like jewels through the "dim, religious light," and the setting
sun has lighted up with still greater glory the golden halos of their
pictured saints; for six hundred years have prayer and praise rung
along these massive arches and echoed up the mountain-side; and now
prayer and picture are fading alike; the most damaged fresco on the
walls is hardly so maimed as the rite it witnesses, the vilest
restoration no greater parody on the original than are those few poor
monks parodies of their ancient Order. It is, we think, impossible for
any one with a heart which is not entirely dead to all human
sympathies not to be somewhat moved at this combination of fading art
and faded faith, but it is a feeling the power of which we can hardly
hope to explain to our readers, apart from the influences which
produced it. The _religio loci_ is, of all other influences, the one
which is least capable of deliberate analysis, and the combination
between colour-beauty and a peculiar solemnity of feeling, one of
which many people even deny the existence.

It is worth noticing that though the whole effect of the church is, as
I have said, excessively similar to that of St. Mark's at Venice,
especially in the richness of subdued colouring, the effect which is
produced in St. Mark's by elaborate Byzantine mosaics, and the lavish
use of gold and precious marbles, is here gained only by the lovely
colouring of the frescoes, which cover every available space, and even
are continued on the arches themselves, which are painted in elaborate
imitations of marble mosaic. The richness of hue of these painted
mosaics is very great, and the patterns frequently of great delicacy
and beauty. On the first arch, for instance, there is a running
border of vine leaves drawn with a freedom and truth which is
remarkable, if we compare it with the representation of natural
foliage in the frescoes.[68] Most of the patterns, however, both on
the arches and the borders surrounding the pictures are more or less
geometrical, and are interspersed with medallions of the heads of
various prophets and saints of the Church.

The most westerly portion of the building, including the entrance, is
destroyed by bad Renaissance work of the most vulgar type, and any one
who wishes to see the two styles (pre- and post-Raphael) most strongly
contrasted in favour of the former, could hardly have a better
opportunity than is given by the series of frescoes (representing the
Popes) in this part of the church.

Let us next look in detail at the arrangement of the frescoes.

It is in the four triangular spaces of the roof immediately above the
altar, that the four great Giotto frescoes, illustrating the three
vows of the Order of St. Francis--_Obedience_, _Chastity_, _Poverty_,
and one of the _Enthronement of St. Francis in Heaven_, are seen.

In the right-hand transept of the choir there are a series of designs
by Gaddi, Memmi, Cimabue, and Giotto, of various New Testament
subjects, the most prominent of which is a magnificent _Enthronement
of the Virgin_, by Cimabue, underneath which Giotto has painted St.
Francis and four brethren of his order, who gaze at the Madonna with
reverent ecstasy.

The most interesting portion of the church is undoubtedly the choir,
though, owing to the narrow arched windows and the altar being placed
at the west instead of the east end, it is only towards sundown that
there is sufficient light to thoroughly illuminate the frescoes on the

First let me give a description of these four works, and then examine
the question of the authorship of the other frescoes in the choir
which are attributed to Giotto.

_The Frescoes above the High Altar in the Lower Church of
Assisi._--The subjects chosen for illustration typify, as might be
expected, the vows and the reward of the Franciscan brotherhood; the
four frescoes representing--first, the _Vow of Poverty_; second, that
of _Chastity_; third, _Obedience_; and fourth, the _Enthronement of
St. Francis in Heaven_. The first three of these subjects are all
treated in the manner of allegories, the interpretation of which is
sufficiently obvious.

The first and last frescoes represent St. Francis himself as the
protagonist of the allegory, the second and third only introduce him
incidentally. Thus, in the first fresco, the subject is _St. Francis
wedded to Poverty_, typifying the course which must be followed by all
disciples of the order. The chief features of this composition are as
follows:--Towards the centre of the fresco, slightly to the left-hand
side, are the three chief actors in the scene--Christ, St. Francis,
and Poverty, the saint in the dress of his order, his bride in a thin
short robe with naked feet; around the group stand the angels in whose
presence the marriage is being solemnised. On the left hand of the
composition, in the foreground of the picture, a beggar appeals to a
young man for alms, in answer to which the youth is taking off his
cloak, while his guardian angel pats him on the shoulder approvingly,
and points to the marriage ceremony as if to confirm his charitable
intention. On the right hand of the picture two figures, with
money-bags clutched firmly in their hands, seem to resist the pleading
of an angel, who points to St. Francis, and apparently urges them to
follow his example. The centre of the foreground is occupied by two
figures of children, one of whom, with garments held tightly round
him, is throwing stones at Poverty, whilst the other is pointing at
her scornfully with a long stick. The figure of Poverty herself,
which is the central one of the fresco, has at her feet a barking dog
and a thicket of brambles, the thorns of which have torn rents in her
robe, but in the background a flowering rose-tree seems to symbolise
the advantages which the saint promises to her followers. The upper
part of the composition represents one angel bearing a model of the
church up to heaven, and another carrying the cloak which the young
man on the left has given to the beggar, to receive both of which
gifts the Almighty bends down from the clouds.[69]

There is in this fresco a praise of poverty which is by no means in
accordance with the ideas which the painter himself entertained, and
must have been a very perfunctory performance on his part; for,
curiously enough, there is in existence a canzone on the subject of
poverty by Giotto, in which he clearly states his opinion of it as a
very dangerous thing, and one that tended towards vice rather than led
to its abstention. This canzone may be found in Vasari.[70]

_The Vow of Chastity._--This fresco also falls into three chief
divisions, as follows:--The left-hand group is composed of eight
figures, of whom three are aspirants who wish to join the Franciscan
brotherhood. One of these is being welcomed by St. Francis himself,
while another, a nun, is presented with a cross by one of the
attendant female figures, possibly intended to typify Sta. Chiara;
behind these are two more figures of saints. A soldier, with a shield
in one hand and a scourge in the other, stands by the side of St.
Francis, and indicates the struggle and the means of victory which
those who desire to excel in chastity must endure--the rocky ground
upon which the group stands showing the difficulty of the first
approach. The centre of the foreground is occupied by a group which
has in its midst a naked figure in a font being baptised by angels,
behind whom stand two attendant angels with the garments of the
novice, and two soldiers, holding scourges, seem to wait for the
ceremony to be completed. The third group, in the foreground,
symbolises the victory of the angels and monks over the evil desires
of the flesh, and consists of several figures, the chief of which is a
monk, with wings already sprouting out of his brown robe and a halo
round his cowled head, who is driving away with his trident a figure
symbolical of love--love as understood by the priests--half cupid,
half devil. A winged beast, something between horse and pig, has been
already vanquished by the same stout monk, and is falling backwards
into an abyss of flame; a third figure beyond, also symbolical of
lust, is having his arm seized by a winged skeleton, who plants his
foot firmly upon the figure's thigh and apparently intends to kick him
into the flames below. The background of the picture is filled with
the fortress in which Chastity sits securely guarded behind double
walls, to whom angels are bearing the crown and palm of heavenly
victory. Beneath her seat two angels offer her banner and shield to
the novice below.

These are undoubtedly the two finest of the allegorical series, being
both more varied in composition and incident and finer in individual
figures than the frescoes of _Obedience_ and _St. Francis in Glory_,
both of which are a little formal in their arrangement.

In the _Obedience_ the action takes place within a shrine, divided
into three compartments, to the right and left hand of which large
groups of ministering angels are kneeling. This shrine symbolises the
Monastery of St. Francis, or the house of all those who join his
brotherhood. In its left-hand compartment, which is presided over by a
double-faced figure with mirror and shield labelled Prudence, a saint
with a halo exhorts two monks, who seem to wait their turn to take
the required vow. In the centre, Obedience, a winged female figure in
a man's robe, imposes the yoke of obedience upon a kneeling figure,
laying at the same time her finger upon her lips. On the right hand
are three figures--a kneeling saint, Humility holding a torch in her
hand, and a centaur, who, with arm upraised, is witnessing the vow
taken by the monk with despair, and whose advance seems checked by a
reflection cast upon him from the mirror of Prudence.

