MORNINGS IN FLORENCE
JOHN RUSKIN, M.A.
MORNINGS IN FLORENCE.
THE FIRST MORNING.
If there is one artist, more than another, whose work it is desirable
that you should examine in Florence, supposing that you care for old
art at all, it is Giotto. You can, indeed, also see work of his at
Assisi; but it is not likely you will stop there, to any purpose. At
Padua there is much; but only of one period. At Florence, which is his
birthplace, you can see pictures by him of every date, and every kind.
But you had surely better see, first, what is of his best time and of
the best kind. He painted very small pictures and very large--painted
from the age of twelve to sixty--painted some subjects carelessly which
he had little interest in--some carefully with all his heart. You would
surely like, and it would certainly be wise, to see him first in his
strong and earnest work,--to see a painting by him, if possible, of
large size, and wrought with his full strength, and of a subject
pleasing to him. And if it were, also, a subject interesting to
Now, if indeed you are interested in old art, you cannot but know the
power of the thirteenth century. You know that the character of it was
concentrated in, and to the full expressed by, its best king, St.
Louis. You know St. Louis was a Franciscan, and that the Franciscans,
for whom Giotto was continually painting under Dante's advice, were
prouder of him than of any other of their royal brethren or sisters. If
Giotto ever would imagine anybody with care and delight, it would be
St. Louis, if it chanced that anywhere he had St. Louis to paint.
Also, you know that he was appointed to build the Campanile of the
Duomo, because he was then the best master of sculpture, painting, and
architecture in Florence, and supposed to be without superior in the
world. [Footnote: "Cum in universe orbe non reperiri dicatur quenquam
qui sufficientior sit in his et aliis multis artibus magistro Giotto
Bondonis de Florentia, pictore, et accipiendus sit in patria, velut
magnus magister."--(Decree of his appointment, quoted by Lord Lindsay,
vol. ii., p. 247.)]
And that this commission was given him late in life, (of course he
could not have designed the Campanile when he was a boy;) so therefore,
if you find any of his figures painted under pure campanile
architecture, and the architecture by his hand, you know, without other
evidence, that the painting must be of his strongest time.
So if one wanted to find anything of his to begin with, especially, and
could choose what it should be, one would say, "A fresco, life size,
with campanile architecture behind it, painted in an important place;
and if one might choose one's subject, perhaps the most interesting
saint of all saints--for him to do for us--would be St. Louis."
Wait then for an entirely bright morning; rise with the sun, and go to
Santa Croce, with a good opera-glass in your pocket, with which you
shall for once, at any rate, see an opus; and, if you have time,
several opera. Walk straight to the chapel on the right of the choir
("k" in your Murray's guide). When you first get into it, you will see
nothing but a modern window of glaring glass, with a red-hot cardinal
in one pane--which piece of modern manufacture takes away at least
seven-eighths of the light (little enough before) by which you might
have seen what is worth sight. Wait patiently till you get used to the
gloom. Then, guarding your eyes from the accursed modern window as best
you may, take your opera-glass and look to the right, at the uppermost
of the two figures beside it. It is St. Louis, under campanile
architecture, painted by--Giotto? or the last Florentine painter who
wanted a job--over Giotto? That is the first question you have to
determine; as you will have henceforward, in every case in which you
look at a fresco.
Sometimes there will be no question at all. These two grey frescos at
the bottom of the walls on the right and left, for instance, have been
entirely got up for your better satisfaction, in the last year or two
--over Giotto's half-effaced lines. But that St. Louis? Re-painted or
not, it is a lovely thing,--there can be no question about that; and we
must look at it, after some preliminary knowledge gained, not
Your Murray's Guide tells you that this chapel of the Bardi della
Liberta, in which you stand, is covered with frescos by Giotto; that
they were whitewashed, and only laid bare in 1853; that they were
painted between 1296 and 1304; that they represent scenes in the life
of St. Francis; and that on each side of the window are paintings of
St. Louis of Toulouse, St. Louis king of France, St. Elizabeth, of
Hungary, and St. Claire,--"all much restored and repainted." Under such
recommendation, the frescos are not likely to be much sought after; and
accordingly, as I was at work in the chapel this morning, Sunday, 6th
September, 1874, two nice-looking Englishmen, under guard of their
valet de place, passed the chapel without so much as looking in.
You will perhaps stay a little longer in it with me, good reader, and
find out gradually where you are. Namely, in the most interesting and
perfect little Gothic chapel in all Italy--so far as I know or can
hear. There is no other of the great time which has all its frescos in
their place. The Arena, though far larger, is of earlier date--not pure
Gothic, nor showing Giotto's full force. The lower chapel at Assisi is
not Gothic at all, and is still only of Giotto's middle time. You have
here, developed Gothic, with Giotto in his consummate strength, and
nothing lost, in form, of the complete design.
By restoration--judicious restoration, as Mr. Murray usually calls it
--there is no saying how much you have lost, Putting the question of
restoration out of your mind, however, for a while, think where you
are, and what you have got to look at.
You are in the chapel next the high altar of the great Franciscan
church of Florence. A few hundred yards west of you, within ten
minutes' walk, is the Baptistery of Florence. And five minutes' walk
west of that is the great Dominican church of Florence, Santa Maria
Get this little bit of geography, and architectural fact, well into
your mind. There is the little octagon Baptistery in the middle; here,
ten minutes' walk east of it, the Franciscan church of the Holy Cross;
there, five minutes walk west of it, the Dominican church of St. Mary.
Now, that little octagon Baptistery stood where it now stands (and was
finished, though the roof has been altered since) in the eighth
century. It is the central building of Etrurian Christianity,--of
From the day it was finished, Christianity went on doing her best, in
Etruria and elsewhere, for four hundred years,--and her best seemed to
have come to very little,--when there rose up two men who vowed to God
it should come to more. And they made it come to more, forthwith; of
which the immediate sign in Florence was that she resolved to have a
fine new cross-shaped cathedral instead of her quaint old little
octagon one; and a tower beside it that should beat Babel:--which two
buildings you have also within sight.
But your business is not at present with them; but with these two
earlier churches of Holy Cross and St. Mary. The two men who were the
effectual builders of these were the two great religious Powers and
Reformers of the thirteenth century;--St. Francis, who taught Christian
men how they should behave, and St. Dominic, who taught Christian men
what they should think. In brief, one the Apostle of Works; the other
of Faith. Each sent his little company of disciples to teach and to
preach in Florence: St. Francis in 1212; St. Dominic in 1220.
The little companies were settled--one, ten minutes' walk east of the
old Baptistery; the other five minutes' walk west of it. And after they
had stayed quietly in such lodgings as were given them, preaching and
teaching through most of the century; and had got Florence, as it were,
heated through, she burst out into Christian poetry and architecture,
of which you have heard much talk:--burst into bloom of Arnolfo,
Giotto, Dante, Orcagna, and the like persons, whose works you profess
to have come to Florence that you may see and understand.
Florence then, thus heated through, first helped her teachers to build
finer churches. The Dominicans, or White Friars the Teachers of Faith,
began their church of St. Mary's in 1279. The Franciscans, or Black
Friars, the teachers of Works, laid the first stone of this church of
the Holy Cross in 1294. And the whole city laid the foundations of its
new cathedral in 1298. The Dominicans designed their own building; but
for the Franciscans and the town worked the first great master of
Gothic art, Arnolfo; with Giotto at his side, and Dante looking on, and
whispering sometimes a word to both.
And here you stand beside the high altar of the Franciscans' church,
under a vault of Arnolfo's building, with at least some of Giotto's
colour on it still fresh; and in front of you, over the little altar,
is the only reportedly authentic portrait of St. Francis, taken from
life by Giotto's master. Yet I can hardly blame my two English friends
for never looking in. Except in the early morning light, not one touch
of all this art can be seen. And in any light, unless you understand
the relations of Giotto to St. Francis, and of St. Francis to humanity,
it will be of little interest.
Observe, then, the special character of Giotto among the great painters
of Italy is his being a practical person. Whatever other men dreamed
of, he did. He could work in mosaic; he could work in marble; he could
paint; and he could build; and all thoroughly: a man of supreme
faculty, supreme common sense. Accordingly, he ranges himself at once
among the disciples of the Apostle of Works, and spends most of his
time in the same apostleship.
Now the gospel of Works, according to St. Francis, lay in three things.
You must work without money, and be poor. You must work without
pleasure, and be chaste. You must work according to orders, and be
Those are St. Francis's three articles of Italian opera. By which grew
the many pretty things you have come to see here.
And now if you will take your opera-glass and look up to the roof above
Arnolfo's building, you will see it is a pretty Gothic cross vault, in
four quarters, each with a circular medallion, painted by Giotto. That
over the altar has the picture of St. Francis himself. The three
others, of his Commanding Angels. In front of him, over the entrance
arch, Poverty. On his right hand, Obedience. On his left, Chastity.
Poverty, in a red patched dress, with grey wings, and a square nimbus
of glory above her head, is flying from a black hound, whose head is
seen at the corner of the medallion.
Chastity, veiled, is imprisoned in a tower, while angels watch her.
Obedience bears a yoke on her shoulders, and lays her hand on a book.
Now, this same quatrefoil, of St. Francis and his three Commanding
Angels, was also painted, but much more elaborately, by Giotto, on the
cross vault of the lower church of Assisi, and it is a question of
interest which of the two roofs was painted first.
Your Murray's Guide tells you the frescos in this chapel were painted
between 1296 and 1304. But as they represent, among other personages,
St. Louis of Toulouse, who was not canonized till 1317, that statement
is not altogether tenable. Also, as the first stone of the church was
only laid in 1294, when Giotto was a youth of eighteen, it is little
likely that either it would have been ready to be painted, or he ready
with his scheme of practical divinity, two years later.
Farther, Arnolfo, the builder of the main body of the church, died in
1310. And as St. Louis of Toulouse was not a saint till seven years
afterwards, and the frescos therefore beside the window not painted in
Arnolfo's day, it becomes another question whether Arnolfo left the
chapels or the church at all, in their present form.
On which point--now that I have shown you where Giotto's St. Louis is
--I will ask you to think awhile, until you are interested; and then I
will try to satisfy your curiosity. There fore, please leave the little
chapel for the moment, and walk down the nave, till you come to two
sepulchral slabs near the west end, and then look about you and see
what sort of a church Santa Croce is.
Without looking about you at all, you may find, in your Murray, the
useful information that it is a church which "consists of a very wide
nave and lateral aisles, separated by seven fine pointed arches." And
as you will be--under ordinary conditions of tourist hurry--glad to
learn so much, _without_ looking, it is little likely to occur to
you that this nave and two rich aisles required also, for your complete
present comfort, walls at both ends, and a roof on the top. It is just
possible, indeed, you may have been struck, on entering, by the curious
disposition of painted glass at the east end;--more remotely possible
that, in returning down the nave, you may this moment have noticed the
extremely small circular window at the west end; but the chances are a
thousand to one that, after being pulled from tomb to tomb round the
aisles and chapels, you should take so extraordinary an additional
amount of pains as to look up at the roof,--unless you do it now,
quietly. It will have had its effect upon you, even if you don't,
without your knowledge. You will return home with a general impression
that Santa Croce is, somehow, the ugliest Gothic church you ever were
in. Well, that is really so; and now, will you take the pains to see
There are two features, on which, more than on any others, the grace
and delight of a fine Gothic building depends; one is the springing of
its vaultings, the other the proportion and fantasy of its traceries.
_This_ church of Santa Croce has no vaultings at all, but the roof
of a farm-house barn. And its windows are all of the same pattern,--the
exceedingly prosaic one of two pointed arches, with a round hole above,
And to make the simplicity of the roof more conspicuous, the aisles are
successive sheds, built at every arch. In the aisles of the Campo Santo
of Pisco, the unbroken flat roof leaves the eye free to look to the
traceries; but here, a succession of up-and-down sloping beam and lath
gives the impression of a line of stabling rather than a church aisle.
And lastly, while, in fine Gothic buildings, the entire perspective
concludes itself gloriously in the high and distant apse, here the nave
is cut across sharply by a line of ten chapels, the apse being only a
tall recess in the midst of them, so that, strictly speaking, the
church is not of the form of a cross, but of a letter T.
Can this clumsy and ungraceful arrangement be indeed the design of the
Yes, this is purest Arnolfo-Gothic; not beautiful by any means; but
deserving, nevertheless, our thoughtfullest examination. We will trace
its complete character another day; just now we are only concerned with
this pre-Christian form of the letter T, insisted upon in the lines of
Respecting which you are to observe, that the first Christian churches
in the catacombs took the form of a blunt cross naturally; a square
chamber having a vaulted recess on each side; then the Byzantine
churches were structurally built in the form of an equal cross; while
the heraldic and other ornamental equal-armed crosses are partly signs
of glory and victory, partly of light, and divine spiritual presence.
[Footnote: See, on this subject generally, Mr. R. St. J. Tyrwhitt's
"Art-Teaching of the Primitive Church." S. P. B. K., 1874.]
But the Franciscans and Dominicans saw in the cross no sign of triumph,
but of trial.[Footnote: I have never obtained time for any right study
of early Christian church-discipline,--nor am I sure to how many other
causes, the choice of the form of the basilica may be occasionally
attributed, or by what other communities it may be made. Symbolism, for
instance, has most power with the Franciscans, and convenience for
preaching with the Dominicans; but in all cases, and in all places, the
transition from the close tribune to the brightly-lighted apse,
indicates the change in Christian feeling between regarding a church as
a place for public judgment or teaching, or a place for private prayer
and congregational praise. The following passage from the Dean of
Westminster's perfect history of his Abbey ought to be read also in the
Florentine church:--"The nearest approach to Westminster Abbey in this
aspect is the church of Santa Croce at Florence. There, as here, the
present destination of the building was no part of the original design,
but was the result of various converging causes. As the church of one
of the two great preaching orders, it had a nave large beyond all
proportion to its choir. That order being the Franciscan, bound by vows
of poverty, the simplicity of the worship preserved the whole space
clear from any adventitious ornaments. The popularity of the
Franciscans, especially in a convent hallowed by a visit from St.
Francis himself, drew to it not only the chief civic festivals, but
also the numerous families who gave alms to the friars, and whose
connection with their church was, for this reason, in turn encouraged
by them. In those graves, piled with standards und achievements of the
noble families of Florence, were successively interred--not because of
their eminence, but as members or friends of those families--some of
the most illustrious personages of the fifteenth century. Thus it came
to pass, as if by accident, that in the vault of the Buonarotti was
laid Michael Angelo; in the vault of the Viviani the preceptor of one
of their house, Galileo. From those two burials the church gradually be
same the recognized shrine of Italian genius."] The wounds of their
Master were to be their inheritance. So their first aim was to make
what image to the cross their church might present, distinctly that of
the actual instrument of death.
And they did this most effectually by using the form of the letter T,
that of the Furca or Gibbet,--not the sign of peace.
Also, their churches were meant for use; not show, nor self-glorification,
nor town-glorification. They wanted places for preaching, prayer,
sacrifice, burial; and had no intention of showing how high they could
build towers, or how widely they could arch vaults. Strong walls, and the
roof of a barn,--these your Franciscan asks of his Arnolfo. These Arnolfo
gives,--thoroughly and wisely built; the successions of gable roof being
a new device for strength, much praised in its day.
This stern humor did not last long. Arnolfo himself had other notions;
much more Cimabue and Giotto; most of all, Nature and Heaven. Something
else had to be taught about Christ than that He was wounded to death.
Nevertheless, look how grand this stern form would be, restored to its
simplicity. It is not the old church which is in itself unimpressive.
It is the old church defaced by Vasari, by Michael Angelo, and by
modern Florence. See those huge tombs on your right hand and left, at
the sides of the aisles, with their alternate gable and round tops, and
their paltriest of all possible sculpture, trying to be grand by
bigness, and pathetic by expense. Tear them all down in your
imagination; fancy the vast hall with its massive pillars,--not painted
calomel-pill colour, as now, but of their native stone, with a rough,
true wood for roof,--and a people praying beneath them, strong in
abiding, and pure in life, as their rocks and olive forests That was
Arnolfo's Santa Croce. Nor did his work remain long without grace.
That very line of chapels in which we found our St. Louis shows signs
of change in temper. _They_ have no pent-house roofs, but true
Gothic vaults: we found our four-square type of Franciscan Law on one
It is probable, then, that these chapels may be later than the rest
--even in their stonework. In their decoration, they are so, assuredly;
belonging already to the time when the story of St. Francis was becoming
a passionate tradition, told and painted everywhere with delight.
And that high recess, taking the place of apse, in the centre,--see how
noble it is in the coloured shade surrounding and joining the glow of
its windows, though their form be so simple. You are not to be amused
here by patterns in balanced stone, as a French or English architect
would amuse you, says Arnolfo. "You are to read and think, under these
severe walls of mine; immortal hands will write upon them." We will go
back, therefore, into this line of manuscript chapels presently; but
first, look at the two sepulchral slabs by which you are standing. That
farther of the two from the west end is one of the most beautiful
pieces of fourteenth century sculpture in this world; and it contains
simple elements of excellence, by your understanding of which you may
test your power of understanding the more difficult ones you will have
to deal with presently.
