Giotto – The Campanile And Final Works

THE exact date of Giotto’s journey to Naples is not known to us, although we are in the possession of a document, dated January, 1330, in which he is offered by King Robert the full honours due to a familiar guest. According to Vasari it was through the recommendation of Duke Charles of Calabria, son of King Robert, that Giotto received the invitation to paint in the southern capital. Charles had been elected Lord of Florence in 1326, and had resided in that city for a good part of the two years preceding his death in 1328, at which time, Vasari further tells us, Giotto was called upon to paint him kneeling at the feet of the Virgin, in the Palazzo Vecchio at Florence. That the painter’s stay at the Neapolitan court was a comparatively lengthy one, is proved by another document attesting his presence in that city during 1332-1333, and it is furthermore quite probable that he left Florence for the South at an even earlier period. than is generally supposed. Tradition dwells especially on the warm personal friendship which existed between Giotto and his royal patron, and more than one old chronicler is loud in praises of the works executed by the great painter in the Castel Nuovo, the Castel dell’ Uovo, and in the church and convent of Sta. Chiara, Of all these great creations, however, not a vestige now remains, although the many interesting works in the churches of Naples and the surrounding country, by various of the master’s followers and pupils, still attest, as at Rome, Florence, and Ravenna, the extra-ordinary influence exercised by Giotto in these parts. Quite possibly, on his return journey to Florence, he may have stopped and painted at Gaeta, as Vasari tells us in his ” Lives,” although nothing now remains of his work in that city. Regarding his visit to Rimini and Ravenna, we have already spoken in another place.

Whatever may have been the duration of his stay at Naples, or of his journey back to Florence, he certainly was already in that city by April, 1334, for on the 12th of that month we find him appointed by public decree Capo-Maestro of Sta. Reparata, and Architect of the Commune.

The appointment of Giotto to these two important and responsible posts certainly tends to the supposition that he had previously given some material proofs of his architectural talents, or of his genius as an engineer. Unfortunately, we have no means of ascertaining if this were really the case, and, beyond a few traditional attributions, nothing remains to us by which we may gauge the master’s ability in these branches of art and science.

The exact extent of the work accomplished on the Cathedral itself under Giotto’s superintendence is not precisely known. Tradition has it that he commenced the decoration of the old façade, which, however, was never completed, remaining in an unfinished state until 1588, when it was finally removed. How far Giotto was really responsible for this and other works connected with the building of the Cathedral, it is impossible to ascertain ; certain it is, however, that to him alone was due the original conception of that most daringly imaginative of all towers—the Campanile which still bears his name.

The foundation stone of this famous tower was laid on July 18th, 1334, in the presence of the Bishop of Florence, the Priors, and a great gathering of the people, the event being made the occasion for a grand and solemn pro-cession on the part of the Florentines. The building seems hardly to have progressed beyond the first story with the bas-reliefs, however, when Giotto died in 1336. In the hands of Andrea Pisano, who was appointed to succeed him, Giotto’s original plan seems to have under-gone essential alteration. The nature of Andrea’s changes, however, evidently failed to meet with the approval of his employers, and the commission to complete the tower was transferred to Francesco Talenti. To this genial architect is due the greater part of the present edifice, the entire three last stories having been carried out beneath his supervision.

Whether Talenti returned in part to Giotto’s original design, or whether he is alone responsible for the work as it now stands, it is impossible to determine with any certainty, no authentic copy of Giotto’s plan having been handed down to us. There exists, however, in the Opera del Duomo at Siena, an old drawing (PI.35) first brought to the notice of the critical public some years ago by Signor Nardini-Despotti, which, according to that writer, represents Giotto’s original conception of the tower. Certainly a careful study of this work can but incline us toward the acceptance of Signor Nardini’s opinion. The base of the present building—the part that is generally attributed to Giotto himself-certainly coincides perfectly with the drawing, which further brings to mind Vasari’s statement that the edifice was to have been crowned, according to Giotto’s original design, by a spire fifty braccia in height, which scheme was, however, abandoned by the later architects as being ” a German thing and of antiquated fashion.”