The fourth fresco--_St. Francis enthroned in Heaven_--represents the
saint sitting in a shrine, a sceptre in one hand, and a breviary in
the other, above him a legend to the effect that this is his reward,
and around groups of angels bearing lilies and palms, trumpets and
harps. Of all the four frescoes, this is the least interesting, St.
Francis himself in his heavy robe, covered with gold embroidery, being
almost comically stiff and unnatural.

Having spoken very briefly of the main incidents of these four great
frescoes, I must say a few words upon their special characteristics.
They are in my opinion the greatest works which Giotto has left to us,
though a good deal of the _naïf_ grace and freshness of the artist's
early work has disappeared.

Though single figures in the Santa Croce frescoes may perhaps be
favourably compared with any in these Assisi compositions, yet for
scope of imagination and variety of detail, they stand easily
pre-eminent, and owing to their fortunate position beneath the floor
of the Upper Church, they have been almost entirely preserved from the
effects of damp, which has ruined nearly all Giotto's later works in
Florence. There is to be seen in these symbolical paintings the
fulfilment of all that was promised in the work of the Arena Chapel;
accompanied by a more daring ambition, and a far higher power of
realising the conceptions of the artist. The key of colour is the
same--pure and delicate; perhaps, as compared with later artists, a
trifle faint; but it is here much more extended, and there is much
more variety in the individual tints. Gradation, that great secret of
beautiful colour, is more diligently sought for; tints are more broken
up, more numerous, and more skilfully combined, and the effect of the
fresco, as a whole, is infinitely richer. Similar advance is
noticeable in the composition, which is studied with an elaboration
suitable to the masses of figures introduced into each work, and which
though occasionally a little formal, is in the highest degree
excellent, if it be contrasted with that which was prevalent before
and contemporary with our Painter.

Other merits there are, such as might have been expected in an older
artist, of which the chief are a fuller knowledge of form, and a
greater attention to its details, to which must certainly be added an
increase in the richness and disposition of the folds of the drapery,
and a little concession to the claims of elegance in the arrangement
of the attitudes and robes. The old grace is still there, but it is
hardly as unconscious as of old; it owes less to feeling, and more to
skill; it is more wonderful, but hardly so charming. These frescoes
are, we may say in conclusion, by far the most important uninjured
works which remain to us from Giotto's hand, and fortunately they seem
from their position to stand a good chance of preservation. Neither
dust nor damp can well affect them; the little light that suffices to
illumine the poor ritual of Assisi, will take many a year to darken
the tints of these pictures above the altar; and the old church above
them will have crumbled into ruin before any accident can disturb the
massive arches on whose interstices Giotto has painted these pictures.
The only other fresco of Giotto's maturity which I have heard of as
being of nearly equal importance with these, is one in the shop of
Francesco Pittipaldi, at Naples, which was originally a part of the
convent of Sta Chiara. This fresco (which I have not seen) is quoted
by Crowe and Cavalcaselle as being one of those beautiful compositions
by Giotto which "are his grand claim to the admiration of the world."
It represents the miracles of the loaves and fishes, and is symbolical
of the almsgiving of the Franciscans.

I may here mention the other later works of this painter, which
circumstances have prevented me from examining, and of which therefore
I have given no description. These are:--1st. Works in the Brera
Gallery at Milan, and in the Pinacoteca of Bologna--originally parts
of an altarpiece for the church of St. Maria degli Angeli at Bologna.
2nd. _St. Francis receiving the Stigmata_, now in the Louvre, formerly
belonging to the convent of St. Francesco at Pisa. 3rd. An _Entombment
of the Virgin_, belonging to a Mr. Martin. These works are given as
Giotto's on the authority of Crowe and Cavalcaselle.

We may observe generally with regard to the pictures in the north
transept, that they are in every way more elaborate than those of the
Arena at Padua, the drapery especially being more varied in its folds
and colours. Another very characteristic difference in these later
pictures is the greater preponderance of the architectural element in
the designs. In the Arena Chapel what little architecture is
introduced, is simple in form and excessively plain in colour, serving
for little more than a bare indication of the meaning of the
composition, and being in no wise an important portion of the picture.
But at Assisi, in six at least out of the nine pictures attributed to
Giotto in the northern transept, architecture has a very important
place assigned to it, and it is noticeable that the architectural
portions of the composition are decorated with mosaic borders in some
way corresponding to those used in the decoration of the actual
church. The attempt seems to have been at Assisi to glorify the
building of the church, and to render the pictures subordinate to the
architectural unity of decoration, whereas in the Arena Chapel the
attempt was evidently to obliterate the building through the beauty of
the pictures, or rather to make the spectator forget the plain shell
which inclosed the frescoes in tracing the story which their
compositions pictured. The figures, too, in these Assisi frescoes are
comparatively small, and possess but slight individual interest; here
and there we see attempts at animation of gesture, but they are
comparatively slight, and the chief interest of the frescoes depends
upon the grace of the composition, and the richness of the colouring

The colouring, too, is perceptibly different from that of the Arena
Chapel, where, though very delicate, it is simple in the extreme,
while in many of these pictures, the hues used are deep and rich in
general effect, but have lost much of the fresh purity which formerly
distinguished them.

At the Arena Chapel the picture stood out at a glance, every
superfluous detail giving instant place to the main spirit of the
scene; here the treatment is much more elaborate, but a considerable
portion of the earnestness and oneness of the Arena frescoes is gone;
the work, though beautiful, is not striking, not that it is exactly
confused, but seems rather to be that of a conscientious workman
carrying out directions faithfully, with a little painful effort.

Of course this alteration in architecture and colour was caused to
some considerable extent by the necessity of the work being in harmony
with the very elaborate decoration of the church, and by the fact of
the construction of the building being far more intricate and
elaborate than the plain oblong box of the Arena Chapel. The simple
magnificence of tint which makes each fresco in the latter building
tell as if it were of a perfect jewel, and the breadth of composition
and treatment, owing to which the picture denotes as forcibly as
possible the fact depicted, would perhaps have been out of harmony if
adopted here; but there can be little doubt which treatment is the
most admirable in itself or most like that of Giotto's usual style.

However this may be, there is another and a simpler reason for the
differences we have noted, which is, that in all probability the only
frescoes executed by Giotto's own hand were those in the four
triangular spaces above the choir, and two others presently to be
mentioned; the majority of the works attributed to him were probably
executed by Taddeo Gaddi and Simon Memmi, under his superintendence.
This would render it probable that greater elaboration should be
bestowed upon the more mechanical portions of the composition which
could be executed almost equally well by the pupil, and would likewise
account for the pictures being treated more from the point of view of
portions of the building, and the figures being kept subordinate, as
it will of course account for the work being both more varied in
colouring, and also for its having less of the master's delicate

It must be noted that the scale of colouring in the _Vows of St.
Francis_ is a much more extended one than the painter was possessed of
at the time of his decoration of the Arena Chapel, and this alone
should have made Messrs. Crowe and Cavalcaselle hesitate before
attributing these works to an earlier period.[71] Very certainly
growth in years and genius would be likely to increase the richness
and variety of his tints, and no doubt most of these north transept
frescoes were executed by his pupils, and only had the final touches
laid on by the master. The most noticeable quality in these frescoes,
compared with the undoubted work of Giotto, both in the Arena Chapel
and the frescoes in the ceiling of Assisi, is the lack of that life in
every line which was so excellent a merit in Giotto's work. In the
frescoes of Padua every line is perfectly unfaltering and necessary,
and endowed with a force and deliberate intention to which it is
difficult to find a parallel in the history of art. "No man," says Mr.
Ruskin, somewhere, "has expressed so much action in a single gesture
as Giotto has done." Of this vivid expression the frescoes in the
north transept appear to me to retain few traces; they have just the
same relation to the early work that a clever imaginary landscape has
to a rough sketch from nature. The first may not be _wrong_, but we
feel that the latter is right.