It represents an old man, in the high deeply-folded cap worn by
scholars and gentlemen in Florence from 1300--1500, lying dead, with a
book in his breast, over which his hands are folded. At his feet is
this inscription: "Temporibus hic suis phylosophye atq. medicine culmen
fuit Galileus de Galileis olim Bonajutis qui etiam summo in magistratu
miro quodam modo rempublicam dilexit, cujus sancte memorie bene acte
vite pie benedictus filius hunc tumulum patri sibi suisq. posteris
Mr. Murray tells you that the effigies "in low relief" (alas, yes, low
enough now--worn mostly into flat stones, with a trace only of the
deeper lines left, but originally in very bold relief,) with which the
floor of Santa Croce is inlaid, of which this by which you stand is
characteristic, are "interesting from the costume," but that, "except
in the case of John Ketterick, Bishop of St. David's, few of the other
names have any interest beyond the walls of Florence." As, however, you
are at present within the walls of Florence, you may perhaps condescend
to take some interest in this ancestor or relation of the Galileo whom
Florence indeed left to be externally interesting, and would not allow
to enter in her walls.
"Seven years a prisoner at the city gate,
Let in but his grave-clothes."
I am not sure if I rightly place or construe the phrase in the above
inscription, "cujus sancte memorie bene acte;" but, in main purport,
the legend runs thus: "This Galileo of the Galilei was, in his times,
the head of philosophy and medicine; who also in the highest magistracy
loved the republic marvellously; whose son, blessed in inheritance of
his holy memory and well-passed and pious life, appointed this tomb for
his father, for himself, and for his posterity."
There is no date; but the slab immediately behind it, nearer the
western door, is of the same style, but of later and inferior work, and
bears date--I forget now of what early year in the fifteenth century.
But Florence was still in her pride; and you may observe, in this
epitaph, on what it was based. That her philosophy was studied
_together with useful arts,_ and as a part of them; that the
masters in these became naturally the masters in public affairs; that
in such magistracy, they loved the State, and neither cringed to it nor
robbed it; that the sons honoured their fathers, and received their
fathers' honour as the most blessed inheritance. Remember the phrase
"vite pie bene dictus filius," to be compared with the "nos nequiores"
of the declining days of all states,--chiefly now in Florence, France
Thus much for the local interest of name. Next for the universal
interest of the art of this tomb.
It is the crowning virtue of all great art that, however little is left
of it by the injuries of time, that little will be lovely. As long as
you can see anything, you can see--almost all;--so much the hand of the
master will suggest of his soul.
And here you are well quit, for once, of restoration. No one cares for
this sculpture; and if Florence would only thus put all her old
sculpture and painting under her feet, and simply use them for
gravestones and oilcloth, she would be more merciful to them than she
is now. Here, at least, what little is left is true.
And, if you look long, you will find it is not so little. That worn
face is still a perfect portrait of the old man, though like one struck
out at a venture, with a few rough touches of a master's chisel. And
that falling drapery of his cap is, in its few lines, faultless, and
subtle beyond description.
And now, here is a simple but most useful test of your capacity for
understanding Florentine sculpture or painting. If you can see that the
lines of that cap are both right, and lovely; that the choice of the
folds is exquisite in its ornamental relations of line; and that the
softness and ease of them is complete,--though only sketched with a few
dark touches,--then you can understand Giotto's drawing, and
Botticelli's;--Donatello's carving and Luca's. But if you see nothing
in _this_ sculpture, you will see nothing in theirs, _of_ theirs. Where
they choose to imitate flesh, or silk, or to play any vulgar modern trick
with marble--(and they often do)--whatever, in a word, is French, or
American, or Cockney, in their work, you can see; but what is Florentine,
and for ever great--unless you can see also the beauty of this old man
in his citizen's cap,--you will see never.
There is more in this sculpture, however, than its simple portraiture
and noble drapery. The old man lies on a piece of embroidered carpet;
and, protected by the higher relief, many of the finer lines of this
are almost uninjured; in particular, its exquisitely-wrought fringe and
tassels are nearly perfect. And if you will kneel down and look long at
the tassels of the cushion under the head, and the way they fill the
angles of the stone, you will,--or may--know, from this example alone,
what noble decorative sculpture is, and was, and must be, from the days
of earliest Greece to those of latest Italy.
"Exquisitely sculptured fringe!" and you have just been abusing
sculptors who play tricks with marble! Yes, and you cannot find a
better example, in all the museums of Europe, of the work of a man who
does _not_ play tricks with it--than this tomb. Try to understand
the difference: it is a point of quite cardinal importance to all your
future study of sculpture.
I _told_ you, observe, that the old Galileo was lying on a piece
of embroidered carpet. I don't think, if I had not told you, that you
would have found it out for yourself. It is not so like a carpet as all
that comes to.
But had it been a modern trick-sculpture, the moment you came to the
tomb you would have said, "Dear me! how wonderfully that carpet is
done,--it doesn't look like stone in the least--one longs to take it up
and beat it, to get the dust off."
Now whenever you feel inclined to speak so of a sculptured drapery, be
assured, without more ado, the sculpture is base, and bad. You will
merely waste your time and corrupt your taste by looking at it. Nothing
is so easy as to imitate drapery in marble. You may cast a piece any
day; and carve it with such subtlety that the marble shall be an
absolute image of the folds. But that is not sculpture. That is
No great sculptor, from the beginning of art to the end of it, has ever
carved, or ever will, a deceptive drapery. He has neither time nor will
to do it. His mason's lad may do that if he likes. A man who can carve
a limb or a face never finishes inferior parts, but either with a hasty
and scornful chisel, or with such grave and strict selection of their
lines as you know at once to be imaginative, not imitative.
But if, as in this case, he wants to oppose the simplicity of his
central subject with a rich background,--a labyrinth of ornamental
lines to relieve the severity of expressive ones,--he will carve you a
carpet, or a tree, or a rose thicket, with their fringes and leaves and
thorns, elaborated as richly as natural ones; but always for the sake
of the ornamental form, never of the imitation; yet, seizing the
natural character in the lines he gives, with twenty times the
precision and clearness of sight that the mere imitator has. Examine
the tassels of the cushion, and the way they blend with the fringe,
thoroughly; you cannot possibly see finer ornamental sculpture. Then,
look at the same tassels in the same place of the slab next the west
end of the church, and you will see a scholar's rude imitation of a
master's hand, though in a fine school. (Notice, however, the folds of
the drapery at the feet of this figure: they are cut so as to show the
hem of the robe within as well as without, and are fine.) Then, as you
go back to Giotto's chapel, keep to the left, and just beyond the north
door in the aisle is the much celebrated tomb of C. Marsuppini, by
Desiderio of Settignano. It is very fine of its kind; but there the
drapery is chiefly done to cheat you, and chased delicately to show how
finely the sculptor could chisel it. It is wholly vulgar and mean in
cast of fold. Under your feet, as you look at it, you will tread
another tomb of the fine time, which, looking last at, you will
recognize the difference between the false and true art, as far as
there is capacity in you at present to do so. And if you really and
honestly like the low-lying stones, and see more beauty in them, you
have also the power of enjoying Giotto, into whose chapel we will
return to-morrow;--not to-day, for the light must have left it by this
time; and now that you have been looking at these sculptures on the
floor you had better traverse nave and aisle across and across; and get
some idea of that sacred field of stone. In the north transept you will
find a beautiful knight, the finest in chiselling of all these tombs,
except one by the same hand in the south aisle just where it enters the
Examine the lines of the Gothic niches traced above them; and what is
left of arabesque on their armour. They are far more beautiful and
tender in chivalric conception than Donatello's St. George, which is
merely a piece of vigorous naturalism founded on these older tombs. If
you will drive in the evening to the Chartreuse in Val d'Ema, you may
see there an uninjured example of this slab-tomb by Donatello himself;
very beautiful; but not so perfect as the earlier ones on which it is
founded. And you may see some fading light and shade of monastic life,
among which if you stay till the fireflies come out in the twilight,
and thus get to sleep when you come home, you will be better prepared
for to-morrow morning's walk--if you will take another with me--than if
you go to a party, to talk sentiment about Italy, and hear the last
news from London and New York.
THE SECOND MORNING.
THE GOLDEN GATE.
To-day, as early as you please, and at all events before doing anything
else, let us go to Giotto's own parish-church, Santa Maria Novella. If,
walking from the Strozzi Palace, you look on your right for the "Way of
the Beautiful Ladies," it will take you quickly there.
Do not let anything in the way of acquaintance, sacristan, or chance
sight, stop you in doing what I tell you. Walk straight up to the
church, into the apse of it;--(you may let your eyes rest, as you walk,
on the glow of its glass, only mind the step, half way;)--and lift the
curtain; and go in behind the grand marble altar, giving anybody who
follows you anything they want, to hold their tongues, or go away.
You know, most probably, already, that the frescos on each side of you
are Ghirlandajo's. You have been told they are very fine, and if you
know anything of painting, you know the portraits in them are so.
Nevertheless, somehow, you don't really enjoy these frescos, nor come
often here, do you?
The reason of which is, that if you are a nice person, they are not
nice enough for you; and if a vulgar person, not vulgar enough. But if
you are a nice person, I want you to look carefully, to-day, at the two
lowest, next the windows, for a few minutes, that you may better feel
the art you are really to study, by its contrast with these.
On your left hand is represented the birth of the Virgin, On your
right, her meeting with Elizabeth.
You can't easily see better pieces--nowhere more pompous pieces--of
flat goldsmiths' work. Ghirlandajo was to the end of his life a mere
goldsmith, with a gift of portraiture. And here he has done his best,
and has put a long wall in wonderful perspective, and the whole city of
Florence behind Elizabeth's house in the hill country; and a splendid
bas-relief, in the style of Luca della Robbia, in St. Anne's bedroom;
and he has carved all the pilasters, and embroidered all the dresses,
and flourished and trumpeted into every corner; and it is all done,
within just a point, as well as it can be done; and quite as well as
Ghirlandajo could do it. But the point in which it _just_ misses
being as well as it can be done, is the vital point. And it is all
simply--good for nothing.
Extricate yourself from the goldsmith's rubbish of it, and look full at
the Salutation. You will say, perhaps, at first, "What grand and
graceful figures!" Are you sure they are graceful? Look again and you
will see their draperies hang from them exactly as they would from two
clothes-pegs. Now, fine drapery, really well drawn, as it hangs from a
clothes-peg, is always rather impressive, especially if it be disposed
in large breadths and deep folds; but that is the only grace of their
Secondly. Look at the Madonna, carefully. You will find she is not the
least meek--only stupid,--as all the other women in the picture are.
"St. Elizabeth, you think, is nice"? Yes; "and she says, 'Whence is
this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?' really with
a great deal of serious feeling?" Yes, with a great deal. Well, you
have looked enough at those two. Now--just for another minute--look at
the birth of the Virgin. "A most graceful group, (your Murray's Guide
tells you,) in the attendant servants." Extremely so. Also, the one
holding the child is rather pretty. Also, the servant pouring out the
water does it from a great height, without splashing, most cleverly.
Also, the lady coming to ask for St. Anne, and see the baby, walks
majestically and is very finely dressed. And as for that bas-relief in
the style of Luca della Robbia, you might really almost think it
_was_ Luca! The very best plated goods, Master Ghirlandajo, no
doubt--always on hand at your shop.
Well, now you must ask for the Sacristan, who is civil and nice enough,
and get him to let you into the green cloister, and then go into the
less cloister opening out of it on the right, as you go down the steps;
and you must ask for the tomb of the Marcheza Stiozzi Ridolfi; and in
the recess behind the Marcheza's tomb--very close to the ground, and in
excellent light, if the day is fine--you will see two small frescos,
only about four feet wide each, in odd-shaped bits of wall--quarters of
circles; representing--that on the left, the Meeting of Joachim and
Anna at the Golden Gate; and that on the right, the Birth of the
No flourish of trumpets here, at any rate, you think! No gold on the
gate; and, for the birth of the Virgin--is this all! Goodness!--nothing
to be seen, whatever, of bas-reliefs, nor fine dresses, nor graceful
pourings out of water, nor processions of visitors?
No. There's but one thing you can see, here, which you didn't in
Ghirlandajo's fresco, unless you were very clever and looked hard for
it--the Baby! And you are never likely to see a more true piece of
Giotto's work in this world.
A round-faced, small-eyed little thing, tied up in a bundle!
Yes, Giotto was of opinion she must have appeared really not much else
than that. But look at the servant who has just finished dressing her;
--awe-struck, full of love and wonder, putting her hand softly on the
child's head, who has never cried. The nurse, who has just taken her,
is--the nurse, and no more: tidy in the extreme, and greatly proud and
pleased: but would be as much so with any other child.
Ghirlandajo's St. Anne (I ought to have told you to notice that,--you
can afterwards) is sitting strongly up in bed, watching, if not
directing, all that is going on. Giotto's lying down on the pillow,
leans her face on her hand; partly exhausted, partly in deep thought.
She knows that all will be well done for the child, either by the
servants, or God; she need not look after anything.
At the foot of the bed is the midwife, and a servant who has brought
drink for St. Anne. The servant stops, seeing her so quiet; asking the
midwife, Shall I give it her now? The midwife, her hands lifted under
her robe, in the attitude of thanksgiving, (with Giotto distinguishable
always, though one doesn't know how, from that of prayer,) answers,
with her look, "Let be--she does not want anything."
At the door a single acquaintance is coming in, to see the child. Of
ornament, there is only the entirely simple outline of the vase which
the servant carries; of colour, two or three masses of sober red, and
pure white, with brown and gray.
That is all. And if you can be pleased with this, you can see Florence.
But if not, by all means amuse yourself there, if you find it amusing,
as long as you like; you can never see it.
But if indeed you are pleased, ever so little, with this fresco, think
what that pleasure means. I brought you, on purpose, round, through the
richest overture, and farrago of tweedledum and tweedledee, I could
find in Florence; and here is a tune of four notes, on a shepherd's
pipe, played by the picture of nobody; and yet you like it! You know
what music is, then. Here is another little tune, by the same player,
and sweeter. I let you hear the simplest first.
The fresco on the left hand, with the bright blue sky, and the rosy
figures! Why, anybody might like that!
Yes; but, alas, all the blue sky is repainted. It _was_ blue
always, however, and bright too; and I dare say, when the fresco was
first done, anybody _did_ like it.
You know the story of Joachim and Anna, I hope? Not that I do, myself,
quite in the ins and outs; and if you don't I'm not going to keep you
waiting while I tell it. All you need know, and you scarcely, before
this fresco, need know so much, is, that here are an old husband and
old wife, meeting again by surprise, after losing each other, and being
each in great fear;--meeting at the place where they were told by God
each to go, without knowing what was to happen there.
"So they rushed into one another's arms, and kissed each other."
No, says Giotto,--not that.
"They advanced to meet, in a manner conformable to the strictest laws
of composition; and with their draperies cast into folds which no one
until Raphael could have arranged better."
No, says Giotto,--not that.
St. Anne has moved quickest; her dress just falls into folds sloping
backwards enough to tell you so much. She has caught St. Joachim by his
mantle, and draws him to her, softly, by that. St. Joachim lays his
hand under her arm, seeing she is like to faint, and holds her up. They
do not kiss each other--only look into each other's eyes. And God's
angel lays his hand on their heads.
Behind them, there are two rough figures, busied with their own
affairs,--two of Joachim's shepherds; one, bare headed, the other
wearing the wide Florentine cap with the falling point behind, which is
exactly like the tube of a larkspur or violet; both carrying game, and
talking to each other about--Greasy Joan and her pot, or the like. Not
at all the sort of persons whom you would have thought in harmony with
the scene;--by the laws of the drama, according to Racine or Voltaire.
No, but according to Shakespeare, or Giotto, these are just the kind of
persons likely to be there: as much as the angel is likely to be there
also, though you will be told nowadays that Giotto was absurd for
putting _him_ into the sky, of which an apothecary can always
produce the similar blue, in a bottle. And now that you have had
Shakespeare, and sundry other men of head and heart, following the
track of this shepherd lad, _you_ can forgive him his grotesques
in the corner. But that he should have forgiven them to himself, after
the training he had, this is the wonder! _We_ have seen simple
pictures enough in our day; and therefore we think that of course
shepherd boys will sketch shepherds: what wonder is there in that?
I can show you how in _this_ shepherd boy it was very wonderful
indeed, if you will walk for five minutes back into the church with me,
and up into the chapel at the end of the south transept,--at least if
the day is bright, and you get the Sacristan to undraw the window-curtain
in the transept itself. For then the light of it will be enough to show
you the entirely authentic and most renowned work of Giotto's master; and
you will see through what schooling the lad had gone.
A good and brave master he was, if ever boy had one; and, as you will
find when you know really who the great men are, the master is half
their life; and well they know it--always naming themselves from their
master, rather than their families. See then what kind of work Giotto
had been first put to. There is, literally, not a square inch of all
that panel--some ten feet high by six or seven wide--which is not
wrought in gold and colour with the fineness of a Greek manuscript.