If Giotto’s share in the building of the Campanile has given rise to endless discussions, still more words have been spent in regard to the famous series of bas-reliefs which adorn the walls of its first story. It has been a time-honoured tradition that the great master himself both designed and executed these beautiful works, and Ghiberti goes so far as to tell us that, in his day, Giotto’s original clay models for some of them were still to be seen in Florence. By many modern critics, however, Giotto’s connection with these works has been altogether denied, and the entire honour of their creation given to Andrea Pisano. A comparison of the reliefs with the known works of Andrea and Giotto can, however, leave no doubt as to their having been originally designed by the latter master. To all who have studied the creations of the two artists, the great difference in their style can but be apparent. Gifted as he was with a far keener feeling for abstract beauty, the graceful and charming manner of Andrea is hardly to be confounded with the far grander and more simply naturalistic one of Giotto, unless, indeed, Andrea’s style may have undergone a complete and radical change during the short period of time between the completion of the famous Baptistery Doors in 1330, and the probable execution of the bas-reliefs in question some four or five years later—a suppo sition hardly within the range of probability. On the other hand, the exquisite execution of these reliefs certainly betokens the handiwork of a practised sculptor, and although the versatility of Giotto’s genius would by no means exclude the possibility of his having been a master of the chisel as well as of the brush, we have no reason to believe that he ever practically exercised the stone-cutter’s art. Essentially a painter by profession, it would have been but natural that the technical execution of his designs should have been intrusted to his friend and contemporary Andrea, then the greatest sculptor of his day ; and to that artist and his pupils is undoubtedly due this share in the production of these works.

Twenty-seven in number, the different reliefs represent the creation of man and his subsequent earthly occupations, commencing with the older and more primitive branches of industry, and ending with the higher arts and sciences. The series has its beginning on the western wall, where are represented : the Creation of Han—the Creation of Woman—the Toiling of Adam and Eve–Pastoral Life (Jabal in his Tent) (Pl. 36)—Jubal, the Inventor of Musical Instruments—Tubal Cain, first of Metal-workers—the Drunkenness of Noah, possibly re-presentative of the First Vintage. To the south we have : Astronomy—Building—Pottery-Riding— Weaving (Pl. 37)—the Giving of Law—and Daedalus, representing, according to Mr. Ruskin, the Conquest of the Element of Air. On the eastern side are : Navigation—Hercules and Antceus, or the ” Victory of Intelligence and Civilization over Brute Force “—Agriculture— Trade (?), or rather the Subjection of the Horse to Draught — the Lamb of the Resurrection (above the entrance door)—Geometry. On the north wall : Sculpture and Painting. The remaining five reliefs : Grammar, Arithmetic, Logic, Song, and Harmony, are later works by Luca della Robbia. The second row of reliefs higher up on the walls are undoubtedly productions of the school of Andrea, and in one or two cases possibly by Andrea himself.

Reasons of space unfortunately prevent us from entering -into any detailed description of these truly beautiful compositions. Whatever may have been Giotto’s exact share in their creation, sufficient it is that in them we find, carried to the highest point of possible perfection, all the grandly characteristic qualities of that master’s genius with which we have already become so intimately acquainted in our examination of his paintings. Nowhere do we find his study of Nature shown to better advantage —nowhere, at the same time, is his appreciation of classic models more apparent. In their concise simplicity of conception, in their directness of expression, and in their deep significance of thought, these designs nearly approach the famous Allegories in the Paduan Arena, and are, with them, to be classed among the most characteristic of all the master’s works. Once again, the comparison of Giotto’s conceptions with the treatment of the same subjects by earlier mediaeval artists, and more especially with the work of Niccolo and Giovanni Pisano on the public fountain at Perugia, will reward all who may spare the time to make it. For those who would more closely study these wonderful reliefs, we can but recommend a careful perusal of the sixth chapter of Ruskin’s ” Mornings in Florence.”

Onerous as may have been Giotto’s duties as an archi tect and as an engineer, they do not seem to have interfered, to any really great extent, with his activity as a painter, and it was in this capacity, Villani tells us, that he was sent by the Florentine Republic to Milan, in order to fulfil certain commissions for Azzone Visconti, then lord and ruler of that city, who had expressed his great desire that the master’s services might be spared him for a time. The exact duration of his stay in that city is not known to us, but it was evidently here that Giotto painted his last works, for Villani tells us, that shortly after his return to Florence, he passed away from the scene of his earthly labours on the 8th of January, 1336 (1337)—as full of honour as of years.