A good deal of the difference is no doubt also due to the fact of the
influence of Cimabue, who had painted here before Giotto's time, and
something perhaps to the _genius loci_; the darkened air, the fragrant
incense, the mixed influences of priestcraft and superstition, that
fill the place.

A painter is but a man after all, and _quâ_ painter he is necessarily
a more susceptible man than the rest--an instrument prone to echo to
various influences. No doubt there must have been a far different
spirit in this half-lighted cave to that which dwelt in the fair open
hall of the Arena; as different as the somewhat barren mountain, on
which the convent stands, was from the bee-haunted, flowery inclosure
in which stands Scrovegni's chapel.

Some or all of these various reasons may serve to explain the
difference in feeling between these works and those executed by Giotto
both in earlier and later times, especially the excessive use of gold
and lustrous richness; and some of the lifeless expressions of the
figures may probably be attributed to the influences of monastic
discipline and want of fresh air and sunlight.

The pictures in the north transept, attributed to Giotto by Professor
Dobbert (the latest writer on this subject, and, as far as critical
opinion goes, little more than an echo of Crowe and Cavalcaselle) are
as follows:--1. _The Visitation_; 2. _The Adoration of the Shepherds_;
3. _The Magi_; 4. _The Presentation in the Temple_; 5. _The Flight
into Egypt_; 6. _The Massacre of the Innocents_; 7. _The Return of the
Family_; 8. _The Crucifixion_.

_The Salutation_ (or _Visitation_).--This composition is in its main
figures a repetition of the one in the Arena chapel. There are,
however, more people introduced; the background is altered, the
figures are slighter and stiffer, the lines of the drapery less
flowing, and with less action in them. The faces are thinner and
larger, and the figures are smaller in proportion to the size of the

_The Nativity._--This composition is altogether inferior in interest
and dramatic power to that in the Arena. The natural action of the
Virgin, as she half turns on her bed to place the Child in the nurse's
arms, is changed to a stiff sitting posture; the angels are arranged
in four groups, instead of flying hither and thither as in the Arena
picture. Indeed the picture is wholly symmetrical in its arrangements,
Joseph being in one corner, the shepherds and their flocks in another;
the two attendants and the Child in the centre. Above these come again
the Virgin and Child, with a row of angels hovering on each side; and
above these again the roof of the shed, with two more groups of
angels; down the centre of the picture a glory streams upon the Infant
Christ. It may be noticed that the Virgin's face in this and the other
pictures in this transept is much more of the Greek type than that
used by Giotto at Padua. The only real Giottesque traits in this
composition are, first, the natural actions and expressions of the two
attendants engaged in purifying the Child; and, second, the actions of
the ox and the ass, who poke their heads across the manger with the
patient stupidity, and wonder-what-it's-all-about, look of nature.

_The Adoration of the Magi._--In this and the following fresco of the
_Presentation in the Temple_ we find perhaps the strongest proof of
these works being more probably imitations of Giotto's manner than
original works. I cannot conceive how it is possible for any artist
(or indeed any one with an eye for a picture at all) to imagine that
these stiff, formal draperies, falling in folds, which seem as if each
had a leaden weight attached to it, so straight and stiff are they,
and those inexpressive faces, chiefly of the aquiline type, could have
proceeded from the same hand as the frescoes of _Obedience_ and

Standing, as I did, here on the steps of the high altar, by the side
of the one fresco, and beneath the others, it appeared inconceivable
that a question should ever have been raised as to the authorship of
the frescoes of the north transept, or at least as to their being by
Giotto's own hand. The misleading fact has, I suppose, been the
reproduction of so many of the master's figures and attitudes in these
frescoes; but, rightly understood, this should rather have created the
contrary presumption, for it is far more likely that a pupil should
repeat his master's figures, than that a man of such inventive genius
as Giotto undoubtedly was at a later time, should deliberately set
himself to copy his earlier work, as he must have done if these
pictures were by him.

But apart from all such _à priori_ considerations, the difference in
the work and the style is so great as to put the matter beyond a
question. There is not to be found in any of the hundreds of figures
in the four large compositions in the ceiling of this church, one in
which the faces are of the same type, the figures of the same long,
lean kind, and the drapery of the straight, angular nature that we
find in these two frescoes of the _Adoration_ and the _Presentation_.
The same thing applies to the _Flight into Egypt_, though in this
composition there is a greater approach in some respects to the
master's manner. It is worthy of notice that the various trees and
ferns in this picture are painted without the dark background employed
by Giotto in his Arena pictures; each leaf is now painted dark against
the background, instead of light on a background of a dark patch, the
rough outside shape of the tree. This is no inconsiderable advance,
and a still greater may be noticed in the painting of the bramble in
the fresco of _St. Francis' Wedding to Poverty_.

The only other picture in this series of which it is necessary to
speak is the _Crucifixion_, which is incomparably the finest of these
paintings, and bears most likeness to the master's work. I am inclined
to think that this composition was in great measure, if not wholly,
executed by Giotto himself, though even this work shows traces of
inferiority to that of the Arena Chapel in some respects; and the
painting has suffered a good deal from damp and apparently, in some
places, from restoration, though being unable to examine it in a very
good light, I am not certain upon the latter point.

It only remains to sum up my remarks upon these works. From the
considerations I have given, and many other differences on which it
were too long to enter here, I am led to the inevitable conclusion,
that the only composition actually painted by Giotto in the Lower
Church of St. Francis at Assisi, besides the four allegorical works in
the ceiling of the choir, is the _Crucifixion_, and a small _predella_
to it in monochrome, representing St. Francis and four monks of the
order gazing towards the cross in the above picture.

Professor Dobbert's conjecture, that Giotto visited Assisi a second
time, and then designed both the allegorical pictures and those in the
transept, and left them to be executed by his pupils, seems to be
refuted by the excessive superiority of the ceiling frescoes to those
of the transept, and the unlikeness of the former to the work of any
of Giotto's pupils. It must be repeated here that there is not at
present the slightest evidence of Giotto having been twice at Assisi,
and that the professor's conjecture is not supported by anything but
Crowe's idea that the transept frescoes were done at a later period
than those of the ceiling.

I should have liked to dwell a little upon the other interesting
portions of the town, of its quaint and often beautiful architecture,
or of the many glorious walks along the mountain to be taken
therefrom, but it would lead me too far from my subject, and I must be
content with mentioning that it would be difficult to find more
impressive hill scenery than that which surrounds Assisi, though it is
of a somewhat gloomy character. The olive and the cypress are almost
the only trees to be seen on one side of the town, and the mountains
slope abruptly down to a narrow valley, through which foams a mountain
torrent. In the immediate neighbourhood are the spots connected with
the actual life of St. Francis and Sta Chiara (the saint who was the
first of his female followers), the most interesting of which is the
Hermitage of St. Francesco, lying in a cleft of the mountain, some two
miles from the town. Many another church and monument is there of
interest in this place, but we have outstayed our space, and, we fear,
our readers' patience; so let us take the midnight train to more
civilised Florence, throw behind us the dreamy idleness of the few
hours we have spent amongst traditions of saint and miracle, and leave
Assisi sleeping upon the mountain-side in its accustomed solitude. In
one last look from our comfortable first-class carriage, we see the
convent and the sharp points of its surrounding cypresses, dark
against the clear starlight, and in another instant the train has
swept on out of the shadow of the mountain, and we are in the
nineteenth century once more.