There is not such an elaborate piece of ornamentation in the first page
of any Gothic king's missal, as you will find in that Madonna's
throne;--the Madonna herself is meant to be grave and noble only; and
to be attended only by angels.
And here is this saucy imp of a lad declares his people must do without
gold, and without thrones; nay, that the Golden Gate itself shall have
no gilding that St. Joachim and St. Anne shall have only one angel
between them: and their servants shall have their joke, and nobody say
It is most wonderful; and would have been impossible, had Cimabue been
a common man, though ever so great in his own way. Nor could I in any
of my former thinking understand how it was, till I saw Cimabue's own
work at Assisi; in which he shows himself, at heart, as independent of
his gold as Giotto,--even more intense, capable of higher things than
Giotto, though of none, perhaps, so keen or sweet. But to this day,
among all the Mater Dolorosas of Christianity, Cimabue's at Assisi is
the noblest; nor did any painter after him add one link to the chain of
thought with which he summed the creation of the earth, and preached
He evidently never checked the boy, from the first day he found him.
Showed him all he knew: talked with him of many things he felt himself
unable to paint: made him a workman and a gentleman,--above all, a
Christian,--yet left him--a shepherd. And Heaven had made him such a
painter, that, at his height, the words of his epitaph are in nowise
overwrought: "Ille ego sum, per quem pictura extincta revixit."
A word or two, now, about the repainting by which _this_ pictura
extincta has been revived to meet existing taste. The sky is entirely
daubed over with fresh blue; yet it leaves with unusual care the
original outline of the descending angel, and of the white clouds about
his body. This idea of the angel laying his hands on the two heads--(as
a bishop at Confirmation does, in a hurry; and I've seen one sweep four
together, like Arnold de Winkelied),--partly in blessing, partly as a
symbol of their being brought together to the same place by God,--was
afterwards repeated again and again: there is one beautiful little echo
of it among the old pictures in the schools of Oxford. This is the
first occurrence of it that I know in pure Italian painting; but the
idea is Etruscan-Greek, and is used by the Etruscan sculptors of the
door of the Baptistery of Pisa, of the _evil_ angel, who "lays the
heads together" of two very different persons from these--Herodias and
Joachim, and the shepherd with the larkspur cap, are both quite safe;
the other shepherd a little reinforced; the black bunches of grass,
hanging about are retouches. They were once bunches of plants drawn
with perfect delicacy and care; you may see one left, faint, with
heart-shaped leaves, on the highest ridge of rock above the shepherds.
The whole landscape is, however, quite undecipherably changed and
You will be apt to think at first, that if anything has been restored,
surely the ugly shepherd's uglier feet have. No, not at all. Restored
feet are always drawn with entirely orthodox and academical toes, like
the Apollo Belvidere's. You would have admired them very much. These
are Giotto's own doing, every bit; and a precious business he has had
of it, trying again and again--in vain. Even hands were difficult
enough to him, at this time; but feet, and bare legs! Well, he'll have
a try, he thinks, and gets really a fair line at last, when you are
close to it; but, laying the light on the ground afterwards, he dare
not touch this precious and dear-bought outline. Stops all round it, a
quarter of an inch off, [Footnote: Perhaps it is only the restorer's
white on the ground that stops; but I think a restorer would never have
been so wise, but have gone right up to the outline, and spoiled all.]
with such effect as you see. But if you want to know what sort of legs
and feet he _can_ draw, look at our _lambs_, in the corner of
the fresco under the arch on your left!
And there is one on your right, though more repainted--the little
Virgin presenting herself at the Temple,--about which I could also say
much. The stooping figure, kissing the hem of her robe without her
knowing, is, as far as I remember, first in this fresco; the origin,
itself, of the main design in all the others you know so well; (and
with its steps, by the way, in better perspective already than most of
"_This_ the original one!" you will be inclined to exclaim, if you
have any general knowledge of the subsequent art. "_This_ Giotto!
why it's a cheap rechauffe of Titian!" No, my friend. The boy who tried
so hard to draw those steps in perspective had been carried down
others, to his grave, two hundred years before Titian ran alone at
Cadore. But, as surely as Venice looks on the sea, Titian looked upon
this, and caught the reflected light of it forever.
What kind of boy is this, think you, who can make Titian his copyist,
--Dante his friend? What new power is here which is to change the heart
of Italy?--can you see it, feel it, writing before you these words on
the faded wall?
"You shall see things--as they Are."
"And the least with the greatest, because God made them."
"And the greatest with the least, because God made _you_, and gave
you eyes and a heart."
I. You shall see things--as they are. So easy a matter that, you think?
So much more difficult and sublime to paint grand processions and
golden thrones, than St. Anne faint on her pillow, and her servant at
Easy or not, it is all the sight that is required of you in this
world,--to see things, and men, and yourself,--as they are.
II. And the least with the greatest, because God made them,--shepherd,
and flock, and grass of the field, no less than the Golden Gate.
III. But also the golden gate of Heaven itself, open, and the angels of
God coming down from it.
These three things Giotto taught, and men believed, in his day. Of
which Faith you shall next see brighter work; only before we leave the
cloister, I want to sum for you one or two of the instant and evident
technical changes produced in the school of Florence by this teaching.
One of quite the first results of Giotto's simply looking at things as
they were, was his finding out that a red thing was red, and a brown
thing brown, and a white thing white--all over.
The Greeks had painted anything anyhow,--gods black, horses red, lips
and cheeks white; and when the Etruscan vase expanded into a Cimabue
picture, or a Tafi mosaic, still,--except that the Madonna was to have
a blue dress, and everything else as much gold on it as could be
managed,--there was very little advance in notions of colour. Suddenly,
Giotto threw aside all the glitter, and all the conventionalism; and
declared that he saw the sky blue, the tablecloth white, and angels,
when he dreamed of them, rosy. And he simply founded the schools of
colour in Italy--Venetian and all, as I will show you to-morrow
morning, if it is fine. And what is more, nobody discovered much about
colour after him.
But a deeper result of his resolve to look at things as they were, was
his getting so heartily interested in them that he couldn't miss their
decisive _moment_. There is a decisive instant in all matters; and
if you look languidly, you are sure to miss it. Nature seems always,
somehow, trying to make you miss it. "I will see that through," you
must say, "with out turning my head"; or you won't see the trick of it
at all. And the most significant thing in all his work, you will find
hereafter, is his choice of moments. I will give you at once two
instances in a picture which, for other reasons, you should quickly
compare with these frescos. Return by the Via delle Belle Donne; keep
the Casa Strozzi on your right; and go straight on, through the market.
The Florentines think themselves so civilized, forsooth, for building a
nuovo Lung-Arno, and three manufactory chimneys opposite it: and yet
sell butchers' meat, dripping red, peaches, and anchovies, side by
side: it is a sight to be seen. Much more, Luca della Robbia's Madonna
in the circle above the chapel door. Never pass near the market without
looking at it; and glance from the vegetables underneath to Luca's
leaves and lilies, that you may see how honestly he was trying to make
his clay like the garden-stuff. But to-day, you may pass quickly on to
the Uffizii, which will be just open; and when you enter the great
gallery, turn to the right, and there, the first picture you come at
will be No. 6, Giotto's "Agony in the garden."
I used to think it so dull that I could not believe it was Giotto's.
That is partly from its dead colour, which is the boy's way of telling
you it is night:--more from the subject being one quite beyond his age,
and which he felt no pleasure in trying at. You may see he was still a
boy, for he not only cannot draw feet yet, in the least, and
scrupulously hides them therefore; but is very hard put to it for the
hands, being obliged to draw them mostly in the same position,--all the
four fingers together. But in the careful bunches of grass and weeds
you will see what the fresco foregrounds were before they got spoiled;
and there are some things he can understand already, even about that
Agony, thinking of it in his own fixed way. Some things,--not
altogether to be explained by the old symbol of the angel with the cup.
He will try if he cannot explain them better in those two little
pictures below; which nobody ever looks at; the great Roman sarcophagus
being put in front of them, and the light glancing on the new varnish
so that you must twist about like a lizard to see anything.
Nevertheless, you may make out what Giotto meant.
"The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" In what
was its bitterness?--thought the boy. "Crucifixion?--Well, it hurts,
doubtless; but the thieves had to bear it too, and many poor human
wretches have to bear worse on our battlefields. But"--and he thinks,
and thinks, and then he paints his two little pictures for the
They represent, of course, the sequence of the time in Gethsemane; but
see what choice the youth made of his moments, having two panels to
fill. Plenty of choice for him--in pain. The Flagellation--the Mocking
--the Bearing of the Cross;--all habitually given by the Margheritones,
and their school, as extremes of pain.
"No," thinks Giotto. "There was worse than all that. Many a good man
has been mocked, spitefully entreated, spitted on, slain. But who was
ever so betrayed? Who ever saw such a sword thrust in his mother's
He paints, first, the laying hands on Him in the garden, but with only
two principal figures,--Judas and Peter, of course; Judas and Peter
were always principal in the old Byzantine composition,--Judas giving
the kiss--Peter cutting off the servant's ear. But the two are here,
not merely principal, but almost alone in sight, all the other figures
thrown back; and Peter is not at all concerned about the servant, or
his struggle with him. He has got him down,--but looks back suddenly at
Judas giving the kiss. What!--_you_ are the traitor, then--you!
"Yes," says Giotto; "and you, also, in an hour more."
The other picture is more deeply felt, still. It is of Christ brought
to the foot of the cross. There is no wringing of hands or lamenting
crowd--no haggard signs of fainting or pain in His body. Scourging or
fainting, feeble knee and torn wound,--he thinks scorn of all that,
this shepherd-boy. One executioner is hammering the wedges of the cross
harder down. The other--not ungently--is taking Christ's red robe off
His shoulders. And St. John, a few yards off, is keeping his mother
from coming nearer. She looks _down_, not at Christ; but tries to
And now you may go on for your day's seeings through the rest of the
gallery, if you will--Fornarina, and the wonderful cobbler, and all the
rest of it. I don't want you any more till to-morrow morning.
But if, meantime, you will sit down,--say, before Sandro Botticelli's
"Fortitude," which I shall want you to look at, one of these days; (No.
1299, innermost room from the Tribune,) and there read this following
piece of one of my Oxford lectures on the relation of Cimabue to
Giotto, you will be better prepared for our work to-morrow morning in
Santa Croce; and may find something to consider of, in the room you are
in. Where, by the way, observe that No. 1288 is a most true early
Lionardo, of extreme interest: and the savants who doubt it are--never
mind what; but sit down at present at the feet of Fortitude, and read.
Those of my readers who have been unfortunate enough to interest
themselves in that most profitless of studies--the philosophy of art
--have been at various times teased or amused by disputes respecting the
relative dignity of the contemplative and dramatic schools.
Contemplative, of course, being the term attached to the system of
painting things only for the sake of their own niceness--a lady because
she is pretty, or a lion because he is strong: and the dramatic school
being that which cannot be satisfied unless it sees something going on:
which can't paint a pretty lady unless she is being made love to, or
being murdered; and can't paint a stag or a lion unless they are being
hunted, or shot, or the one eating the other.
You have always heard me--or, if not, will expect by the very tone of
this sentence to hear me, now, on the whole recommend you to prefer the
Contemplative school. But the comparison is always an imperfect and
unjust one, unless quite other terms are introduced.
The real greatness or smallness of schools is not in their preference
of inactivity to action, nor of action to inactivity. It is in their
preference of worthy things to unworthy, in rest; and of kind action to
unkind, in business.
A Dutchman can be just as solemnly and entirely contemplative of a
lemon pip and a cheese paring, as an Italian of the Virgin in Glory. An
English squire has pictures, purely contemplative, of his favorite
horse--and a Parisian lady, pictures, purely contemplative, of the back
and front of the last dress proposed to her in La Mode Artistique. All
these works belong to the same school of silent admiration;--the vital
question concerning them is, "What do you admire?"
Now therefore, when you hear me so often saying that the Northern
races--Norman and Lombard,--are active, or dramatic, in their art; and
that the Southern races--Greek and Arabian,--are contemplative, you
ought instantly to ask farther, Active in what? Contemplative of what?
And the answer is, The active art--Lombardic,--rejoices in hunting and
fighting; the contemplative art--Byzantine,--contemplates the mysteries
of the Christian faith.
And at first, on such answer, one would be apt at once to conclude--All
grossness must be in the Lombard; all good in the Byzantine. But again
we should be wrong,--and extremely wrong. For the hunting and fighting
did practically produce strong, and often virtuous, men; while the
perpetual and inactive contemplation of what it was impossible to
understand, did not on the whole render the contemplative persons,
stronger, wiser, or even more amiable. So that, in the twelfth century,
while the Northern art was only in need of direction, the Southern was
in need of life. The North was indeed spending its valour and virtue on
ignoble objects; but the South disgracing the noblest objects by its
want of valour and virtue.
Central stood Etruscan Florence--her root in the earth, bound with iron
and brass--wet with the dew of heaven. Agriculture in occupation,
religious in thought, she accepted, like good ground, the good;
refused, like the Rock of Fesole, the evil; directed the industry of
the Northman into the arts of peace; kindled the dreams of the
Byzantine with the fire of charity. Child of her peace, and exponent of
her passion, her Cimabue became the interpreter to mankind of the
meaning of the Birth of Christ.
We hear constantly, and think naturally, of him as of a man whose
peculiar genius in painting suddenly reformed its principles; who
suddenly painted, out of his own gifted imagination, beautiful instead
of rude pictures; and taught his scholar Giotto to carry on the
impulse; which we suppose thenceforward to have enlarged the resources
and bettered the achievements of painting continually, up to our own
time,--when the triumphs of art having been completed, and its uses
ended, something higher is offered to the ambition of mankind; and Watt
and Faraday initiate the Age of Manufacture and Science, as Cimabue and
Giotto instituted that of Art and Imagination.
In this conception of the History of Mental and Physical culture, we
much overrate the influence, though we cannot overrate the power, of
the men by whom the change seems to have been effected. We cannot
overrate their power,--for the greatest men of any age, those who
become its leaders when there is a great march to be begun, are indeed
separated from the average intellects of their day by a distance which
is immeasurable in any ordinary terms of wonder.
But we far overrate their influence; because the apparently sudden
result of their labour or invention is only the manifested fruit of the
toil and thought of many who preceded them, and of whose names we have
never heard. The skill of Cimabue cannot be extolled too highly; but no
Madonna by his hand could ever have rejoiced the soul of Italy, unless
for a thousand years before, many a nameless Greek and nameless Goth
had adorned the traditions, and lived in the love, of the Virgin.
In like manner, it is impossible to overrate the sagacity, patience, or
precision, of the masters in modern mechanical and scientific
discovery. But their sudden triumph, and the unbalancing of all the
world by their words, may not in any wise be attributed to their own
power, or even to that of the facts they have ascertained. They owe
their habits and methods of industry to the paternal example, no less
than the inherited energy, of men who long ago prosecuted the truths of
nature, through the rage of war, and the adversity of superstition; and
the universal and overwhelming consequences of the facts which their
followers have now proclaimed, indicate only the crisis of a rapture
produced by the offering of new objects of curiosity to nations who had
nothing to look at; and of the amusement of novel motion and action to
nations who had nothing to do.
Nothing to look at! That is indeed--you will find, if you consider of
it--our sorrowful case. The vast extent of the advertising frescos of
London, daily refreshed into brighter and larger frescos by its
billstickers, cannot somehow sufficiently entertain the popular eyes.
The great Mrs. Allen, with her flowing hair, and equally flowing
promises, palls upon repetition, and that Madonna of the nineteenth
century smiles in vain above many a borgo unrejoiced; even the
excitement of the shop-window, with its unattainable splendours, or too
easily attainable impostures, cannot maintain itself in the wearying
mind of the populace, and I find my charitable friends inviting the
children, whom the streets educate only into vicious misery, to
entertainments of scientific vision, in microscope or magic lantern;
thus giving them something to look at, such as it is;--fleas mostly;
and the stomachs of various vermin; and people with their heads cut off
and set on again;--still _something_, to look at.
The fame of Cimabue rests, and justly, on a similar charity. He gave
the populace of his day something to look at; and satisfied their
curiosity with science of something they had long desired to know. We
have continually imagined in our carelessness, that his triumph
consisted only in a new pictorial skill; recent critical writers,
unable to comprehend how any street populace could take pleasure in
painting, have ended by denying his triumph altogether, and insisted
that he gave no joy to Florence; and that the "Joyful quarter" was
accidentally so named--or at least from no other festivity than that of
the procession attending Charles of Anjou. I proved to you, in a former
lecture, that the old tradition was true, and the delight of the people
unquestionable. But that delight was not merely in the revelation of an
art they had not known how to practise; it was delight in the
revelation of a Madonna whom they had not known how to love.
Again; what was revelation to _them_--we suppose farther and as
unwisely, to have been only art in _him_; that in better laying of
colours,--in better tracing of perspectives--in recovery of principles,
of classic composition--he had manufactured, as our Gothic Firms now
manufacture to order, a Madonna--in whom he believed no more than they.
