Giotto – The Allegorical Scenes At Padua

IF Giotto may be said to have exhibited his greatest gifts as a painter in the foregoing frescoes, he has given us no less striking an example of his intellectual powers in the series of allegorical figures representative of the seven Virtues and their opposite Vices, which form a species of monochrome border below the paintings on the lateral walls. In these extraordinary works, executed in the master’s most monumental style, we have, even more than in the famous Allegories at Assisi, what may be considered almost entirely the outcome of Giotto’s individual invention—a series of symbolic representations affording a perhaps unequalled opportunity for the appreciation of those concise and significant qualities of the great artist’s genius, concerning which we have so often spoken. Although the natural tendencies of Giotto’s talent toward the representation of dramatic and historical scenês had here, of necessity, to be put aside in order to make way for a freer use of his vivid, yet ever healthful, imagination and suggestiveness, the remarkable simplicity and directness of his symbolism are visible proofs of the versatility, as well as of the sanity and freshness, of his intellect. Not only did he here produce a work possessed of far more than ordinary artistic merit, but he succeeded also in formulating a series of allegorical representations which, on account of their powerful significance of imagery, were handed down by his successors to take their place in the art of the succeeding centuries as generally accepted types, incapable of improvement, of those abstract qualities which they were intended to symbolize.

Beginning nearest the entrance door with the first number of the series, we have Giotto’s pictorial idea of Hope, which figure, although entirely painted over at a comparatively recent date, still reveals its originally classic drapery and form. Nowhere is Giotto’s admiration of the antique more evident than in this charming figure, which seems almost to have been copied from some old Roman bas-relief. Clad in the classic Grecian peplos, her hair bound up in a manner according with her costume, winged and girdled, she might be taken for an ancient Victory but for her attitude of quiet adoration, as she floats upwards to receive the crown held out to her by an angel from above.

Facing her, on the opposite wall, is her contrary Vice, Despair, the tall figure of a woman, with flowing and dishevelled hair, hanging by her neck from a bar above her, her hands clenched and face contracted in the last agonies of death, while the black form of a fiend flies down to possess himself of her lost soul.

Charity, the next of the Virtues, does not differ essentially from Giotto’s earlier conception of the same personage at Assisi. Clad in the same fashion as her sister Hope, her head crowned with roses, she treads upon the money-bags of Avarice and Greed. With her left hand she offers to her Lord her heart ; in her right she carries a bowl of flowers and fruit, symbolic of the heavenly bounty which is hers to distribute here on earth. Opposite her, in a flaming fire, stands the hideous figure of Envy, with horns and bat-like ears, a serpent issuing from her mouth which turns to bite her. Her hands are armed with claws ; one is outstretched in a gesture of grasping greed, the other tightly holds a bag of gold.

Faith, a tall figure clad in churchly garments, the key of Heaven hanging at her waist, stands upon a heap of cabalistic books. In her right hand she holds the Cross, in the left a scroll on which are written the first words of the Creed. Infidelity, a heavily-draped figure of a man, stands unsteadily before a fire, bearing in his hand the small image of a woman to which is attached a cord ending in a noose about his neck. Above, a reverend figure of a prophet or Evangelist holds out to him a scroll which is kept from his eyes by the broad-brimmed helmet which he wears.

Justice and Injustice (Pls. 29, 30) come next in order—perhaps the finest of the series. The first of these, a splendid figure with crown and mantle, is seated on a Gothic throne, bearing in her hands the dishes of a pair of scales. In one of these a small winged figure is crowning a man at work at a small table, in the other an executioner is beheading a malefactor. Below, on the face of the throne, is a painted bas-relief representing the beneficial results of Justice and the public safety derived therefrom. To the left, two noblemen ride forth to the chase, accompanied by their dogs. The splendid horse of the foremost one is again undoubtedly copied from the quadriga of St. Mark’s. In the centre, a figure is engaged in dancing to the accompaniment of castanets and a tambourine played by two girls. To the right are two more riders. Confronting this fine work is Giotto’s representation of Injustice. Dressed in the costume of a noble, he sits in the arched entrance of a ruined tower in the middle of a wood. His features are sharp and angular, his expression at once cruel and keen, watchful as a bird of prey. His right hand grasps a hooked halberd, expressive as his own claw-like talons of rapacity and greed ; his left touches the hilt of his sword. In the lonely wood below a scene of robbery and violence is taking place. To the left, the murdered body of a man lies beneath the hoofs of his plunging steed ; near by, two men rob a woman of her garments, while others stand by keeping watch and guard. Wonderfully fine in its naturalistic treatment of movement is this little scene—a splendid example of Giotto’s careful study of nature, as well as of his technical powers of reproduction.

Temperance—a tall and graceful figure, a bridle in her mouth—is engaged in binding the hilt of a sword to its scabbard. Opposite to her is Wrath, her head thrown back in an excess of fury, as she tears open her garments in the violence of her passion.

In his representation of Fortitude, Giotto has deviated less than usual from the conception of his predecessors. Clad in a breastplate and a lion’s skin, a sharp four- edged mace in her hand, she stands on guard behind her tall and tower-like shield. Inconstancy, her opposite, is depicted as falling from a rolling wheel or globe.

Prudence and Folly bring the series to a close. The first of these does not differ from Giotto’s representation of her at Assisi—Janus-headed, and seated at a desk, she gazes into the polished mirror of Truth. Folly, a male figure of coarse and vulgar proportions, clad in a fantastic dress, and crowned with feathers, holds aloft a heavy club.