[68] It would, however, be unsafe to found any conclusion on the
naturalism found here, as it is certain that painters of many later
periods worked in this lower church.

[69] According to Crowe and Cavalcaselle, the original drawing for
this fresco is in the possession of H.R.H. the Duc d'Aumale. It is a
pen drawing on vellum.

[70] Vasari, vol. i. p. 348.

[71] It is in no spirit of carping criticism that I must here express
my inability to discover clearly when Crowe and Cavalcaselle do intend
to make Giotto visit Assisi. I have found so much difficulty in
finding any definite statements throughout their work that I have
almost ceased to expect them. I _believe_ they mean that the Assisi
frescoes were previously executed to those of Padua.



     "The characteristics of Power and Beauty occur more or less in
     different buildings, some in one and some in another; but all
     together, and all in their highest possible relative degrees,
     they exist, as far as I know, only in one building in the
     world, the Campanile of Giotto."--JOHN RUSKIN, _The Seven

The later work of Giotto at Florence falls into two distinct
divisions, the one consisting of his frescoes and his great panel
picture of the _Coronation of the Virgin_, the other of his sculpture
and architecture, both of which last have as their sole remaining
example, the Campanile, in the Piazza del Duomo, better known as
"Giotto's tower." The limits of my space compel me to speak very
briefly upon each of these divisions, which I regret the less because
they are by far the best known and most frequently written about of
Giotto's works; and when Mr. Ruskin has put forth his whole strength
in description, an inferior writer may be well pardoned for
unwillingness to make his inferiority manifest. With this brief word
of apology then, I speak first of the frescoes in the Santa Croce.

Giotto painted four chapels here, but the only remaining frescoes are
those in the chapels of the Peruzzi and the Bardi, the former
containing scenes from the lives of St. John the Evangelist and St.
John the Baptist, the latter representations of the life and death of
St. Francis. Both these chapels have suffered a good deal from
restoration, especially that of the Bardi, which has been so coarsely
repainted as to have entirely lost all beauty of colour, and which I
shall not therefore dwell upon in detail.

The top fresco on the right hand wall of the Peruzzi Chapel, has also
been quite ruined by coarse repainting, and when examined with a good
glass shows a coarse black line round every portion of the
composition, not unlike that used by the disciples of a certain modern
school of decorative painting, who seek to gain the effect which their
incompetence otherwise denies them by outlining their compositions in
this manner.

The two lower frescoes on the right hand wall, however, representing
respectively the Healing of Drusiana by St. John, and the Ascension
from the grave of that Evangelist, though they have been a good bit
restored, have had the restoration, carefully and sparingly done, and
retain still a beauty of colour as great as is to be found in any of
Giotto's works. The chief differences observable between these
frescoes and those of the earlier years are such as we might expect to
find in the later work of an earnest painter, and are briefly as
follows:--First, a loss of the semi-burlesque spirit observable in the
Arena Chapel, and not wholly absent from the four great frescoes of
the Lower Church at Assisi. All is grave and dignified in treatment;
the action proceeds in a still vivid, but not eager, manner; it is the
difference between the _Stabat Mater_ played on the organ, and "The
Campbells are coming," on the bagpipes of a Highland regiment. Allied
to this change, and dependent upon it, is the loss of a good deal of
the incidental drama of the composition, a certain diminution of
interest in the spectators, who are now more parts of the general
scene, and less individual characters affected in different ways by
what is happening. The composition gains, perhaps, in dramatic unity,
gains certainly if judged by the canons of later art, but loses in
dramatic intensity, and, it seems to me, in truth to life. Again,
there is much more composition, and that of a more elaborate kind,
than in the Arena work: the figures are larger proportionately to the
fresco in which they are placed, and possessed of a uniform grace and
dignity which were absent from the earlier frescoes. Increased
knowledge of form and power of arrangement, is seen in the figures of
the men, and the treatment of the draperies; the latter especially,
while still being drawn with comparative breadth and simplicity, have
gained in beauty of line, and slightly in attention to the form
beneath them. Lastly, there is to be noticed an advance in the
treatment of colour which is the most important of all the changes. It
is with the greatest diffidence I speak upon this point, as it is
nearly impossible, in the dim light of this chapel (whose only window
is covered with a yellow curtain), to be sure of what is the painter's
original work and what is restoration; but while making every
allowance for error, it seems to me that there is here shown, in
places where the work is almost certainly genuine, a great increase in
the power of gradation of colour, a capability of making each portion
more beautiful in itself, besides being beautiful as a part of the
whole. There is not found in these frescoes (in the Peruzzi), any
longer those broad masses of comparatively ungradated tint which are
so common in the Arena series; and there is further to be found an
extension of the scale of colouring, a power of combining more
delicate and more varied hues than in the earlier frescoes.

The whole tone of the picture is sharper and more mellow than before,
and though this is by no means an unmixed gain, for much of the
crystalline purity and freshness of the earlier pictures is lost
thereby, yet on the whole the gain is greater than the loss, much in
the same way that though we may regret the absence of the bright eye
and ardent impetuosity of youth, we must needs give greater honour to
manhood which has fulfilled the promise, though it may have lost
something of the freshness, of "the wild gladness of morning."

On the left hand wall of this chapel there are also three frescoes of
which the uppermost is of comparatively little importance; the
remaining two are--first, _The Birth of John_; second, _The Daughter
of Herodias dancing before Herod_. The lower of these is a good deal
faded, but (I believe) not at all restored, and both are of exceeding
beauty. In the first, the picture is divided into two parts by pillars
supporting the section of a house similar to those of which Giotto
generally formed his interiors. The larger portion of the fresco
represents the mother of the Evangelist lying upon her bed surrounded
by friends and attendants, and in the smaller part the nurse is
presenting the infant to the father, who is apparently deep in
thought. The figure of the nurse holding out the child, and all the
attendants and friends who press round the bed, are full of interest,
and the whole composition of the picture very fine.

More beautiful, however, to me, is the lowest fresco of Herodias, if
it were only for the figure of the violin (for it is a sort of violin)
player, a figure whose grace and truth of action has, I think, never
been surpassed.

In this picture the daughter of Herodias is represented twice, the
first time in the main body of the fresco, dancing in front of the
table at which the king is seated, while in the centre an attendant
brings in the Baptist's head upon a dish, and offers it to the king;
and again on the extreme right of the fresco, where, in a sort of
inner room, the dancer kneels to her mother, and presents her with the

There are in the Bardi Chapel frescoes of Sta. Chiara and St. Louis,
also by Giotto; but both have been restored especially the
latter,[72] which is wholly ruined thereby. Formerly in the Baronzelli
Chapel, but now in a small room close to the sacristy, hangs the
greatest masterpiece of our artist upon panel; indeed the only one of
his works executed in that manner which can fairly be called worthy of
his powers.[73] This is the famous _Coronation of the Virgin_, a
picture in five compartments, the four outer ones of which represent a
choir of angels with various musical instruments, and an attendant
company of saints, prophets, and martyrs, while the centre division
shows the Virgin dressed as a bride seated upon a throne, and bending
her head to receive the crown from Christ.

It is wholly beyond my power to convey to my readers any idea of the
exceeding loveliness of this work, and no description could, I think,
give more than a faint shadow of its beauty. Descriptions of pictures
are stupid things at the best, and when the attempt is made to
describe a work whose beauty consists less in any hard tangible
perfection of form and colour, than in a delicate purity of feeling
and an intense belief in the subject treated of, when we have to
catalogue as beauties, the expressions of a choir of angels, and the
raptures of the surrounding saints, words seem totally inadequate to
the task.