Not so. First of the Florentines, first of European men--he attained in
thought, and saw with spiritual eyes, exercised to discern good from
evil,--the face of her who was blessed among women; and with his
following hand, made visible the Magnificat of his heart.
He magnified the Maid; and Florence rejoiced in her Queen. But it was
left for Giotto to make the queenship better beloved, in its sweet
You had the Etruscan stock in Florence--Christian, or at least semi-
Christian; the statue of Mars still in its streets, but with its
central temple built for Baptism in the name of Christ. It was a race
living by agriculture; gentle, thoughtful, and exquisitely fine in
handiwork. The straw bonnet of Tuscany--the Leghorn--is pure Etruscan
art, young ladies:--only plaited gold of God's harvest, instead of the
plaited gold of His earth.
You had then the Norman and Lombard races coming down on this: kings,
and hunters--splendid in war--insatiable of action. You had the Greek
and Arabian races flowing from the east, bringing with them the law of
the City, and the dream of the Desert.
Cimabue--Etruscan born, gave, we saw, the life of the Norman to the
tradition of the Greek: eager action to holy contemplation. And what
more is left for his favourite shepherd boy Giotto to do, than this,
except to paint with ever-increasing skill? We fancy he only surpassed
Cimabue--eclipsed by greater brightness.
Not so. The sudden and new applause of Italy would never have been won
by mere increase of the already-kindled light. Giotto had wholly
another work to do. The meeting of the Norman race with the Byzantine
is not merely that of action with repose--not merely that of war with
religion,--it is the meeting of _domestic_ life with _monastic_, and of
practical household sense with unpractical Desert insanity.
I have no other word to use than this last. I use it reverently,
meaning a very noble thing; I do not know how far I ought to say--even
a divine thing. Decide that for yourselves. Compare the Northern farmer
with St. Francis; the palm hardened by stubbing Thornaby waste, with
the palm softened by the imagination of the wounds of Christ. To my own
thoughts, both are divine; decide that for yourselves; but assuredly,
and without possibility of other decision, one is, humanly speaking,
healthy; the other _un_healthy; one sane, the other--insane.
To reconcile Drama with Dream, Cimabue's task was comparatively an easy
one. But to reconcile Sense with--I still use even this following word
reverently--Nonsense, is not so easy; and he who did it first,--no
wonder he has a name in the world.
I must lean, however, still more distinctly on the word "domestic." For
it is not Rationalism and commercial competition--Mr. Stuart Mill's"
other career for woman than that of wife and mother "--which are
reconcilable, by Giotto, or by anybody else, with divine vision. But
household wisdom, labour of love, toil upon earth according to the law
of Heaven--these are reconcilable, in one code of glory, with
revelation in cave or island, with the endurance of desolate and
loveless days, with the repose of folded hands that wait Heaven's time.
Domestic and monastic. He was the first of Italians--the first of
Christians--who _equally_ knew the virtue of both lives; and who
was able to show it in the sight of men of all ranks,--from the prince
to the shepherd; and of all powers,--from the wisest philosopher to the
For, note the way in which the new gift of painting, bequeathed to him
by his great master, strengthened his hands. Before Cimabue, no
beautiful rendering of human form was possible; and the rude or formal
types of the Lombard and Byzantine, though they would serve in the
tumult of the chase, or as the recognized symbols of creed, could not
represent personal and domestic character. Faces with goggling eyes and
rigid lips might be endured with ready help of imagination, for gods,
angels, saints, or hunters--or for anybody else in scenes of recognized
legend, but would not serve for pleasant portraiture of one's own self
--or of the incidents of gentle, actual life. And even Cimabue did not
venture to leave the sphere of conventionally reverenced dignity. He
still painted--though beautifully--only the Madonna, and the St.
Joseph, and the Christ. These he made living,--Florence asked no more:
and "Credette Cimabue nella pintura tener lo campo."
But Giotto came from the field, and saw with his simple eyes a lowlier
worth. And he painted--the Madonna, and St. Joseph, and the Christ,--yes,
by all means if you choose to call them so, but essentially,--Mamma, Papa,
and the Baby. And all Italy threw up its cap,--"Ora ha Giotto il grido."
For he defines, explains, and exalts, every sweet incident of human
nature; and makes dear to daily life every mystic imagination of
natures greater than our own. He reconciles, while he intensifies,
every virtue of domestic and monastic thought. He makes the simplest
household duties sacred, and the highest religious passions serviceable
THE THIRD MORNING.
BEFORE THE SOLDAN.
I promised some note of Sandro's Fortitude, before whom I asked you to
sit and read the end of my last letter; and I've lost my own notes
about her, and forget, now, whether she has a sword, or a mace;--it
does not matter. What is chiefly notable in her is--that you would not,
if you had to guess who she was, take her for Fortitude at all.
Everybody else's Fortitudes announce themselves clearly and proudly.
They have tower-like shields, and lion-like helmets--and stand firm
astride on their legs,--and are confidently ready for all comers. Yes;
--that is your common Fortitude. Very grand, though common. But not the
highest, by any means.
Ready for all comers, and a match for them,--thinks the universal
Fortitude;--no thanks to her for standing so steady, then!
But Botticelli's Fortitude is no match, it may be, for any that are
coming. Worn, somewhat; and not a little weary, instead of standing
ready for all comers, she is sitting,--apparently in reverie, her
fingers playing restlessly and idly--nay, I think--even nervously,
about the hilt of her sword.
For her battle is not to begin to-day; nor did it begin yesterday. Many
a morn and eve have passed since it began--and now--is this to be the
ending day of it? And if this--by what manner of end?
That is what Sandro's Fortitude is thinking. And the playing fingers
about the sword-hilt would fain let it fall, if it might be: and yet,
how swiftly and gladly will they close on it, when the far-off trumpet
blows, which she will hear through all her reverie!
There is yet another picture of Sandro's here, which you must look at
before going back to Giotto: the small Judith in the room next the
Tribune, as you return from this outer one. It is just under Lionardo's
Medusa. She is returning to the camp of her Israel, followed by her
maid carrying the head of Holofernes. And she walks in one of
Botticelli's light dancing actions, her drapery all on flutter, and her
hand, like Fortitude's, light on the sword-hilt, but daintily--not
nervously, the little finger laid over the cross of it.
And at the first glance--you will think the figure merely a piece of
fifteenth-century affectation. 'Judith, indeed!--say rather the
daughter of Herodias, at her mincingest.'
Well, yes--Botticelli _is_ affected, in the way that all men in
that century necessarily were. Much euphuism, much studied grace of
manner, much formal assertion of scholarship, mingling with his force
of imagination. And he likes twisting the fingers of hands about, just
as Correggio does. But he never does it like Correggio, without cause.
Look at Judith again,--at her face, not her drapery,--and remember that
when a man is base at the heart, he blights his virtues into
weaknesses; but when he is true at the heart, he sanctifies his
weaknesses into virtues. It is a weakness of Botticelli's, this love of
dancing motion and waved drapery; but why has he given it full flight
Do you happen to know anything about Judith yourself, except that she
cut off Holofernes' head; and has been made the high light of about a
million of vile pictures ever since, in which the painters thought they
could surely attract the public to the double show of an execution, and
a pretty woman,--especially with the added pleasure of hinting at
previously ignoble sin?
When you go home to-day, take the pains to write out for yourself, in
the connection I here place them, the verses underneath numbered from
the book of Judith; you will probably think of their meaning more
carefully as you write.
"Now at that time, Judith heard thereof, which was the daughter of
Merari, ... the son of Simeon, the son of Israel." And then write out,
consecutively, these pieces--
Chapter viii., verses 2 to 8. (Always inclusive,) and read the whole
Chapter ix., verses 1 and 5 to 7, beginning this piece with the
previous sentence, "Oh God, oh my God, hear me also, a widow."
Chapter ix., verses 11 to 14.
Chapter x., verses 1 to 5.
Chapter xiii., verses 6 to 10.
Chapter xv., verses 11 to 13.
Chapter xvi., verses 1 to 6.
Chapter xvi., verses 11 to 15.
Chapter xvi., verses 18 and 19.
Chapter xvi., verses 23 to 25.
Now, as in many other cases of noble history, apocryphal and other, I
do not in the least care how far the literal facts are true. The
conception of facts, and the idea of Jewish womanhood, are there, grand
and real as a marble statue,--possession for all ages. And you will
feel, after you have read this piece of history, or epic poetry, with
honourable care, that there is somewhat more to be thought of and
pictured in Judith, than painters have mostly found it in them to show
you; that she is not merely the Jewish Delilah to the Assyrian Samson;
but the mightiest, purest, brightest type of high passion in severe
womanhood offered to our human memory. Sandro's picture is but slight;
but it is true to her, and the only one I know that is; and after
writing out these verses, you will see why he gives her that swift,
peaceful motion, while you read in her face, only sweet solemnity of
dreaming thought. "My people delivered, and by my hand; and God has
been gracious to His handmaid!" The triumph of Miriam over a fallen
host, the fire of exulting mortal life in an immortal hour, the purity
and severity of a guardian angel--all are here; and as her servant
follows, carrying indeed the head, but invisible--(a mere thing to be
carried--no more to be so much as thought of)--she looks only at her
mistress, with intense, servile, watchful love. Faithful, not in these
days of fear only, but hitherto in all her life, and afterwards
After you have seen it enough, look also for a little while at
Angelico's Marriage and Death of the Virgin, in the same room; you may
afterwards associate the three pictures always together in your mind.
And, looking at nothing else to-day in the Uffizi, let us go back to
We must begin with this work on our left hand, the Death of St.
Francis; for it is the key to all the rest. Let us hear first what Mr.
Crowe directs us to think of it. "In the composition of this scene,
Giotto produced a masterpiece, which served as a model but too often
feebly imitated by his successors. Good arrangement, variety of
character and expression in the heads, unity and harmony in the whole,
make this an exceptional work of its kind. As a composition, worthy of
the fourteenth century, Ghirlandajo and Benedetto da Majano both
imitated, without being able to improve it. No painter ever produced
its equal except Raphael; nor could a better be created except in so
far as regards improvement in the mere rendering of form."
To these inspiring observations by the rapturous Crowe, more cautious
Cavalcasella [Footnote: I venture to attribute the wiser note to Signor
Cavalcasella because I have every reason to put real confidence in his
judgment. But it was impossible for any man, engaged as he is, to go
over all the ground covered by so extensive a piece of critical work as
these three volumes contain, with effective attention.] appends a
refrigerating note, saying, "The St. Francis in the glory is new, but
the angels are in part preserved. The rest has all been more or less
retouched; and no judgment can be given as to the colour of this--or
any other (!)--of these works."
You are, therefore--instructed reader--called upon to admire a piece of
art which no painter ever produced the equal of except Raphael; but it
is unhappily deficient, according to Crowe, in the "mere rendering of
form"; and, according to Signor Cavalcasella, "no opinion can be given
as to its colour."
Warned thus of the extensive places where the ice is dangerous, and
forbidden to look here either for form or colour, you are to admire
"the variety of character and expression in the heads." I do not myself
know how these are to be given without form or colour; but there
appears to me, in my innocence, to be only one head in the whole
picture, drawn up and down in different positions.
The "unity and harmony" of the whole--which make this an exceptional
work of its kind--mean, I suppose, its general look of having been
painted out of a scavenger's cart; and so we are reduced to the last
article of our creed according to Crowe,--
"In the composition of this scene Giotto produced a masterpiece."
Well, possibly. The question is, What you mean by 'composition.' Which,
putting modern criticism now out of our way, I will ask the reader to
think, in front of this wreck of Giotto, with some care.
Was it, in the first place, to Giotto, think you, the, "composition of
a scene," or the conception of a fact? You probably, if a fashionable
person, have seen the apotheosis of Margaret in Faust? You know what
care is taken, nightly, in the composition of that scene,--how the
draperies are arranged for it; the lights turned off, and on; the
fiddlestrings taxed for their utmost tenderness; the bassoons exhorted
to a grievous solemnity.
You don't believe, however, that any real soul of a Margaret ever
appeared to any mortal in that manner?
_Here_ is an apotheosis also. Composed!--yes; figures high on the
right and left, low in the middle, etc., etc., etc.
But the important questions seem to me, Was there ever a St. Francis?--
_did_ he ever receive stigmata?--_did_his soul go up to heaven--did any
monk see it rising--and did Giotto mean to tell us so? If you will be
good enough to settle these few small points in your mind first, the
"composition" will take a wholly different aspect to you, according to
Nor does it seem doubtful to me what your answer, after investigation
made, must be.
There assuredly was a St. Francis, whose life and works you had better
study than either to-day's Galignani, or whatever, this year, may
supply the place of the Tichborne case, in public interest.
His reception of the stigmata is, perhaps, a marvellous instance of the
power of imagination over physical conditions; perhaps an equally
marvellous instance of the swift change of metaphor into tradition; but
assuredly, and beyond dispute, one of the most influential,
significant, and instructive traditions possessed by the Church of
Christ. And, that, if ever soul rose to heaven from the dead body, his
soul did so rise, is equally sure.
And, finally, Giotto believed that all he was called on to represent,
concerning St. Francis, really had taken place, just as surely as you,
if you are a Christian, believe that Christ died and rose again; and he
represents it with all fidelity and passion: but, as I just now said,
he is a man of supreme common sense;--has as much humour and clearness
of sight as Chaucer, and as much dislike of falsehood in clergy, or in
professedly pious people: and in his gravest moments he will still see
and say truly that what is fat, is fat--and what is lean, lean--and
what is hollow, empty.
His great point, however, in this fresco, is the assertion of the
reality of the stigmata against all question. There is not only one St.
Thomas to be convinced; there are five;--one to each wound. Of these,
four are intent only on satisfying their curiosity, and are peering or
probing; one only kisses the hand he has lifted. The rest of the
picture never was much more than a grey drawing of a noble burial
service; of all concerned in which, one monk, only, is worthy to see
the soul taken up to heaven; and he is evidently just the monk whom
nobody in the convent thought anything of. (His face is all repainted;
but one can gather this much, or little, out of it, yet.)
Of the composition, or "unity and harmony of the whole," as a burial
service, we may better judge after we have looked at the brighter
picture of St. Francis's Birth--birth spiritual, that is to say, to his
native heaven; the uppermost, namely, of the three subjects on this
side of the chapel. It is entirely characteristic of Giotto; much of it
by his hand--all of it beautiful. All important matters to be known of
Giotto you may know from this fresco.
'But we can't see it, even with our opera-glasses, but all
foreshortened and spoiled. What is the use of lecturing us on this?'
That is precisely the first point which is essentially Giottesque in
it; its being so out of the way! It is this which makes it a perfect
specimen of the master. I will tell you next something about a work of
his which you can see perfectly, just behind you on the opposite side
of the wall; but that you have half to break your neck to look at this
one, is the very first thing I want you to feel.
It is a characteristic--(as far as I know, quite a universal one)--of
the greatest masters, that they never expect you to look at them; seem
always rather surprised if you want to; and not overpleased. Tell them
you are going to hang their picture at the upper end of the table at
the next great City dinner, and that Mr. So and So will make a speech
about it; you produce no impression upon them whatever, or an
unfavourable one. The chances are ten to one they send you the most
rubbishy thing they can find in their lumber-room. But send for one of
them in a hurry, and tell him the rats have gnawed a nasty hole behind
the parlor door, and you want it plastered and painted over;--and he
does you a masterpiece which the world will peep behind your door to
look at for ever.
I have no time to tell you why this is so; nor do I know why,
altogether; but so it is.
Giotto, then, is sent for, to paint this high chapel: I am not sure if
he chose his own subjects from the life of St. Francis: I think so,--but
of course can't reason on the guess securely. At all events, he would have
much of his own way in the matter.
Now you must observe that painting a Gothic chapel rightly is just the
same thing as painting a Greek vase rightly. The chapel is merely the
vase turned upside-down, and outside-in. The principles of decoration
are exactly the same. Your decoration is to be proportioned to the size
of your vase; to be together delightful when you look at the cup, or
chapel, as a whole; to be various and entertaining when you turn the
cup round; (you turn _yourself_ round in the chapel;) and to bend
its heads and necks of figures about, as it best can, over the hollows,
and ins and outs, so that anyhow, whether too long or too short-possible
or impossible--they may be living, and full of grace. You will also please
take it on my word today--in another morning walk you shall have proof of
it--that Giotto was a pure Etruscan-Greek of the thirteenth century:
converted indeed to worship St. Francis instead of Heracles; but as far
as vase-painting goes, precisely the Etruscan he was before. This is
nothing else than a large, beautiful, coloured Etruscan vase you have
got, inverted over your heads like a diving-bell.' [Footnote: I observe
that recent criticism is engaged in proving all Etruscan vases to be of
late manufacture, in imitation of archaic Greek. And I therefore must
briefly anticipate a statement which I shall have to enforce in following
letters. Etruscan art remains in its own Italian valleys, of the Arno and
upper Tiber, in one unbroken series of work, from the seventh century
before Christ, to this hour, when the country whitewasher still scratches
his plaster in Etruscan patterns. All Florentine work of the finest
kind--Luca della Robbia's, Ghiberti's, Donatello's, Filippo Lippi's,
Botticelli's, Fra Angelico's--is absolutely pure Etruscan, merely changing
its subjects, and representing the Virgin instead of Athena, and Christ
instead of Jupiter. Every line of the Florentine chisel in the fifteenth
century is based on national principles of art which existed in the seventh
century before Christ; and Angelico, in his convent of St. Dominic, at
the foot of the hill of Fesole, is as true an Etruscan as the builder who
laid the rude stones of the wall along its crest--of which modern
civilization has used the only arch that remained for cheap building stone.