Perhaps some faint idea of the picture may be gained by likening it to
the _Paradise_ of Fra Angelico, which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery, and
which is probably familiar to most of my readers, if only through the
medium of the innumerable copies which have been made of the figures
of the playing and singing angels which surround its frame. Fancy
these Angelico figures enlarged slightly and made human, instead of
angelic; fancy them arranged in rows, one above the other, the first
row kneeling, and the second standing behind them, while further in
the background, tier above tier, rise the heads of prophets and
martyrs almost to the top of the golden background. Put two pictures
of this sort on each side of a central one of _Christ and the Virgin_,
lower Fra Angelico's key of colour just a little, till his pinks,
blues, and yellows have shades of neutral colour toning them down, let
the types of the saints and angels be rather heavier in the jaw, and
broader in the face than his, and then you have the bones, so to
speak, of Giotto's _Coronation_.

More than this I cannot tell you of the beauty of this picture, and it
were useless to dwell upon the tender gravity of the singing angels,
the devotion of the listening saints, the exquisite balance of the
groups, and the pure brightness of the colouring. In a picture the
whole of whose effect depends upon such subtle combination of faith
and skill as does this _Coronation_, it is worse than useless to
attempt to catalogue its merits as if for an auctioneer's programme.
It is best to say, simply, that in a devotional age a great painter
put forth his whole strength, to embody his faith in the loveliest
design he could conceive, and that the result was worthy of him.

In the cloisters of the S. Maria Novella there are some frescoes
attributed to Giotto much injured by damp, and one, the _Birth of the
Virgin_, spoilt by restoration; one, however, remains, of great
beauty, which in its leading figures is as fine as any of Giotto's
work; this is the _Meeting of Joachim and Anna at the Golden Gate_.
The leading figures here are fortunately comparatively uninjured by
the damp, though Anna's blue robe has lost a little of its colour; the
faces are full of expression, tender and loving to a degree, and the
attitudes of both figures both graceful and natural. In this work the
painter has gained a nearer approach to female beauty than in any
other fresco which I have seen. After a long and careful examination
of these frescoes I am unwillingly forced to come to the conclusion
that they are not by Giotto, but are later works of his school. I say
unwillingly, for it is with the greatest reluctance that I differ on
this point from Mr. Ruskin, who has in one of his small series, called
_Mornings in Florence_, expatiated very enthusiastically upon the
merit of these works. The technical reasons which have most certainly
lead me to this conclusion can hardly be stated so as to interest the
general reader, but the main points which are evident upon the surface
of the matter are--1st, the comparative crudeness and poorness of
colour in three out of the four frescoes, a crudity which is scarcely
to be accounted for by any amount of restoration. The colour is not so
much violent as it is weak and uninteresting; 2nd, the exaggeration in
gesture never used by Giotto in subordinate figures, and a certain
wilful ugliness of attitude which I have never found in that painter's
works; 3rd, the difference in the drawing of the drapery, which is
sharp and thin in its folds, the folds being far more numerous than in
Giotto's work, and their angles much more abrupt. The last difference
is one of beauty. As far as I know Giotto was incapable of drawing a
face of the slender rounded type such as Anna's in the second of these
frescoes which I have referred to. Both the drawing of that face and
its delicate modelling belong to another and a later hand than his.
Lastly I may state for whatever it is worth, that I heard only a few
days since that it is probably the case, according to the best opinion
of the archæologists, that the cloister in which these frescoes are,
is of a later date than that of Giotto's death. If this be so of
course it sets the matter at rest, but whether it be so or not I think
a careful examination of the frescoes will satisfy any one
interested in the matter that they cannot fairly be attributed to our
artist. It must be remembered that the work of the Giotteschi, as they
are called, is exceedingly puzzling and confused and liable to be
mistaken very easily even by one who is devoting his whole attention
to the subject. Mr. Ruskin has in two former instances been led to
attribute works to Giotto which are not by that artist according to
almost indisputable evidence: the instances I allude to are, one in
speaking of the frescoes at Avignon as by this artist, the other in
attributing to him a picture now discovered to be by Lorenzo Monaco in
the Uffizi Gallery.

  [Illustration: FLORENCE.
   _Showing Giotto's Campanile, and the "Duomo."_]


From my window _au troisième_, in the Piazza del Duomo, the look-out
this gray April afternoon cannot be called altogether gay. The sellers
of flowers and oranges have withdrawn well into the shelter of their
little awnings, through which the rain slowly trickles upon the bright
mass of fruit; in the great square, the restless population of
Florence move aimlessly to and fro with cloaks muffling their faces;
there are five close cabs stationed just beneath my window, the
drivers of which sit on their respective boxes, beneath the shelter of
four large green umbrellas and one blue one; behind them the
Baptistery lifts its conical roof by the side of the scaffolding which
marks the restoration of the cathedral, and beyond and above
everything the Campanile[74] in the square of the Signoria raises its
grim castellated head, dark and threatening. One building alone
refuses to succumb to the influences of cloud and rain, refuses to
lose its beauty or be deprived of its colours; its delicate traceries,
and its shades of red, yellow, black, white, and green marble still
standing out clearly perceptible through the heavy atmosphere. This is
the building with the account of which closes the story of Giotto's
life; this is the last and greatest achievement of that great genius
who joined to his skill of hand a heart tender enough to enter into
every human weakness, and sympathies which extended to the animal and
vegetable creation, and drew, with as much simple fidelity and honest
enjoyment the dog watching the sheep and the oxen drawing the wain, as
the sufferings of the Saviour, or the faith of the disciples.

In shape the Campanile is a square tower without buttress of any kind,
rising 292 feet straight from the pavement of the piazza. It has four
stories, but does not diminish towards the top, the only difference
being that the windows increase in size, and in this way an appearance
of superior lightness is gained by the upper stories. The style of the
architecture is Gothic in so far as it makes use of the pointed arch,
but can hardly be described as such without giving a false impression
to those who are accustomed to the Gothic of the north; and who think
of that style as one of varied, if somewhat gloomy, masses, of
irregular arches, pinnacles, and buttresses; colourless save for the
lichen that grows between the grey stones, and owing their beauty more
to the unwearied inventiveness of their builders' fancy than to any
symmetrical unity of design.

It seems to me that this Campanile, as does the cathedral, partakes
much more of the Lombardic element than the Gothic, especially in its
use of coloured marbles, which are here employed throughout the whole
surface of the tower. One thing is certain, that whatever be the style
of the architecture it has a character of its own which renders it a
thing apart. In the course of many years' travel in every quarter of
the globe, I have come upon but one building which had at all the same
sort of power over the imagination which is possessed by this tower of
Giotto. That structure was the Taj, at Agra, which in its
exquisiteness of finish, its delicacy of involved ornament, its
perfectly unsullied whiteness, and above all, in its completeness of
design, resembled the Florentine Campanile, though for beauty of
proportion, no less than for that of colour, the Indian tomb must
yield precedence to the Italian bell-tower. The Taj, too, owes much of
its effect to the beauty of its surroundings; to the stately entrance,
the long paved approach of white marble, the great daïs of the same,
on which the tomb stands, and last, not least, to thick rows of dark
cypress trees which surround it to right and left, and toss their
fretted spires towards the sky, a hundred feet below the great dome.
The Campanile has no such proud surroundings, no such adventitious
helps to its beauty, but stands in simple strength, in the busiest
square in Florence, in the midst of the fruit-sellers and
flower-sellers, where the street boys can play at hide-and-seek round
its base, and wonder idly perhaps at the inlaid marbles. In either
case the surroundings are such as one should be loth to change; for
the tomb which marks the pride and love of an Eastern monarch, the
quiet inclosed garden, with its marble terraces and clustering groups
of cypress; and for the Campanile--which was the last gift of a great
artist to his native city--the busy square, the thronging people, the
hundred cries of Florence sounding about its base, and fading into a
faint scarce-heard murmur long ere they reach the great overhanging
battlements, round whose massive sculpture resound only the whispering
of the breeze and the fluttering of white-winged birds.

The building is in four stories, the two lowest of which are entirely
without windows, the first being adorned with bas-reliefs by Giotto,
and with statues by Donatello and others. Intermediate between the
lowest series of bas-reliefs and the statues, are four series of
bas-reliefs, each seven in number, representing the beatitudes, the
works of mercy, the virtues, and the sacraments.

The second and third stories have each two pointed-arched windows of
the same size and design, each of which is divided in the usual Gothic
manner by a centre shaft. This shaft is of exquisite delicacy, in
design a richly carved spiral, ending in a capital, from which spring
two trefoiled arches. The sides of these windows are also enriched
with a similar shaft, then a rich border of mosaic, inclosed again by
a spiral, terminating in a second pointed arch which forms the outer
border to the window, above which is a triangular canopy thickly
carved. The whole of these windows, with the exception of the mosaic
band, are executed in white marble, and surrounded by slabs of green
serpentine and red porphyry.

The fourth story has but one window, rather larger than both those in
the second or third story, and divided by two spirals instead of one.
It is noticeable that the sides and canopy of this highest aperture
are comparatively simple in form and devoid of sculpture, which
practically ceases with the third story. Giotto was too thorough an
artist to put elaborate sculpture at a height where it could not be
seen, and preferred, instead of substituting coarser work, to depend
for the beauty of this upper story, almost entirely upon the effect of
boldly designed mosaic. Instead, therefore, of a single narrow band of
mosaic above the arch of the window, there are in the fourth story
four comparatively wide ones, and above this the triangular space
beneath the plain arch is filled with the same work, as are also the
spaces beside and above the canopy. Above the canopy is a still
broader band of mosaic, on which the jagged arches of the battlements
seem to rest; and above these again, a last band of mosaic is
surmounted by a gallery of white marble about six feet high, pierced
with quartre-foils along its whole length.

It is wholly impossible to describe the delicacy and finish which the
crest of this campanile possesses; the eye is led on from story to
story, the mosaic being used more and more freely, the sculpture more
sparingly, as the ascent is made, till at last the sculpture ends in
one perfectly shaped window, and the mosaic blossoms forth like a
flower into fullest beauty. Gradually the massive base, with its dark
bas-reliefs, changes into lighter sculpture, with backgrounds of blue
marble, then into figures of the saints, prophets, and patriarchs,
breaking the uniformity of which are two long vertical pierced panels
of quartre-foils in circles, serving to give light to the interior,
but not telling as windows, then two rich bands of mosaic carry on the
effect up to the first range of windows. There is no difference
between the first and second stories, except that the lower one has a
rich band of sculpture beneath the window, which is replaced by plain
marble in the second; but above the second, as I have said, the
sculpture ceases to be the main feature, the mosaic takes its place,
and succeeds in carrying out the unison of rich work and lightness of
effect in a way which is as novel as it is beautiful.

A few words must be said of the famous range of bas-reliefs, the
lowest, all of which were designed by Giotto, though he only lived to
execute two. This series is twenty-eight in number, exclusive of those
on the small half towers which form the corners of the Campanile. They
represent first the creation of man and woman, then the gradual
development of knowledge, the gradual increase of man's power over
nature, and discovery of his own capacities. Of three of these,
illustrations are given which may be relied upon for fidelity to the
main points of the design, though they do little justice to the
exquisite delicacy of the work.

These bas-reliefs are in lozenge form, about eighteen inches in height
and slightly less in breadth, and entirely surround the tower; nearly
the whole of these were sculptured by Luca della Robbia and Andrea
Pisano, to whom was entrusted the carrying out of Giotto's designs.

I shall not endeavour here to classify these reliefs according to
their authorship for two reasons; one, that the carrying out of
Giotto's design, whether by Andrea Pisano, Luca della Robbia, or any
other sculptor, is as to each special relief a pure matter of
conjecture, and is besides little connected with the subject I have in
hand; and the other reason is that this classification, though
attempted with great ingenuity, and after close investigation by Mr.
Ruskin, in his pamphlet on the "Shepherd's Tower," appears to me to
have yielded no satisfactory results, but rather to have involved the
subject in further obscurity, insomuch as it has led him to attribute
various reliefs in the series to Giotto's own hand, wholly on internal
evidence, and that moreover in my judgment of a most unsatisfactory
nature. I content myself, therefore, with observing that the three
first frescoes of the series and the one representing the drunkenness
of Noah are almost certainly the work of a different hand to that of
the rest of the bas-reliefs, and that that hand has probably modified
Giotto's original design to a considerable extent in the relative
importance of the landscape portions of the composition.

In these last designs of Giotto's life, there is a curious recurrence
to the ideas of his earliest time, a curious delight in depicting
natural objects, and treating his subject from the humorously dramatic
point of view; such as indeed he never altogether lost, but which lies
very much in the shade in the later frescoes of this master. In fact,
in some of these bas-reliefs, the comic element almost entirely
predominates, as, for instance, in that which is entitled _Logic_, in
which two furious disputants stand face to face, the countenances
inflamed with passion, one apparently being just on the eve of
proceeding to the _argumentum ad hominem_, the other rapping an open
book querulously with his finger. Others show a depth of perception of
character which perhaps would hardly have been expected from the
artist, as in the relief of _Arithmetic_, where a master is
instructing two of his pupils in that gentle science. One of the boys
is evidently intelligent enough, and bends happily over his book; the
other is of a heavy bovine type, and is listening with a puzzled
expression to the master's explanation. Of all the designs, perhaps
the finest are simply narrative, and of such, the three first of the
series, the creation of Adam, the creation of Eve, and the relief
called _The First Arts_, are singularly beautiful. It should be
noticed here that Giotto's knowledge of, and skill in depicting,
trees, made great advances from the time of the frescoes in the Arena
to that of these reliefs. No doubt something must be allowed for the
genius of those who executed the reliefs; but if they were done from
Giotto's designs, and there is a concensus of opinion that such was
the case, the advance is a very marked one. I am the more inclined to
believe in this progress as in the drawing of the brambles, in the
great fresco of _St. Francis wedding Poverty_ in the Lower Church of
Assisi, there are the elements of such leaf and bough drawing as are
seen here; and even at Assisi, the advance from the Arena, in the
drawing is very evident. Especially fine in design, and as far as it
goes, true to nature, is the drawing of the vine in the relief of
_Noah's Drunkenness_, or as it is sometimes called, the _Convention of
Wine_. The drawing of the leaves and grapes, and their disposition in
the panel, is perhaps the finest piece of good sculptural design to be
found at such an early date; and I should have selected this relief
for reproduction, had it not been, owing to Giotto's intense
perception of the essential meaning of his subject, so unpleasing in
the degradation of the drunken figure, as to unfit it for purposes of

   _On the Campanile, Florence._]