Luckily, I sketched it in 1845. but alas, too carelessly,--never conceiving
of the brutalities of modem Italy as possible.]
Accordingly, after the quatrefoil ornamentation of the top of the bell,
you get two spaces at the sides under arches, very difficult to cramp
one's picture into, if it is to be a picture only; but entirely
provocative of our old Etruscan instinct of ornament. And, spurred by
the difficulty, and pleased by the national character of it, we put our
best work into these arches, utterly neglectful of the public below,
--who will see the white and red and blue spaces, at any rate, which is
all they will want to see, thinks Giotto, if he ever looks down from
Take the highest compartment, then, on the left, looking towards the
window. It was wholly impossible to get the arch filled with figures,
unless they stood on each other's heads; so Giotto ekes it out with a
piece of fine architecture. Raphael, in the Sposalizio, does the same,
Then he puts two dainty little white figures, bending, on each flank,
to stop up his corners. But he puts the taller inside on the right, and
outside on the left. And he puts his Greek chorus of observant and
moralizing persons on each side of his main action.
Then he puts one Choragus--or leader of chorus, supporting the main
action--on each side. Then he puts the main action in the middle--which
is a quarrel about that white bone of contention in the centre.
Choragus on the right, who sees that the bishop is going to have the
best of it, backs him serenely. Choragus on the left, who sees that his
impetuous friend is going to get the worst of it, is pulling him back,
and trying to keep him quiet. The subject of the picture, which, after
you are quite sure it is good as a decoration, but not till then, you
may be allowed to understand, is the following. One of St. Francis's
three great virtues being Obedience, he begins his spiritual life by
quarreling with his father. He, I suppose in modern terms I should say,
commercially invests some of his father's goods in charity. His father
objects to that investment; on which St. Francis runs away, taking what
he can find about the house along with him. His father follows to claim
his property, but finds it is all gone, already; and that St. Francis
has made friends with the Bishop of Assisi. His father flies into an
indecent passion, and declares he will disinherit him; on which St.
Francis then and there takes all his clothes off, throws them
frantically in his father's face, and says he has nothing more to do
with clothes or father. The good Bishop, in tears of admiration,
embraces St. Francis, and covers him with his own mantle.
I have read the picture to you as, if Mr. Spurgeon knew anything about
art, Mr. Spurgeon would read it,--that is to say, from the plain,
common sense, Protestant side. If you are content with that view of it,
you may leave the chapel, and, as far as any study of history is
concerned, Florence also; for you can never know anything either about
Giotto, or her.
Yet do not be afraid of my re-reading it to you from the mystic,
nonsensical, and Papistical side. I am going to read it to you--if
after many and many a year of thought, I am able--as Giotto meant it;
Giotto being, as far as we know, then the man of strongest brain and
hand in Florence; the best friend of the best religious poet of the
world; and widely differing, as his friend did also, in his views of
the world, from either Mr. Spurgeon, or Pius IX.
The first duty of a child is to obey its father and mother; as the
first duty of a citizen to obey the laws of his state. And this duty is
so strict that I believe the only limits to it are those fixed by Isaac
and Iphigenia. On the other hand, the father and mother have also a
fixed duty to the child--not to provoke it to wrath. I have never heard
this text explained to fathers and mothers from the pulpit, which is
curious. For it appears to me that God will expect the parents to
understand their duty to their children, better even than children can
be expected to know their duty to their parents.
But farther. A _child's_ duty is to obey its parents. It is never
said anywhere in the Bible, and never was yet said in any good or wise
book, that a man's, or woman's, is. _When,_ precisely, a child
becomes a man or a woman, it can no more be said, than when it should
first stand on its legs. But a time assuredly comes when it should. In
great states, children are always trying to remain children, and the
parents wanting to make men and women of them. In vile states, the
children are always wanting to be men and women, and the parents to
keep them children. It may be--and happy the house in which it is so
--that the father's at least equal intellect, and older experience, may
remain to the end of his life a law to his children, not of force, but
of perfect guidance, with perfect love. Rarely it is so; not often
possible. It is as natural for the old to be prejudiced as for the
young to be presumptuous; and, in the change of centuries, each
generation has something to judge of for itself.
But this scene, on which Giotto has dwelt with so great force,
represents, not the child's assertion of his independence, but his
adoption of another Father.
You must not confuse the desire of this boy of Assisi to obey God
rather than man, with the desire of your young cockney Hopeful to have
a latch-key, and a separate allowance.
No point of duty has been more miserably warped and perverted by false
priests, in all churches, than this duty of the young to choose whom
they will serve. But the duty itself does not the less exist; and if
there be any truth in Christianity at all, there will come, for all
true disciples, a time when they have to take that saying to heart, "He
that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me."
'_Loveth_'--observe. There is no talk of disobeying fathers or
mothers whom you do not love, or of running away from a home where you
would rather not stay. But to leave the home which is your peace, and
to be at enmity with those who are most dear to you,--this, if there be
meaning in Christ's words, one day or other will be demanded of His
And there is meaning in Christ's words. Whatever misuse may have been
made of them,--whatever false prophets--and Heaven knows there have
been many--have called the young children to them, not to bless, but to
curse, the assured fact remains, that if you will obey God, there will
come a moment when the voice of man will be raised, with all its
holiest natural authority, against you. The friend and the wise
adviser--the brother and the sister--the father and the master--the
entire voice of your prudent and keen-sighted acquaintance--the entire
weight of the scornful stupidity of the vulgar world--for _once_,
they will be against you, all at one. You have to obey God rather than
man. The human race, with all its wisdom and love, all its indignation
and folly, on one side,--God alone on the other. You have to choose.
That is the meaning of St. Francis's renouncing his inheritance; and it
is the beginning of Giotto's gospel of Works. Unless this hardest of
deeds be done first,--this inheritance of mammon and the world cast
away,--all other deeds are useless. You cannot serve, cannot obey, God
and mammon. No charities, no obediences, no self-denials, are of any
use, while you are still at heart in conformity with the world. You go
to church, because the world goes. You keep Sunday, because your
neighbours keep it. But you dress ridiculously, because your neighbours
ask it; and you dare not do a rough piece of work, because your
neighbours despise it. You must renounce your neighbour, in his riches
and pride, and remember him in his distress. That is St. Francis's
And now you can understand the relation of subjects throughout the
chapel, and Giotto's choice of them.
The roof has the symbols of the three virtues of labour--Poverty,
A. Highest on the left side, looking to the window. The life of St.
Francis begins in his renunciation of the world.
B. Highest on the right side. His new life is approved and ordained by
the authority of the church.
C. Central on the left side. He preaches to his own disciples.
D. Central on the right side. He preaches to the heathen.
E. Lowest on the left side. His burial.
F. Lowest on the right side. His power after death.
Besides these six subjects, there are, on the sides of the window, the
four great Franciscan saints, St. Louis of France, St. Louis of
Toulouse, St. Clare, and St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
So that you have in the whole series this much given you to think of:
first, the law of St. Francis's conscience; then, his own adoption of
it; then, the ratification of it by the Christian Church; then, his
preaching it in life; then, his preaching it in death; and then, the
fruits of it in his disciples.
I have only been able myself to examine, or in any right sense to see,
of this code of subjects, the first, second, fourth, and the St. Louis
and Elizabeth. I will ask _you_ only to look at two more of them,
namely, St. Francis before the Soldan, midmost on your right, and St.
The Soldan, with an ordinary opera-glass, you may see clearly enough;
and I think it will be first well to notice some technical points in
If the little virgin on the stairs of the temple reminded you of one
composition of Titian's, this Soldan should, I think, remind you of all
that is greatest in Titian; so forcibly, indeed, that for my own part,
if I had been told that a careful early fresco by Titian had been
recovered in Santa Croce, I could have believed both report and my own
eyes, more quickly than I have been able to admit that this is indeed
by Giotto. It is so great that--had its principles been understood-there
was in reality nothing more to be taught of art in Italy; nothing to be
invented afterwards, except Dutch effects of light.
That there is no 'effect of light' here arrived at, I beg you at once
to observe as a most important lesson. The subject is St. Francis
challenging the Soldan's Magi,--fire-worshippers--to pass with him
through the fire, which is blazing red at his feet. It is so hot that
the two Magi on the other side of the throne shield their faces. But it
is represented simply as a red mass of writhing forms of flame; and
casts no firelight whatever. There is no ruby colour on anybody's nose:
there are no black shadows under anybody's chin; there are no
Rembrandtesque gradations of gloom, or glitterings of sword-hilt and
Is this ignorance, think you, in Giotto, and pure artlessness? He was
now a man in middle life, having passed all his days in painting, and
professedly, and almost contentiously, painting things as he saw them.
Do you suppose he never saw fire cast firelight?--and he the friend of
Dante! who of all poets is the most subtle in his sense of every kind
of effect of light--though he has been thought by the public to know
that of fire only. Again and again, his ghosts wonder that there is no
shadow cast by Dante's body; and is the poet's friend, _because_ a
painter, likely, therefore, not to have known that mortal substance
casts shadow, and terrestrial flame, light? Nay, the passage in the
'Purgatorio' where the shadows from the morning sunshine make the
flames redder, reaches the accuracy of Newtonian science; and does
Giotto, think you, all the while, see nothing of the sort?
The fact was, he saw light so intensely that he never for an instant
thought of painting it. He knew that to paint the sun was as impossible
as to stop it; and he was no trickster, trying to find out ways of
seeming to do what he did not. I can paint a rose,--yes; and I will. I
can't paint a red-hot coal; and I won't try to, nor seem to. This was
just as natural and certain a process of thinking with _him_, as
the honesty of it, and true science, were impossible to the false
painters of the sixteenth century.
Nevertheless, what his art can honestly do to make you feel as much as
he wants you to feel, about this fire, he will do; and that studiously.
That the fire be _luminous_ or not, is no matter just now. But
that the fire is _hot_, he would have you to know. Now, will you
notice what colours he has used in the whole picture. First, the blue
background, necessary to unite it with the other three subjects, is
reduced to the smallest possible space. St. Francis must be in grey,
for that is his dress; also the attendant of one of the Magi is in
grey; but so warm, that, if you saw it by itself, you would call it
brown. The shadow behind the throne, which Giotto knows he _can_
paint, and therefore does, is grey also. The rest of the picture
[Footnote: The floor has been repainted; but though its grey is now
heavy and cold, it cannot kill the splendour of the rest.] in at least
six-sevenths of its area--is either crimson, gold, orange, purple, or
white, all as warm as Giotto could paint them; and set off by minute
spaces only of intense black,--the Soldan's fillet at the shoulders,
his eyes, beard, and the points necessary in the golden pattern behind.
And the whole picture is one glow.
A single glance round at the other subjects will convince you of the
special character in this; but you will recognize also that the four
upper subjects, in which St. Francis's life and zeal are shown, are all
in comparatively warm colours, while the two lower ones--of the death,
and the visions after it--have been kept as definitely sad and cold.
Necessarily, you might think, being full of monks' dresses. Not so. Was
there any need for Giotto to have put the priest at the foot of the
dead body, with the black banner stooped over it in the shape of a
grave? Might he not, had he chosen, in either fresco, have made the
celestial visions brighter? Might not St. Francis have appeared in the
centre of a celestial glory to the dreaming Pope, or his soul been seen
of the poor monk, rising through more radiant clouds? Look, however,
how radiant, in the small space allowed out of the blue, they are in
reality. You cannot anywhere see a lovelier piece of Giottesque colour,
though here, you have to mourn over the smallness of the piece, and its
isolation. For the face of St. Francis himself is repainted, and all
the blue sky; but the clouds and four sustaining angels are hardly
retouched at all, and their iridescent and exquisitely graceful wings
are left with really very tender and delicate care by the restorer of
the sky. And no one but Giotto or Turner could have painted them.
For in all his use of opalescent and warm colour, Giotto is exactly
like Turner, as, in his swift expressional power, he is like
Gainsborough. All the other Italian religious painters work out their
expression with toil; he only can give it with a touch. All the other
great Italian colourists see only the beauty of colour, but Giotto also
its brightness. And none of the others, except Tintoret, understood to
the full its symbolic power; but with those--Giotto and Tintoret--there
is always, not only a colour harmony, but a colour secret. It is not
merely to make the picture glow, but to remind you that St. Francis
preaches to a fire-worshipping king, that Giotto covers the wall with
purple and scarlet;--and above, in the dispute at Assisi, the angry
father is dressed in red, varying like passion; and the robe with which
his protector embraces St. Francis, blue, symbolizing the peace of
Heaven, Of course certain conventional colours were traditionally
employed by all painters; but only Giotto and Tintoret invent a
symbolism of their own for every picture. Thus in Tintoret's picture of
the fall of the manna, the figure of God the Father is entirely robed
in white, contrary to all received custom: in that of Moses striking
the rock, it is surrounded by a rainbow. Of Giotto's symbolism in
colour at Assisi, I have given account elsewhere. [Footnote: 'Fors
Clavigera' for September, 1874.]
You are not to think, therefore, the difference between the colour of
the upper and lower frescos unintentional. The life of St. Francis was
always full of joy and triumph. His death, in great suffering,
weariness, and extreme humility. The tradition of him reverses that of
Elijah; living, he is seen in the chariot of fire; dying, he submits to
more than the common sorrow of death.
There is, however, much more than a difference in colour between the upper
and lower frescos. There is a difference in manner which I cannot account
for; and above all, a very singular difference in skill,--indicating, it
seems to me, that the two lower were done long before the others, and
afterwards united and harmonized with them. It is of no interest to the
general reader to pursue this question; but one point he can notice
quickly, that the lower frescos depend much on a mere black or brown
outline of the features, while the faces above are evenly and completely
painted in the most accomplished Venetian manner:--and another, respecting
the management of the draperies, contains much interest for us.
Giotto never succeeded, to the very end of his days, in representing a
figure lying down, and at ease. It is one of the most curious points in
all his character. Just the thing which he could study from nature
without the smallest hindrance, is the thing he never can paint; while
subtleties of form and gesture, which depend absolutely on their
momentariness, and actions in which no model can stay for an instant,
he seizes with infallible accuracy.
Not only has the sleeping Pope, in the right hand lower fresco, his
head laid uncomfortably on his pillow, but all the clothes on him are
in awkward angles, even Giotto's instinct for lines of drapery failing
him altogether when he has to lay it on a reposing figure. But look at
the folds of the Soldan's robe over his knees. None could be more
beautiful or right; and it is to me wholly inconceivable that the two
paintings should be within even twenty years of each other in date--the
skill in the upper one is so supremely greater. We shall find, however,
more than mere truth in its casts of drapery, if we examine them.
They are so simply right, in the figure of the Soldan, that we do not
think of them;--we see him only, not his dress But we see dress first,
in the figures of the discomfited Magi. Very fully draped personages
these, indeed,--with trains, it appears, four yards long, and bearers
The one nearest the Soldan has done his devoir as bravely as he could;
would fain go up to the fire, but cannot; is forced to shield his face,
though he has not turned back. Giotto gives him full sweeping breadth
of fold; what dignity he can;--a man faithful to his profession, at all
The next one has no such courage. Collapsed altogether, he has nothing
more to say for himself or his creed. Giotto hangs the cloak upon him,
in Ghirlandajo's fashion, as from a peg, but with ludicrous narrowness
of fold. Literally, he is a 'shut-up' Magus--closed like a fan. He
turns his head away, hopelessly. And the last Magus shows nothing but
his back, disappearing through the door.
Opposed to them, in a modern work, you would have had a St. Francis
standing as high as he could in his sandals, contemptuous,
denunciatory; magnificently showing the Magi the door. No such thing,
says Giotto. A somewhat mean man; disappointing enough in presence-even
in feature; I do not understand his gesture, pointing to his forehead
--perhaps meaning, 'my life, or my head, upon the truth of this.' The
attendant monk behind him is terror-struck; but will follow his master.
The dark Moorish servants of the Magi show no emotion--will arrange their
masters' trains as usual, and decorously sustain their retreat.
Lastly, for the Soldan himself. In a modern work, you would assuredly
have had him staring at St. Francis with his eyebrows up, or frowning
thunderously at his Magi, with them bent as far down as they would go.
Neither of these aspects does he bear, according to Giotto. A perfect
gentleman and king, he looks on his Magi with quiet eyes of decision;
he is much the noblest person in the room--though an infidel, the true
hero of the scene, far more than St. Francis. It is evidently the
Soldan whom Giotto wants you to think of mainly, in this picture of
Christian missionary work.