Our artist's sympathy with animal life, also revives in these works in
its full force, and may be seen in many instances. Look for example at
the fresco of ploughing, where the driver is guiding the oxen by the
simple, yet perfectly efficient plan, of twisting the tail round his
wrist, and pulling it one way or the other, when he wishes to turn. Or
look at the puppy in the bas-relief of _Shepherd Life_, as he sits
outside the patriarch's tent watching the sheep file past. What a
sense of comical responsibility and mischief there is in his face, the
quintessence, so to speak, of puppydom. Or look, for another kind of
truth, at the action of the horse in the fresco of _Riding_, and the
manner in which the rider is urging him with hand and voice at the
same time, and the wind is blowing out his mantle behind. There is a
curious circumstance with regard to this last design, which I
discovered by chance a few weeks ago when walking in the sculptor's
rooms of the British Museum. That is, that there is a figure in one of
the great friezes there, not that of the Parthenon, but the next in
beauty, that of the Erectheum, which is almost identical in the figure
of its man and his action with this of Giotto's. The very lines of the
cloak blowing out behind are almost identical, and the grasp of the
rider's knees, the pose of his figure and the outstretched arm (what
is left of it in the Greek sculpture, it has been taken just below the
elbow) are all exactly similar. The whole spirit of the Greek frieze
is as vivid in Giotto's work as it is in the original sculpture,
executed more than a thousand years before. It merely shows the
extraordinary unity of all good art, that a mediæval Italian, working
purely from nature and life, should be able to arrive by himself, at a
representation which has all the feeling of that which is acknowledged
to be the finest art the world has ever seen. It must be noticed that
where Giotto falls short of his Grecian predecessor, is chiefly in the
nobility of the types both of man and horse. Giotto's horse is going,
and his man is urging him as certainly as in the frieze, but his horse
is comparatively a common every-day cabhorse and is going in something
of the same rocking-time manner we may see in Hyde Park any day of the
week. And the man is like most of Giotto's men, a very ordinary
individual, somewhat of what hunting men call "a tailor," perhaps,
though he is evidently accustomed to riding. The Grecian sculptor has
refined the types of both man and horse, and given the latter a grand
sweeping action, such as would be promptly stopped by the police, if
indulged in within the limits of the park. This difference, however,
is a difference in aim, not a difference in feeling; the beauty of
line, and the meaning of the scene are given with almost as much
intensity by our artist as by the unknown sculptor who preceded him.
Most unfortunately I only found this similarity too late to permit me
to make use of it in the book; for a drawing of these two figures side
by side would have shown the likeness and dissimilarity more than
pages of description.

   _On the Campanile, Florence._]

Many other bas-reliefs of this series are of great interest, but there
is no space left for me to dwell upon them, nor are their merits other
than those which I have spoken of so frequently throughout this book,
of simple truth, of keen discernment, and of genuine feeling. At every
step the work seems to say to us, "Here is the representation of
something true;" and the artist seems to say, "I have only tried to
give you facts in the most beautiful arrangement consistent with
truth; if you want more, or less, why, you must go elsewhere."

And so it is that from the time when he draws the meditations of a
puppy, to that in which he hangs his massive tower of coloured marble,
between the earth and heaven, his work seems simple, grand, and
sincere. He is not painting pictures to aggrandise himself, he is only
lovingly recording what he knows, feels, or hopes. He is not above,
nor below his work; his work is himself; it is himself, in joy, or
sorrow, or curiosity, or surprise; in mirth, or indifference. He is
human in his failings as well as in his greatness, and pretends to no
greater merit, than that of doing good work in a straightforward

Therefore we look back across the centuries with pleasure, to catch a
glimpse of the homely figure whose dreams of beauty were mingled with
tenderness and mirth, who lived in a coarse age, and made coarse jokes
at odd times; but who walked hand in hand with Dante, as great, if not
as sublime a genius, and whose life, as we can read it in his
paintings, was one of sympathy with all things living, and perfect
devotion to his art. Neither a Philistine, nor a humbug, he seems to
have trod the narrow path of art with secure footsteps, a good
workman, as well as a great imaginative painter; a merry as well as an
honest man. Such are the men whom Art wants nowadays, as it wanted
them then, those who are men as well as artists, who will not dream in
courtly isolation of beauties which never existed, but will go down
into the markets, and the streets, where men sin and sorrow, or by the
rivers and fields, where they toil and hope, and use their genius to
brighten the facts of every day, to interpret the strange gleams of
beauty, which fall here and there upon a weary world.

I like to think that that Campanile of "porphyry and jasper" was not
raised by one who dwelt amidst cold dreams of architectural proportion
and gave his life to the designing of geometrical ornament, but by the
man who could feel the humour of the dog, the patience of the oxen,
and love to have such things carved about the base of his tower; and
as I sit here in its very shadow, it seems to me as if the most
fitting meed of praise with which to conclude an essay on the old
painter, is, not that he painted the purest and loveliest frescoes in
the world; not that he raised above Florence a tower, which has been
the wonder and delight of all succeeding ages, but that he was the
first to show by his work, that Art was useful to man, not only as a
teacher, but as a friend.


[72] Mr. Ruskin has here been mistaken in asserting that this fresco
has not suffered from restoration; a good opera glass will satisfy any
one of this fact, as the restoration has not only been great in
amount, but most execrable in the quality of its work.

[73] Amongst those with which I am personally acquainted I hear on
good authority that the panel picture known as the Stefaneschi
altarpiece, at Rome, is of exceeding beauty.

[74] Of the Palazzo Vecchio.



     _Annunciation._ By Giotto,                            59

     Arena Chapel, Padua,                                  69

       "   Frescoes in,                                    76

       "   Note by Mr. Ruskin on,                          84

     Arnolfo di Cambio,                                    21

     Arnolfo di Lapi (Cambio?),                            21

     Assisi, Lower Church of,                             111

     Assisi, Upper Church of,                              94

     Byzantine Architecture,                               15

     Campanile, The, at Florence,                         135

     Cennini,                                              29

     Christian Architecture,                               16

     Cimabue,                                              33

     _Coronation of the Virgin._ By Giotto,               128

     Florence, Santa Croce,                  65, 66, 118, 128

       "  Santa Maria Novella,                        65, 133

       "  Campanile at,                                   135

     Fresco Painting,                                      28

     Frescoes in Arena Chapel, Padua,                      76

     Frescoes at Assisi,                             115, 124

     Frescoes in Santa Croce,                             128

     Frescoes in Santa Maria Novella,                     133

     Giotto, born at Vespignano (1266?),                   41

       "  taken by Cimabue to Florence,                    43

       "  story of his O,                                  45

       "  visits Rome,                                     45

       "  returns to Florence,                             46

       "  paints portrait of Dante,                        46

       "  marries Ciuta di Lapo,                           47

       "  frescoes in the Arena Chapel at Padua,           47

       "  paints a buckler,                                49

       "  visits Assisi,                                   51

       "  frescoes in Santa Croce, Florence,               51

       "  designs the Campanile, Florence,                 52

       "  dies at Florence in 1336,                        52

       "  latest works of,                                120

     Giunta of Pisa,                                  23, 100

     Greek Art,                                            12

     Guido of Siena,                                       38

     Illuminated Manuscripts,                              14

     Lombardic Architecture,                               24

     _Madonna Enthroned._ By Cimabue,                      36

     _Madonna Enthroned._ By Giotto,                   59, 63

     Mosaics,                                          13, 21

     _Navicella_, The,                                 45, 62

     Padua, Arena Chapel at,                               61

     Painting, Chief function of,                          53

     Pisa, Campo Santo of,                                 61

     Pisano, Andrea,                                      139

     Pisano, Niccolo,                                      20

     Robbia, Luca della,                                  139

     Ruskin, John,                                     24, 84

     Scrovegni Chapel at Padua,                            69

     Venice, Saint Mark's,                        22, 27, 112

     THE END.


_Published in Monthly Volumes._



The increasing love of art in our own country and the great desire for
knowledge in all matters connected with the literature of art and the
lives of the Great Masters called for the publication of the very
important information which modern research has gathered together on
every side, and which has now attracted the attention of all students
of art-biography both at home and abroad.