He does not altogether take the view of the Heathen which you would get
in an Exeter Hall meeting. Does not expatiate on their ignorance, their
blackness, or their nakedness. Does not at all think of the Florentine
Islington and Pentonville, as inhabited by persons in every respect
superior to the kings of the East; nor does he imagine every other
religion but his own to be log-worship. Probably the people who really
worship logs--whether in Persia or Pentonville--will be left to worship
logs to their hearts' content, thinks Giotto. But to those who worship
_God_, and who have obeyed the laws of heaven written in their
hearts, and numbered the stars of it visible to them,--to these, a
nearer star may rise; and a higher God be revealed.
You are to note, therefore, that Giotto's Soldan is the type of all
noblest religion and law, in countries where the name of Christ has not
been preached. There was no doubt what king or people should be chosen:
the country of the three Magi had already been indicated by the miracle
of Bethlehem; and the religion and morality of Zoroaster were the
purest, and in spirit the oldest, in the heathen world. Therefore, when
Dante, in the nineteenth and twentieth books of the Paradise, gives his
final interpretation of the law of human and divine justice in relation
to the gospel of Christ--the lower and enslaved body of the heathen
being represented by St. Philip's convert, ("Christians like these the
Ethiop shall condemn")--the noblest state of heathenism is at once
chosen, as by Giotto: "What may the _Persians_ say unto _your_ kings?"
Compare also Milton,--
"At the Soldan's chair,
Defied the best of Paynim chivalry."
And now, the time is come for you to look at Giotto's St. Louis, who is
the type of a Christian king.
You would, I suppose, never have seen it at all, unless I had dragged
you here on purpose. It was enough in the dark originally--is trebly
darkened by the modern painted glass--and dismissed to its oblivion
contentedly by Mr. Murray's "Four saints, all much restored and
repainted," and Messrs. Crowe and Cavalcasella's serene "The St. Louis
is quite new."
Now, I am the last person to call any restoration whatever, judicious.
Of all destructive manias, that of restoration is the frightfullest and
foolishest. Nevertheless, what good, in its miserable way, it can
bring, the poor art scholar must now apply his common sense to take;
there is no use, because a great work has been restored, in now passing
it by altogether, not even looking for what instruction we still may
find in its design, which will be more intelligible, if the restorer
has had any conscience at all, to the ordinary spectator, than it would
have been in the faded work. When, indeed, Mr. Murray's Guide tells you
that a _building_ has been 'magnificently restored,' you may pass
the building by in resigned despair; for _that_ means that every
bit of the old sculpture has been destroyed, and modern vulgar copies
put up in its place. But a restored picture or fresco will often be, to
_you_, more useful than a pure one; and in all probability--if an
important piece of art--it will have been spared in many places,
cautiously completed in others, and still assert itself in a mysterious
way--as Leonardo's Cenacolo does--through every phase of reproduction.
[Footnote: For a test of your feeling in the matter, having looked well
at these two lower frescos in this chapel, walk round into the next,
and examine the lower one on your left hand as you enter that. You will
find in your Murray that the frescos in this chapel "were also till
lately, (1862) covered with whitewash"; but I happen to have a long
critique of this particular picture written in the year 1845, and I see
no change in it since then. Mr. Murray's critic also tells you to
observe in it that "the daughter of Herodias playing on a violin is not
unlike Perugino's treatment of similar subjects." By which Mr. Murray's
critic means that the male musician playing on a violin, whom, without
looking either at his dress, or at the rest of the fresco, he took for
the daughter of Herodias, has a broad face. Allowing you the full
benefit of this criticism--there is still a point or two more to be
observed. This is the only fresco near the ground in which Giotto's
work is untouched, at least, by the modern restorer. So felicitously
safe it is, that you may learn from it at once and for ever, what good
fresco painting is--how quiet--how delicately clear--how little
coarsely or vulgarly attractive--how capable of the most tender light
and shade, and of the most exquisite and enduring colour.
In this latter respect, this fresco stands almost alone among the works
of Giotto; the striped curtain behind the table being wrought with a
variety and fantasy of playing colour which Paul Veronese could not
better at his best.
You will find, without difficulty, in spite of the faint tints, the
daughter of Herodias in the middle of the picture---slowly
_moving_, not dancing, to the violin music--she herself playing on
a lyre. In the farther corner of the picture, she gives St. John's head
to her mother; the face of Herodias is almost entirely faded, which may
be a farther guarantee to you of the safety of the rest. The subject of
the Apocalypse, highest on the right, is one of the most interesting
mythic pictures in Florence; nor do I know any other so completely
rendering the meaning of the scene between the woman in the wilderness,
and the Dragon enemy. But it cannot be seen from the floor level: and I
have no power of showing its beauty in words.]
But I can assure you, in the first place, that St. Louis is by no means
altogether new. I have been up at it, and found most lovely and true
colour left in many parts: the crown, which you will find, after our
mornings at the Spanish chapel, is of importance, nearly untouched; the
lines of the features and hair, though all more or less reproduced,
still of definite and notable character; and the junction throughout of
added colour so careful, that the harmony of the whole, if not delicate
with its old tenderness, is at least, in its coarser way, solemn and
unbroken. Such as the figure remains, it still possesses extreme
beauty--profoundest interest. And, as you can see it from below with
your glass, it leaves little to be desired, and may be dwelt upon with
more profit than nine out of ten of the renowned pictures of the
Tribune or the Pitti. You will enter into the spirit of it better if I
first translate for you a little piece from the Fioretti di San
_"How St. Louis, King of France, went personally in the guise of a
pilgrim, to Perugia, to visit the holy Brother Giles._--St. Louis,
King of France, went on pilgrimage to visit the sanctuaries of the
world; and hearing the most great fame of the holiness of Brother
Giles, who had been among the first companions of St. Francis, put it
in his heart, and determined assuredly that he would visit him
personally; wherefore he came to Perugia, where was then staying the
said brother. And coming to the gate of the place of the Brothers, with
few companions, and being unknown, he asked with great earnestness for
Brother Giles, telling nothing to the porter who he was that asked. The
porter, therefore, goes to Brother Giles, and says that there is a
pilgrim asking for him at the gate. And by God it was inspired in him
and revealed that it was the King of France; whereupon quickly with
great fervour he left his cell and ran to the gate, and without any
question asked, or ever having seen each other before, kneeling down
together with greatest devotion, they embraced and kissed each other
with as much familiarity as if for a long time they had held great
friendship; but all the while neither the one nor the other spoke, but
stayed, so embraced, with such signs of charitable love, in silence.
And so having remained for a great while, they parted from one another,
and St. Louis went on his way, and Brother Giles returned to his cell.
And the King being gone, one of the brethren asked of his companion who
he was, who answered that he was the King of France. Of which the other
brothers being told, were in the greatest melancholy because Brother
Giles had never said a word to him; and murmuring at it, they said,
'Oh, Brother Giles, wherefore hadst thou so country manners that to so
holy a king, who had come from France to see thee and hear from thee
some good word, thou hast spoken nothing?'
"Answered Brother Giles: 'Dearest brothers, wonder not ye at this, that
neither I to him, nor he to me, could speak a word; for so soon as we
had embraced, the light of the divine wisdom revealed and manifested,
to me, his heart, and to him, mine; and so by divine operation we
looked each in the other's heart on what we would have said to one
another, and knew it better far than if we had spoken with the mouth,
and with more consolation, because of the defect of the human tongue,
which cannot clearly express the secrets of God, and would have been
for discomfort rather than comfort. And know, therefore, that the King
parted from me marvellously content, and comforted in his mind.'"
Of all which story, not a word, of course, is credible by any rational
Certainly not: the spirit, nevertheless, which created the story, is an
entirely indisputable fact in the history of Italy and of mankind.
Whether St. Louis and Brother Giles ever knelt together in the street
of Perugia matters not a whit. That a king and a poor monk could be
conceived to have thoughts of each other which no words could speak;
and that indeed the King's tenderness and humility made such a tale
credible to the people,--this is what you have to meditate on here.
Nor is there any better spot in the world,--whencesoever your pilgrim
feet may have journeyed to it, wherein to make up so much mind as you
have in you for the making, concerning the nature of Kinghood and
Princedom generally; and of the forgeries and mockeries of both which
are too often manifested in their room. For it happens that this
Christian and this Persian King are better painted here by Giotto than
elsewhere by any one, so as to give you the best attainable conception
of the Christian and Heathen powers which have both received, in the
book which Christians profess to reverence, the same epithet as the
King of the Jews Himself; anointed, or Christos:--and as the most
perfect Christian Kinghood was exhibited in the life, partly real,
partly traditional, of St. Louis, so the most perfect Heathen Kinghood
was exemplified in the life, partly real, partly traditional, of Cyrus
of Persia, and in the laws for human government and education which had
chief force in his dynasty. And before the images of these two Kings I
think therefore it will be well that you should read the charge to
Cyrus, written by Isaiah. The second clause of it, if not all, will
here become memorable to you--literally illustrating, as it does, the
very manner of the defeat of the Zoroastrian Magi, on which Giotto
founds his Triumph of Faith. I write the leading sentences
continuously; what I omit is only their amplification, which you can
easily refer to at home. (Isaiah xliv. 24, to xlv. 13.)
"Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, and he that formed thee from the
womb. I the Lord that maketh all; that stretcheth forth the heavens,
alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth, alone; _that turneth wise men
backward, and maketh their knowledge, foolish; that confirmeth the word
of his Servant, and fulfilleth the counsel of his messengers_: that
saith of Cyrus, He is my Shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure,
even saying to Jerusalem, 'thou shalt be built,' and to the temple,
'thy foundations shall be laid."
"Thus saith the Lord to his Christ;--to Cyrus, whose right hand I have
holden, to subdue nations before him, and I will loose the loins of
"I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight; I will
break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron;
and I will give _thee_ the treasures of darkness, and hidden
riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I the Lord, which
call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.
"For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called
thee by thy name; I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.
"I am the Lord, and there is none else; there is no God beside me. I
girded thee, though thou hast not known me. That they may know, from
the _rising of the sun_, and from the west, that there is none
beside me; I am the Lord and there is none else. _I form the
light_, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I the
Lord do all these things.
"I have raised him up in Righteousness, and will direct all his ways;
he shall build my city, and let go my captives, not for price nor
reward, saith the Lord of Nations."
To this last verse, add the ordinance of Cyrus in fulfilling it, that
you may understand what is meant by a King's being "raised up in
Righteousness," and notice, with respect to the picture under which you
stand, the Persian King's thought of the Jewish temple.
"In the first year of the reign of Cyrus, [Footnote: 1st Esdras vi.
24.] King Cyrus commanded that the house of the Lord at Jerusalem
should be built again, _where they do service with perpetual
fire_; (the italicized sentence is Darius's, quoting Cyrus's decree
--the decree itself worded thus), Thus saith Cyrus, King of Persia:
[Footnote: Ezra i. 3, and 2nd Esdras ii. 3.] The Lord God of heaven
hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he hath charged me to
build him an house at Jerusalem.
"Who is there among you of all his people?--his God be with him, and
let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and let the men of his
place help him with silver and with gold, and with goods and with
Between which "bringing the prisoners out of captivity" and modern
liberty, free trade, and anti-slavery eloquence, there is no small
To these two ideals of Kinghood, then, the boy has reached, since the
day he was drawing the lamb on the stone, as Cimabue passed by. You
will not find two other such, that I know of, in the west of Europe;
and yet there has been many a try at the painting of crowned heads,--and
King George III and Queen Charlotte, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, are very fine,
no doubt. Also your black-muzzled kings of Velasquez, and Vandyke's
long-haired and white-handed ones; and Rubens' riders--in those handsome
boots. Pass such shadows of them as you can summon, rapidly before your
memory--then look at this St. Louis.
His face--gentle, resolute, glacial-pure, thin-cheeked; so sharp at the
chin that the entire head is almost of the form of a knight's shield--the
hair short on the forehead, falling on each side in the old Greek-Etruscan
curves of simplest line, to the neck; I don't know if you can see without
being nearer, the difference in the arrangement of it on the two sides-the
mass of it on the right shoulder bending inwards, while that on the left
falls straight. It is one of the pretty changes which a modern workman
would never dream of--and which assures me the restorer has followed the
old lines rightly.
He wears a crown formed by an hexagonal pyramid, beaded with pearls on the
edges: and walled round, above the brow, with a vertical fortress-parapet,
as it were, rising into sharp pointed spines at the angles: it is chasing
of gold with pearl--beautiful in the remaining work of it; the Soldan wears
a crown of the same general form; the hexagonal outline signifying all
order, strength, and royal economy. We shall see farther symbolism of this
kind, soon, by Simon Memmi, in the Spanish chapel.
I cannot tell you anything definite of the two other frescos--for I can
only examine one or two pictures in a day; and never begin with one till
I have done with another; and I had to leave Florence without looking at
these--even so far as to be quite sure of their subjects. The central one
on the left is either the twelfth subject of Assisi--St. Francis in
Ecstacy; [Footnote: "Represented" (next to St. Francis before the Soldan,
at Assisi) "as seen one night by the brethren, praying, elevated from
the ground, his hands extended like the cross, and surrounded by a
shining cloud."--_Lord Lindsay_.] or the eighteenth, the Apparition
of St. Francis at Arles; [Footnote: "St. Anthony of Padua was preaching
at a general chapter of the order, held at Arles, in 1224, when St.
Francis appeared in the midst, his arms extended, and in an attitude of
benediction."--_Lord Lindsay_.] while the lowest on the right may admit
choice between two subjects in each half of it: my own reading of them
would be--that they are the twenty-first and twenty-fifth subjects of
Assisi, the Dying Friar [Footnote: "A brother of the order, lying on his
deathbed, saw the spirit of St. Francis rising to heaven, and springing
forward, cried, 'Tarry, Father, I come with thee!' and fell back dead."
--_Lord Lindsay_.] and Vision of Pope Gregory IX.; [Footnote: "He hesitated,
before canonizing St. Francis; doubting the celestial infliction of the
stigmata. St. Francis appeared to him in a vision, and with a severe
countenance reproving his unbelief, opened his robe, and, exposing the
wound in his side, filled a vial with the blood that flowed from it,
and gave it to the Pope, who awoke and found it in his hand."--_Lord
Lindsay_.] but Crowe and Cavalcasella may be right in their
different interpretation; [Footnote: "As St. Francis was carried on his
bed of sickness to St. Maria degli Angeli, he stopped at an hospital on
the roadside, and ordering his attendants to turn his head in the
direction of Assisi, he rose in his litter and said, 'Blessed be thou
amongst cities! may the blessing of God cling to thee, oh holy place,
for by thee shall many souls be saved;' and, having said this, he lay
down and was carried on to St. Maria degli Angeli. On the evening of
the 4th of October his death was revealed at the very hour to the
bishop of Assisi on Mount Sarzana."--_Crowe and Cavalcasella._] in
any case, the meaning of the entire system of work remains unchanged,
as I have given it above.
THE FOURTH MORNING.
THE VAULTED BOOK.
As early as may be this morning, let us look for a minute or two into the
cathedral:--I was going to say, entering by one of the side doors of the
aisles;--but we can't do anything else, which perhaps might not strike you
unless you were thinking specially of it. There are no transept doors; and
one never wanders round to the desolate front. From either of the side
doors, a few paces will bring you to the middle of the nave, and to the
point opposite the middle of the third arch from the west end; where you
will find yourself--if well in the mid-wave--standing on a circular slab
of green porphyry, which marks the former place of the grave of the bishop
Zenobius. The larger inscription, on the wide circle of the floor outside
of you, records the translation of his body; the smaller one round the
stone at your feet--"quiescimus, domum hanc quum adimus ultimam"--is a
painful truth, I suppose, to travellers like us, who never rest anywhere
now, if we can help it.
Resting here, at any rate, for a few minutes, look up to the whitewashed
vaulting of the compartment of the roof next the west end.
You will see nothing whatever in it worth looking at. Nevertheless,
look a little longer.
But the longer you look, the less you will understand why I tell you to
look. It is nothing but a whitewashed ceiling: vaulted indeed,--but so
is many a tailor's garret window, for that matter. Indeed, now that you
have looked steadily for a minute or so, and are used to the form of
the arch, it seems to become so small that you can almost fancy it the
ceiling of a good-sized lumber-room in an attic.
Having attained to this modest conception of it, carry your eyes back
to the similar vault of the second compartment, nearer you. Very little
further contemplation will reduce that also to the similitude of a
moderately-sized attic. And then, resolving to bear, if possible--for
it is worth while,--the cramp in your neck for another quarter of a
minute, look right up to the third vault, over your head; which, if
not, in the said quarter of a minute, reducible in imagination to a
tailor's garret, will at least sink, like the two others, into the
semblance of a common arched ceiling, of no serious magnitude or
Then, glance quickly down from it to the floor, and round at the space,
(included between the four pillars), which that vault covers. It is
sixty feet square,[Footnote: Approximately. Thinking I could find the
dimensions of the duomo anywhere, I only paced it myself,--and cannot,
at this moment, lay my hand on English measurements of it.]--four
hundred square yards of pavement,--and I believe you will have to look
up again more than once or twice, before you can convince yourself that
the mean-looking roof is swept indeed over all that twelfth part of an
acre. And still less, if I mistake not, will you, without slow proof,
believe, when you turn yourself round towards the east end, that the
narrow niche (it really looks scarcely more than a niche) which
occupies, beyond the dome, the position of our northern choirs, is
indeed the unnarrowed elongation of the nave, whose breadth extends
round you like a frozen lake. From which experiments and comparisons,
your conclusion, I think, will be, and I am sure it ought to be, that
the most studious ingenuity could not produce a design for the interior
of a building which should more completely hide its extent, and throw
away every common advantage of its magnitude, than this of the Duomo of
Having arrived at this, I assure you, quite securely tenable
conclusion, we will quit the cathedral by the western door, for once,
and as quickly as we can walk, return to the Green cloister of Sta.
Maria Novella; and place ourselves on the south side of it, so as to
see as much as we can of the entrance, on the opposite side, to the
so-called 'Spanish Chapel.'
There is, indeed, within the opposite cloister, an arch of entrance,
plain enough. But no chapel, whatever, externally manifesting itself as
worth entering. No walls, or gable, or dome, raised above the rest of
the outbuildings--only two windows with traceries opening into the
cloister; and one story of inconspicuous building above. You can't
conceive there should be any effect of _magnitude_ produced in the
interior, however it has been vaulted or decorated. It may be pretty,
but it cannot possibly look large.
Entering it, nevertheless, you will be surprised at the effect of
height, and disposed to fancy that the circular window cannot surely be
the same you saw outside, looking so low, I had to go out again,
myself, to make sure that it was.
And gradually, as you let the eye follow the sweep of the vaulting arches,
from the small central keystone-boss, with the Lamp carved on it, to the
broad capitals of the hexagonal pillars at the angles,--there will form
itself in your mind, I think, some impression not only of vastness in the
building, but of great daring in the builder; and at last, after closely
following out the lines of a fresco or two, and looking up and up again
to the coloured vaults, it will become to you literally one of the grandest
places you ever entered, roofed without a central pillar. You will begin
to wonder that human daring ever achieved anything so magnificent.
But just go out again into the cloister, and recover knowledge of the
facts. It is nothing like so large as the blank arch which at home we
filled with brickbats or leased for a gin-shop under the last railway
we made to carry coals to Newcastle. And if you pace the floor it
covers, you will find it is three feet less one way, and thirty feet
less the other, than that single square of the Cathedral which was
roofed like a tailor's loft,--accurately, for I did measure here, myself,
the floor of the Spanish chapel is fifty-seven feet by thirty-two.
I hope, after this experience, that you will need no farther conviction
of the first law of noble building, that grandeur depends on proportion
and design--not, except in a quite secondary degree, on magnitude. Mere
size has, indeed, under all disadvantage, some definite value; and so
has mere splendour. Disappointed as you may be, or at least ought to
be, at first, by St. Peter's, in the end you will feel its size,--and
its brightness. These are all you _can_ feel in it--it is nothing
more than the pump-room at Leamington built bigger;--but the bigness
tells at last: and Corinthian pillars whose capitals alone are ten feet
high, and their acanthus leaves, three feet six long, give you a
serious conviction of the infallibility of the Pope, and the
fallibility of the wretched Corinthians, who invented the style indeed,
but built with capitals no bigger than hand-baskets.
Vastness _has_ thus its value. But the glory of architecture is to
be--whatever you wish it to be,--lovely, or grand, or comfortable,--on
such terms as it can easily obtain. Grand, by proportion--lovely, by
imagination--comfortable, by ingenuity--secure, by honesty: with such
materials and in such space as you have got to give it.
Grand--by proportion, I said; but ought to have said by
_dis_proportion. Beauty is given by the relation of parts--size,
by their comparison. The first secret in getting the impression of size
in this chapel is the _dis_proportion between pillar and arch. You
take the pillar for granted,--it is thick, strong, and fairly high
above your head. You look to the vault springing from it--and it soars
away, nobody knows where.
Another great, but more subtle secret is in the _in_equality and
immeasurability of the curved lines; and the hiding of the form by the
To begin, the room, I said, is fifty-seven feet wide, and only thirty-two
deep. It is thus nearly one-third larger in the direction across the line
of entrance, which gives to every arch, pointed and round, throughout the
roof, a different spring from its neighbours.
The vaulting ribs have the simplest of all profiles--that of a
chamfered beam. I call it simpler than even that of a square beam; for
in barking a log you cheaply get your chamfer, and nobody cares whether
the level is alike on each side: but you must take a larger tree, and
use much more work to get a square. And it is the same with stone.
And this profile is--fix the conditions of it, therefore, in your
mind,--venerable in the history of mankind as the origin of all Gothic
tracery-mouldings; venerable in the history of the Christian Church as
that of the roof ribs, both of the lower church of Assisi, bearing the
scroll of the precepts of St. Francis, and here at Florence, bearing
the scroll of the faith of St. Dominic. If you cut it out in paper, and
cut the corners off farther and farther, at every cut, you will produce
a sharper profile of rib, connected in architectural use with
differently treated styles. But the entirely venerable form is the
massive one in which the angle of the beam is merely, as it were,
secured and completed in stability by removing its too sharp edge.
Well, the vaulting ribs, as in Giotto's vault, then, have here, under
their painting, this rude profile: but do not suppose the vaults are
simply the shells cast over them. Look how the ornamental borders fall
on the capitals! The plaster receives all sorts of indescribably
accommodating shapes--the painter contracting and stopping his design
upon it as it happens to be convenient. You can't measure anything; you
can't exhaust; you can't grasp,--except one simple ruling idea, which a
child can grasp, if it is interested and intelligent: namely, that the
room has four sides with four tales told upon them; and the roof four
quarters, with another four tales told on those. And each history in
the sides has its correspondent history in the roof. Generally, in good
Italian decoration, the roof represents constant, or essential facts;
the walls, consecutive histories arising out of them, or leading up to
them. Thus here, the roof represents in front of you, in its main
quarter, the Resurrection--the cardinal fact of Christianity; opposite
(above, behind you), the Ascension; on your left hand, the descent of
the Holy Spirit; on your right, Christ's perpetual presence with His
Church, symbolized by His appearance on the Sea of Galilee to the
disciples in the storm.
The correspondent walls represent: under the first quarter, (the
Resurrection), the story of the Crucifixion; under the second quarter,
(the Ascension), the preaching after that departure, that Christ will
return--symbolized here in the Dominican church by the consecration of
St. Dominic; under the third quarter, (the descent of the Holy Spirit),
the disciplining power of human virtue and wisdom; under the fourth
quarter, (St. Peter's Ship), the authority and government of the State
The order of these subjects, chosen by the Dominican monks themselves,
was sufficiently comprehensive to leave boundless room for the
invention of the painter. The execution of it was first intrusted to
Taddeo Gaddi, the best architectural master of Giotto's school, who
painted the four quarters of the roof entirely, but with no great
brilliancy of invention, and was beginning to go down one of the sides,
when, luckily, a man of stronger brain, his friend, came from Siena.
Taddeo thankfully yielded the room to him; he joined his own work to
that of his less able friend in an exquisitely pretty and complimentary
way; throwing his own greater strength into it, not competitively, but
gradually and helpfully. When, however, he had once got himself well
joined, and softly, to the more simple work, he put his own force on
with a will and produced the most noble piece of pictorial philosophy
[Footnote: There is no philosophy _taught_ either by the school of
Athens or Michael Angelo's 'Last Judgment,' and the 'Disputa' is merely
a graceful assemblage of authorities, the effects of such authority not
being shown.] and divinity existing in Italy.
This pretty, and, according to all evidence by me attainable, entirely
true, tradition has been all but lost, among the ruins of fair old
Florence, by the industry of modern mason-critics--who, without
exception, labouring under the primal (and necessarily unconscious)
disadvantage of not knowing good work from bad, and never, therefore,
knowing a man by his hand or his thoughts, would be in any case
sorrowfully at the mercy of mistakes in a document; but are tenfold
more deceived by their own vanity, and delight in overthrowing a
received idea, if they can.
Farther: as every fresco of this early date has been retouched again
and again, and often painted half over,--and as, if there has been the
least care or respect for the old work in the restorer, he will now and
then follow the old lines and match the old colours carefully in some
places, while he puts in clearly recognizable work of his own in
others,--two critics, of whom one knows the first man's work well, and
the other the last's, will contradict each other to almost any extent
on the securest grounds. And there is then no safe refuge for an
uninitiated person but in the old tradition, which, if not literally
true, is founded assuredly on some root of fact which you are likely to
get at, if ever, through it only. So that my general directions to all
young people going to Florence or Rome would be very short: "Know your
first volume of Vasari, and your two first books of Livy; look about
you, and don't talk, nor listen to talking."
On those terms, you may know, entering this chapel, that in Michael
Angelo's time, all Florence attributed these frescos to Taddeo Gaddi
and Simon Memmi.
I have studied neither of these artists myself with any speciality of
care, and cannot tell you positively, anything about them or their
works. But I know good work from bad, as a cobbler knows leather, and I
can tell you positively the quality of these frescos, and their
relation to contemporary panel pictures; whether authentically ascribed
to Gaddi, Memmi, or any one else, it is for the Florentine Academy to
The roof, and the north side, down to the feet of the horizontal line
of sitting figures, were originally third-rate work of the school of
Giotto; the rest of the chapel was originally, and most of it is still,
magnificent work of the school of Siena. The roof and north side have
been heavily repainted in, many places; the rest is faded and injured,
but not destroyed in its most essential qualities. And now, farther,
you must bear with just a little bit of tormenting history of painters.
There were two Gaddis, father and son,--Taddeo and Angelo. And there
were two Memmis, brothers,--Simon and Philip.
I daresay you will find, in the modern books, that Simon's real name
was Peter, and Philip's real name was Bartholomew; and Angelo's real
name was Taddeo, and Taddeo's real name was Angelo; and Memmi's real
name was Gaddi, and Gaddi's real name was Memmi. You may find out all
that at your leisure, afterwards, if you like. What it is important for
you to know here, in the Spanish Chapel, is only this much that
follows:--There were certainly two persons once called Gaddi, both
rather stupid in religious matters and high art; but one of them, I
don't know or care which, a true decorative painter of the most
exquisite skill, a perfect architect, an amiable person, and a great
lover of pretty domestic life. Vasari says this was the father, Taddeo.
He built the Ponte Vecchio; and the old stones of it--which if you ever
look at anything on the Ponte Vecchio but the shops, you may still see
(above those wooden pent-houses) with the Florentine shield--were so
laid by him that they are unshaken to this day.
He painted an exquisite series of frescos at Assisi from the Life of
Christ; in which,--just to show you what the man's nature is,--when the
Madonna has given Christ into Simeon's arms, she can't help holding out
her own arms to him, and saying, (visibly,) "Won't you come back to
mamma?" The child laughs his answer--"I love _you_, mamma; but I'm
quite happy just now."
Well; he, or he and his son together, painted these four quarters of
the roof of the Spanish Chapel. They were very probably much retouched
afterwards by Antonio Veneziano, or whomsoever Messrs. Crowe and
Cavalcasella please; but that architecture in the descent of the Holy
Ghost is by the man who painted the north transept of Assisi, and there
need be no more talk about the matter,--for you never catch a restorer
doing his old architecture right again. And farther, the ornamentation
of the vaulting ribs _is_ by the man who painted the Entombment,
No. 31 in the Galerie des Grands Tableaux, in the catalogue of the
Academy for 1874. Whether that picture is Taddeo Gaddi's or not, as
stated in the catalogue, I do not know; but I know the vaulting ribs of
the Spanish Chapel are painted by the same hand.
Again: of the two brothers Memmi, one or other, I don't know or care
which, had an ugly way of turning the eyes of his figures up and their
mouths down; of which you may see an entirely disgusting example in the
four saints attributed to Filippo Memmi on the cross wall of the north
(called always in Murray's guide the south, because he didn't notice
the way the church was built) transept of Assisi. You may, however,
also see the way the mouth goes down in the much repainted, but still
characteristic No. 9 in the Uffizii. [Footnote: This picture bears the
inscription (I quote from the French catalogue, not having verified it
myself), "Simon Martini, et Lippus Memmi de Senis me pinxerunt." I have
no doubt whatever, myself, that the two brothers worked together on
these frescoes of the Spanish Chapel: but that most of the Limbo is
Philip's, and the Paradise, scarcely with his interference, Simon's.]
Now I catch the wring and verjuice of this brother again and again,
among the minor heads of the lower frescoes in this Spanish Chapel. The
head of the Queen beneath Noah, in the Limbo,--(see below) is
Farther: one of the two brothers, I don't care which, had a way of
painting leaves; of which you may see a notable example in the rod in
the hand of Gabriel in that same picture of the Annunciation in the
Uffizii. No Florentine painter, or any other, ever painted leaves as
well as that, till you get down to Sandro Botticelli, who did them much
better. But the man who painted that rod in the hand of Gabriel,
painted the rod in the right hand of Logic in the Spanish Chapel,--and
nobody else in Florence, or the world, _could_.
Farther (and this is the last of the antiquarian business); you see
that the frescoes on the roof are, on the whole, dark with much blue
and red in them, the white spaces coming out strongly. This is the
characteristic colouring of the partially defunct school of Giotto,
becoming merely decorative, and passing into a colourist school which
connected itself afterwards with the Venetians. There is an exquisite
example of all its specialities in the little Annunciation in the
Uffizii, No. 14, attributed to Angelo Gaddi, in which you see the
Madonna is stupid, and the angel stupid, but the colour of the whole,
as a piece of painted glass, lovely; and the execution exquisite,--at
once a painter's and jeweller's; with subtle sense of chiaroscuro
underneath; (note the delicate shadow of the Madonna's arm across her
The head of this school was (according to Vasari) Taddeo Gaddi; and
henceforward, without further discussion, I shall speak of him as the
painter of the roof of the Spanish Chapel,--not without suspicion,
however, that his son Angelo may hereafter turn out to have been the
better decorator, and the painter of the frescoes from the life of
Christ in the north transept of Assisi,--with such assistance as his
son or scholars might give--and such change or destruction as time,
Antonio Veneziano, or the last operations of the Tuscan railroad
company, may have effected on them.
On the other hand, you see that the frescos on the walls are of paler
colours, the blacks coming out of these clearly, rather than the
whites; but the pale colours, especially, for instance, the whole of
the Duomo of Florence in that on your right, very tender and lovely.
Also, you may feel a tendency to express much with outline, and draw,
more than paint, in the most interesting parts; while in the duller
ones, nasty green and yellow tones come out, which prevent the effect
of the whole from being very pleasant. These characteristics belong, on
the whole, to the school of Siena; and they indicate here the work
_assuredly_ of a man of vast power and most refined education,
whom I shall call without further discussion, during the rest of this
and the following morning's study, Simon Memmi.
And of the grace and subtlety with which he joined his work to that of
the Gaddis, you may judge at once by comparing the Christ standing on
the fallen gate of the Limbo, with the Christ in the Resurrection
above. Memmi has retained the dress and imitated the general effect of
the figure in the roof so faithfully that you suspect no difference of
mastership--nay, he has even raised the foot in the same awkward way:
but you will find Memmi's foot delicately drawn-Taddeo's, hard and
rude: and all the folds of Memmi's drapery cast with unbroken grace and
complete gradations of shade, while Taddeo's are rigid and meagre; also
in the heads, generally Taddeo's type of face is square in feature,
with massive and inelegant clusters or volutes of hair and beard; but
Memmi's delicate and long in feature, with much divided and flowing
hair, often arranged with exquisite precision, as in the finest Greek
coins. Examine successively in this respect only the heads of Adam,
Abel, Methuselah, and Abraham, in the Limbo, and you will not confuse
the two designers any more. I have not had time to make out more than
the principal figures in the Limbo, of which indeed the entire dramatic
power is centred in the Adam and Eve. The latter dressed as a nun, in her
fixed gaze on Christ, with her hands clasped, is of extreme beauty: and
however feeble the work of any early painter may be, in its decent and
grave inoffensiveness it guides the imagination unerringly to a certain
point. How far you are yourself capable of filling up what is left untold
and conceiving, as a reality, Eve's first look on this her child, depends
on no painter's skill, but on your own understanding. Just above Eve is
Abel, bearing the lamb: and behind him, Noah, between his wife and Shem:
behind them, Abraham, between Isaac and Ishmael; (turning from Ishmael to
Isaac), behind these, Moses, between Aaron and David. I have not identified
the others, though I find the white-bearded figure behind Eve called
Methuselah in my notes: I know not on what authority. Looking up from these
groups, however, to the roof painting, you will at once feel the imperfect
grouping and ruder features of all the figures; and the greater depth of
colour. We will dismiss these comparatively inferior paintings at once.
The roof and walls must be read together, each segment of the roof
forming an introduction to, or portion of, the subject on the wall
below. But the roof must first be looked at alone, as the work of
Taddeo Gaddi, for the artistic qualities and failures of it.
I. In front, as you enter, is the compartment with the subject of the
Resurrection. It is the traditional Byzantine composition: the guards
sleeping, and the two angels in white saying to the women, "He is not
here," while Christ is seen rising with the flag of the Cross.