The intention of the projectors of this Series has been to produce, in
an easily accessible form and at a price within reach of every one,
the results of the recent investigations which have been made by many
well-known critics, especially those of Germany and the Netherlands.

Dr. Woltmann lately published a new edition of his great work on HANS
HOLBEIN; Professor Carl Lemcke on RUBENS and on VAN DYCK; Dr. Anton
Springer on RAPHAEL and MICHELANGELO; Herr Vosmaer has issued a
revision of his celebrated treatise on REMBRANDT, and Herr Thausing an
elaborate Life of ALBRECHT DÜRER. These works correct old statements
that have been proved to be untrue, impart new facts, and add
materially to our interest in the histories of the painters. Many of
the Italian art-critics have likewise recently issued treatises on the
great artists of their own country; and in France scarcely a week
passes without the appearance of some new contribution to the History
of Art. All this matter has been carefully studied.

The Series is issued in the form of handbooks. Each work contains a
monograph of a GREAT ARTIST--or a brief history of a GROUP OF ARTISTS
of one school--a portrait of the Master, and as many examples of his
art as could be readily procured. Cheapness of price having been
especially aimed at, the introduction of expensive new engravings was
thought to be unadvisable. Arrangements were therefore made with the
proprietors of the most important art publications on the Continent
for the reproduction of many of their costly woodcuts. These have been
printed with great care, and each biography of the Series has been
illustrated with at least twelve to twenty full-page engravings. The
price of each volume is 3_s._ 6_d._

_The following Biographies are now ready:_--


     =LEONARDO DA VINCI.= By Dr. J. PAUL RICHTER, Author of "Die
     Mosaiken von Ravenna." With 16 Illustrations. From recent

     =MICHELANGELO.= By CHARLES CLÉMENT, Author of "Michel-Ange,
     Léonard et Raphael." With many large Engravings.

     =RAPHAEL.= From the text of J. D. PASSAVANT. By N. D'ANVERS,
     Author of "An Elementary History of Art." With 20 Engravings.

     =TITIAN.= From the most recent researches. By RICHARD FORD HEATH,
     M.A., Hertford College, Oxford. With 16 Engravings.

     =TINTORETTO.= From investigations at Venice. By W. ROSCOE OSLER,
     Author of occasional Essays on Art. With many Engravings.


     =HOLBEIN.= From the text of Dr. A. WOLTMANN. By JOSEPH CUNDALL,
     Author of "Life and Genius of Rembrandt." With 20 Engravings.

     "Lectures on Fine Arts." With 16 Engravings.

     *** An _Edition de luxe_, containing 14 extra plates
     from rare engravings in the British Museum, and bound in
     Roxburgh style, may be had, price 10_s._ 6_d._

     =REMBRANDT.= From the text of C. VOSMAER. By J. W. MOLLETT, B.A.,
     Officier de l'Instruction Publique (France). With 16

     =RUBENS.= From recent authorities. By C. W. KETT, M.A., Hertford
     College, Oxford. With 16 Engravings.

     =VAN DYCK and HALS.= From recent authorities. By PERCY R. HEAD,
     Lincoln College, Oxford. With 16 Engravings.

     National Portrait Gallery. With 18 Engravings.

     Author of various Essays on Art. With 16 Engravings.


     =HOGARTH.= From recent researches. By AUSTIN DOBSON, Author of
     "Vignettes in Rhyme." With 16 Illustrations.

     =REYNOLDS.= From the most recent authorities. By F. S. PULLING,
     M.A., Exeter College, Oxford. With 16 Illustrations.

     =TURNER.= From recent investigations. By COSMO MONKHOUSE, Author
     of "Studies of Sir E. Landseer." With 20 Engravings.

     =LANDSEER.= A Memoir, by FREDERICK G. STEPHENS, Author of
     "Flemish Relics," &c. With many Illustrations.

_The Volumes preparing for Early Publication are:_--

     PHILLIMORE. With 16 Illustrations.

     Nook in the Apennines." With 16 Illustrations.

     =VELAZQUEZ.= By EDWIN STOWE, M.A., Brasenose College, Oxford.
     With many Illustrations.

     College, Oxford. With many Illustrations.

     =ALBRECHT DÜRER.= From recent authorities. By R. F. HEATH, M.A.,
     Hertford College, Oxford. With many Illustrations.

     History of Albrecht Dürer." With many Illustrations.

     =GIOTTO.= By HARRY QUILTER, M.A., Trinity Col., Cambridge. From
     recent investigations at Padua and Assisi. With many

     "The Schools of Modern Art in Germany."


1. From a Review in the _Spectator_, July 5, 1879.

     "It is high time that some thorough and general acquaintance
     with the works of these mighty painters should be spread
     abroad, and it is also curious to think how long their names
     have occupied sacred niches in the world's heart, without the
     presence of much popular knowledge about the collective work of
     their lives.... If the present series of biographies, which
     seems to be most thoroughly and tastefully edited, succeeds in
     responding to the wants of modest, if ardent, art-knowledge,
     its aim will be accomplished."

2. Reprinted from the _Times_, January 22, 1880.

     "Few things in the way of small books upon great subjects,
     avowedly cheap and necessarily brief, have been hitherto so
     well done as these biographies of the Great Masters in
     painting. They afford just what a very large proportion of
     readers in these hurrying times wish to be provided with--a
     sort of concentrated food for the mind. The Liebigs of
     literature, however, especially in that of the fine arts, need
     no small amount of critical acumen, much experience in the art
     of system, and something of the bee-like instinct that guesses
     rightly where the honey lies. The mere 'boiling down' of great
     books will not result in giving us a good little book, unless
     the essence is properly diluted and set before us in a form
     that can be readily assimilated, so to speak, and not in an
     indigestible lump of details. The writers of these biographies
     have, on the whole, succeeded in giving an excellent _aperçu_
     of the painters and their works, and better where they have
     adhered to the lives written by acknowledged specialists--such
     as M. Vosmaer for Rembrandt, Passavant for Raphael, and Dr.
     Woltmann for Holbein. The life of Holbein is by the editor,
     with whom the idea of such a series originated, and to whose
     great experience is to be attributed the very valuable copies
     of all the important pictures contained in the different
     biographies. These have been selected with great taste and
     judgment, and being taken generally from less well-known works
     by the masters, they enhance the interest and add much to the
     practical utility of the books. The chronological lists of the
     works of the masters are also very useful additions."

3. From _La Chronique des Arts_, March 20, 1880.

     "A un prix d'extrême bon marché, 4 francs environ, en petits
     volumes joliment cartonnés, et ornés de quinze à vingt
     planches, la maison Sampson Low, Marston et Cie., à Londres, a
     entrepris de publier une série de biographies des grands
     artistes, résumées d'après les travaux les plus récents et les
     plus estimés. Une bibliographie, une liste des gravures
     exécutées par ou d'après l'artiste, une liste de ses oeuvres
     ou de leurs prix; enfin, un index accompagnant ces résumés
     confiés à des écrivains distingués versés dans l'histoire de
     l'art. Ont paru ou sont en préparation dans cette série de
     notices: Titien, Rembrandt, Raphaël, Van Dyck et Hals, Holbein,
     Tintoret, Turner, Rubens, Michel-Ange, Léonard, Giotto,
     Gainsborough, Velazquez, Pérugin, Reynolds, Landseer, Delaroche
     et Vernet, les Petit Maîtres, les Peintres de figure en

     "Peut-être la maison Sampson Low, Marston et Cie, devrait-elle
     tenter une édition française de ces jolis et intéressants
     petits volumes sérieusement étudiés, dont la brièveté
     substantielle et le bon marché deviennent une bénédiction par
     ce temps d'énormes publications à prix non moins

       *       *       *       *       *


       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's note:

  Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have
  been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  The Errata list has been corrected in this text.

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