But it would be difficult to find another example of the subject, so
coldly treated--so entirely without passion or action. The faces are
expressionless; the gestures powerless. Evidently the painter is not
making the slightest effort to conceive what really happened, but
merely repeating and spoiling what he could remember of old design, or
himself supply of commonplace for immediate need. The "Noli me
tangere," on the right, is spoiled from Giotto, and others before him;
a peacock, woefully plumeless and colourless, a fountain, an ill drawn
toy-horse, and two toy-children gathering flowers, are emaciate remains
of Greek symbols. He has taken pains with the vegetation, but in vain.
Yet Taddeo Gaddi was a true painter, a very beautiful designer, and a
very amiable person. How comes he to do that Resurrection so badly?
In the first place, he was probably tired of a subject which was a
great strain to his feeble imagination; and gave it up as impossible:
doing simply the required figures in the required positions. In the
second, he was probably at the time despondent and feeble because of
his master's death. See Lord Lindsay, II. 273, where also it is pointed
out that in the effect of the light proceeding from the figure of
Christ, Taddeo Gaddi indeed was the first of the Giottisti who showed
true sense of light and shade. But until Lionardo's time the innovation
did not materially affect Florentine art.
II. The Ascension (opposite the Resurrection, and not worth looking at,
except for the sake of making more sure our conclusions from the first
fresco). The Madonna is fixed in Byzantine stiffness, without Byzantine
III. The Descent of the Holy Ghost, on the left hand. The Madonna and
disciples are gathered in an upper chamber: underneath are the
Parthians, Medes, Elamites, etc., who hear them speak in their own
Three dogs are in the foreground--their mythic purpose the same as that
of the two verses which affirm the fellowship of the dog in the journey
and return of Tobias: namely, to mark the share of the lower animals in
the gentleness given by the outpouring of the Spirit of Christ.
IV. The Church sailing on the Sea of the World. St. Peter coming to
Christ on the water.
I was too little interested in the vague symbolism of this fresco to
examine it with care--the rather that the subject beneath, the literal
contest of the Church with the world, needed more time for study in
itself alone than I had for all Florence.
On this, and the opposite side of the chapel, are represented, by Simon
Memmi's hand, the teaching power of the Spirit of God, and the saving
power of the Christ of God, in the world, according to the
understanding of Florence in his time.
We will take the side of Intellect first, beneath the pouring forth of
the Holy Spirit.
In the point of the arch beneath, are the three Evangelical Virtues.
Without these, says Florence, you can have no science. Without Love,
Faith, and Hope--no intelligence.
Under these are the four Cardinal Virtues, the entire group being thus
D E F G
A, Charity; flames issuing from her head and hands.
B, Faith; holds cross and shield, quenching fiery darts.
This symbol, so frequent in modern adaptation from St. Paul's address to
personal faith, is rare in older art.
C, Hope, with a branch of lilies.
D, Temperance; bridles a black fish, on which she stands.
E, Prudence, with a book.
F, Justice, with crown and baton.
G, Fortitude, with tower and sword.
Under these are the great prophets and apostles; on the left,[Footnote:
I can't find my note of the first one on the left; answering to
Solomon, opposite.] David, St. Paul, St. Mark, St. John; on the right,
St. Matthew, St. Luke, Moses, Isaiah, Solomon. In the midst of the
Evangelists, St. Thomas Aquinas, seated on a Gothic throne.
Now observe, this throne, with all the canopies below it, and the
complete representation of the Duomo of Florence opposite, are of
finished Gothic of Orecagna's school--later than Giotto's Gothic. But
the building in which the apostles are gathered at the Pentecost is of
the early Romanesque mosaic school, with a wheel window from the duomo
of Assisi, and square windows from the Baptistery of Florence. And this
is always the type of architecture used by Taddeo Gaddi: while the
finished Gothic could not possibly have been drawn by him, but is
absolute evidence of the later hand.
Under the line of prophets, as powers summoned by their voices, are the
mythic figures of the seven theological or spiritual, and the seven
_ge_ological or natural sciences: and under the feet of each of
them, the figure of its Captain-teacher to the world.
I had better perhaps give you the names of this entire series of
figures from left to right at once. You will see presently why they are
numbered in a reverse order.
8. Civil Law. The Emperor Justinian.
9. Canon Law. Pope Clement V.
10. Practical Theology. Peter Lombard.
11. Contemplative Theology. Dionysius the Areopagite.
12. Dogmatic Theology. Boethius.
13. Mystic Theology. St. John Damascene.
14. Polemic Theology. St. Augustine.
7. Arithmetic. Pythagoras.
6. Geometry. Euclid.
5. Astronomy. Zoroaster.
4. Music. Tubalcain.
3. Logic. Aristotle.
2. Rhetoric. Cicero.
1. Grammar. Priscian.
Here, then, you have pictorially represented, the system of manly
education, supposed in old Florence to be that necessarily instituted
in great earthly kingdoms or republics, animated by the Spirit shed
down upon the world at Pentecost. How long do you think it will take
you, or ought to take, to see such a picture? We were to get to work
this morning, as early as might be: you have probably allowed half an
hour for Santa Maria Novella; half an hour for San Lorenzo; an hour for
the museum of sculpture at the Bargello; an hour for shopping; and then
it will be lunch time, and you mustn't be late, because you are to
leave by the afternoon train, and must positively be in Rome to-morrow
morning. Well, of your half-hour for Santa Maria Novella,--after
Ghirlandajo's choir, Orcagna's transept, and Cimabue's Madonna, and the
painted windows, have been seen properly, there will remain, suppose,
at the utmost, a quarter of an hour for the Spanish Chapel. That will
give you two minutes and a half for each side, two for the ceiling, and
three for studying Murray's explanations or mine. Two minutes and a
half you have got, then--(and I observed, during my five weeks' work in
the chapel, that English visitors seldom gave so much)--to read this
scheme given you by Simon Memmi of human spiritual education. In order
to understand the purport of it, in any the smallest degree, you must
summon to your memory, in the course of these two minutes and a half,
what you happen to be acquainted with of the doctrines and characters
of Pythagoras, Zoroaster, Aristotle, Dionysius the Areopagite, St.
Augustine, and the emperor Justinian, and having further observed the
expressions and actions attributed by the painter to these personages,
judge how far he has succeeded in reaching a true and worthy ideal of
them, and how large or how subordinate a part in his general scheme of
human learning he supposes their peculiar doctrines properly to occupy.
For myself, being, to my much sorrow, now an old person; and, to my
much pride, an old-fashioned one, I have not found my powers either of
reading or memory in the least increased by any of Mr. Stephenson's or
Mr. Wheatstone's inventions; and though indeed I came here from Lucca
in three hours instead of a day, which it used to take, I do not think
myself able, on that account, to see any picture in Florence in less
time than it took formerly, or even obliged to hurry myself in any
investigations connected with it.
Accordingly, I have myself taken five weeks to see the quarter of this
picture of Simon Memmi's: and can give you a fairly good account of
that quarter, and some partial account of a fragment or two of those on
the other walls: but, alas! only of their pictorial qualities in either
case; for I don't myself know anything whatever, worth trusting to,
about Pythagoras, or Dionysius the Areopagite; and have not had, and
never shall have, probably, any time to learn much of them; while in
the very feeblest light only,--in what the French would express by
their excellent word 'lueur,'--I am able to understand something of the
characters of Zoroaster, Aristotle, and Justinian. But this only
increases in me the reverence with which I ought to stand before the
work of a painter, who was not only a master of his own craft, but so
profound a scholar and theologian as to be able to conceive this scheme
of picture, and write the divine law by which Florence was to live.
Which Law, written in the northern page of this Vaulted Book, we will
begin quiet interpretation of, if you care to return hither, to-morrow
THE FIFTH MORNING.
THE STRAIT GATE.
As you return this morning to St. Mary's, you may as well observe--the
matter before us being concerning gates,--that the western facade of the
church is of two periods. Your Murray refers it all to the latest of these;
--I forget when, and do not care;--in which the largest flanking columns,
and the entire effective mass of the walls, with their riband mosaics and
high pediment, were built in front of, and above, what the barbarian
renaissance designer chose to leave of the pure old Dominican church. You
may see his ungainly jointings at the pedestals of the great columns,
running through the pretty, parti-coloured base, which, with the 'Strait'
Gothic doors, and the entire lines of the fronting and flanking tombs
(where not restored by the Devil-begotten brood of modern Florence), is
of pure, and exquisitely severe and refined, fourteenth century Gothic,
with superbly carved bearings on its shields. The small detached line of
tombs on the left, untouched in its sweet colour and living weed ornament,
I would fain have painted, stone by stone: but one can never draw in front
of a church in these republican days; for all the blackguard children of
the neighbourhood come to howl, and throw stones, on the steps, and the
ball or stone play against these sculptured tombs, as a dead wall adapted
for that purpose only, is incessant in the fine days when I could have
If you enter by the door most to the left, or north, and turn immediately
to the right, on the interior of the wall of the facade is an Annunciation,
visible enough because well preserved, though in the dark, and extremely
pretty in its way,--of the decorated and ornamental school following
Giotto:--I can't guess by whom, nor does it much matter; but it is well
To look at it by way of contrast with the delicate, intense, slightly
decorated design of Memmi,--in which, when you return into the Spanish
chapel, you will feel the dependence for its effect on broad masses of
white and pale amber, where the decorative school would have had mosaic
of red, blue, and gold.
Our first business this morning must be to read and understand the
writing on the book held open by St. Thomas Aquinas, for that informs
us of the meaning of the whole picture.
It is this text from the Book of Wisdom VII. 6.
"Optavi, et datus est mihi sensus.
Invocavi, et venit in me Spiritus Sapientiae,
Et preposui illam regnis et sedibus."
"I willed, and Sense was given me.
I prayed, and the Spirit of Wisdom came upon me.
And I set her before, (preferred her to,) kingdoms
The common translation in our English Apocrypha loses the entire
meaning of this passage, which--not only as the statement of the
experience of Florence in her own education, but as universally
descriptive of the process of all noble education whatever--we had
better take pains to understand.
First, says Florence "I willed, (in sense of resolutely desiring,) and
Sense was given me." You must begin your education with the distinct
resolution to know what is true, and choice of the strait and rough
road to such knowledge. This choice is offered to every youth and maid
at some moment of their life;--choice between the easy downward road,
so broad that we can dance down it in companies, and the steep narrow
way, which we must enter alone. Then, and for many a day afterwards,
they need that form of persistent Option, and Will: but day by day, the
'Sense' of the rightness of what they have done, deepens on them, not
in consequence of the effort, but by gift granted in reward of it. And
the Sense of difference between right and wrong, and between beautiful
and unbeautiful things, is confirmed in the heroic, and fulfilled in
the industrious, soul.
That is the process of education in the earthly sciences, and the
morality connected with them. Reward given to faithful Volition.
Next, when Moral and Physical senses are perfect, comes the desire for
education in the higher world, where the senses are no more our
Teachers; but the Maker of the senses. And that teaching, we cannot get
by labour, but only by petition.
"Invocavi, et venit in me Spiritus Sapientiae"--"I prayed, and the
Spirit of Wisdom," (not, you observe, _was given_, [Footnote: I in
careless error, wrote "was given" in 'Fors Clavigera.] but,)
"_came_ upon me." The _personal_ power of Wisdom: the "[Greek: sophia]"
or Santa Sophia, to whom the first great Christian temple was dedicated.
This higher wisdom, governing by her presence, all earthly conduct, and
by her teaching, all earthly art, Florence tells you, she obtained only
And these two Earthly and Divine sciences are expressed beneath in the
symbols of their divided powers;--Seven terrestrial, Seven celestial,
whose names have been already indicated to you:--in which figures I
must point out one or two technical matters, before touching their
interpretation. They are all by Simon Memmi originally; but repainted,
many of them all over, some hundred years later,--(certainly after the
discovery of America, as you will see)--by an artist of considerable
power, and some feeling for the general action of the figures; but of
no refinement or carelessness. He dashes massive paint in huge spaces
over the subtle old work, puts in his own chiaro-oscuro where all had
been shadeless, and his own violent colour where all had been pale, and
repaints the faces so as to make them, to his notion, prettier and more
human: some of this upper work has, however, come away since, and the
original outline, at least, is traceable; while in the face of the
Logic, the Music, and one or two others, the original work is very
pure. Being most interested myself in the earthly sciences, I had a
scaffolding put up, made on a level with them, and examined them inch
by inch, and the following report will be found accurate until next
For interpretation of them, you must always take the central figure of
the Science, with the little medallion above it, and the figure below,
all together. Which I proceed to do, reading first from left to right
for the earthly sciences, and then from right to left the heavenly
ones, to the centre, where their two highest powers sit, side by side.
We begin, then, with the first in the list given above, (Vaulted Book,
page 75):--Grammar, in the corner farthest from the window.
1. GRAMMAR: more properly Grammatice, "Grammatic Act" the Art of
_Letters_ or "Literature," or using the word which to some English
ears will carry most weight with it,--"Scripture," and its use. The Art
of faithfully reading what has been written for our learning; and of
clearly writing what we would make immortal of our thoughts. Power
which consists first in recognizing letters; secondly, in forming them;
thirdly, in the understanding and choice of words which errorless shall
express our thought. Severe exercises all, reaching--very few living
persons know, how far: beginning properly in childhood, then only to be
truly acquired. It is wholly impossible--this I say from too sorrowful
experience--to conquer by any effort or time, habits of the hand (much
more of head and soul) with which the vase of flesh has been formed and
filled in youth,--the law of God being that parents shall compel the
child in the day of its obedience into habits of hand, and eye, and
soul, which, when it is old, shall not, by any strength, or any
weakness, be departed from.
"Enter ye in," therefore, says Grammatice, "at the Strait Gate." She
points through it with her rod, holding a fruit(?) for reward, in her
left hand. The gate is very strait indeed--her own waist no less so,
her hair fastened close. She had once a white veil binding it, which is
lost. Not a gushing form of literature, this,--or in any wise disposed
to subscribe to Mudie's, my English friends--or even patronize Tauchnitz
editions of--what is the last new novel you see ticketed up today in Mr.
Goodban's window? She looks kindly down, nevertheless, to the three
children whom she is teaching--two boys and a girl: (Qy. Does this mean
that one girl out of every two should not be able to read or write? I am
quite willing to accept that inference, for my own part,--should perhaps
even say, two girls out of three). This girl is of the highest classes,
crowned, her golden hair falling behind her the Florentine girdle round
her hips--(not waist, the object being to leave the lungs full play; but
to keep the dress always well down in dancing or running). The boys are
of good birth also, the nearest one with luxuriant curly hair--only the
profile of the farther one seen. All reverent and eager. Above, the
medallion is of a figure looking at a fountain. Underneath, Lord Lindsay
says, Priscian, and is, I doubt not, right.
_Technical Points_.--The figure is said by Crowe to be entirely
repainted. The dress is so throughout--both the hands also, and the
fruit, and rod. But the eyes, mouth, hair above the forehead, and
outline of the rest, with the faded veil, and happily, the traces left
of the children, are genuine; the strait gate perfectly so, in the
colour underneath, though reinforced; and the action of the entire
figure is well preserved: but there is a curious question about both
the rod and fruit. Seen close, the former perfectly assumes the shape
of folds of dress gathered up over the raised right arm, and I am not
absolutely sure that the restorer has not mistaken the folds--at the
same time changing a pen or style into a rod. The fruit also I have
doubts of, as fruit is not so rare at Florence that it should be made a
reward. It is entirely and roughly repainted, and is oval in shape. In
Giotto's Charity, luckily not restored, at Assisi, the guide-books have
always mistaken the heart she holds for an apple:--and my own belief is
that originally, the Grammatice of Simon Memmi made with her right hand
the sign which said, "Enter ye in at the Strait Gate," and with her
left, the sign which said, "My son, give me thine Heart."
II. RHETORIC. Next to learning how to read and write, you are to learn
to speak; and, young ladies and gentlemen, observe,--to speak as little
as possible, it is farther implied, till you _have_ learned.
In the streets of Florence at this day you may hear much of what some
people call "rhetoric"--very passionate speaking indeed, and quite
"from the heart"--such hearts as the people have got. That is to say,
you never hear a word uttered but in a rage, either just ready to
burst, or for the most part, explosive instantly: everybody--man,
woman, or child--roaring out their incontinent, foolish, infinitely
contemptible opinions and wills, on every smallest occasion, with
flashing eyes, hoarsely shrieking and wasted voices,--insane hope to
drag by vociferation whatever they would have, out of man and God.
Now consider Simon Memmi's Rhetoric. The Science of Speaking,
primarily; of making oneself _heard_ therefore: which is not to be
done by shouting. She alone, of all the sciences, carries a scroll: and
being a speaker gives you something to read. It is not thrust forward
at you at all, but held quietly down with her beautiful depressed right
hand; her left hand set coolly and strongly on her side.
And you will find that, thus, she alone of all the sciences _needs no
use of her hands_. All the others have some important business for
them. She none. She can do all with her lips, holding scroll, or
bridle, or what you will, with her right hand, her left on her side.
Again, look at the talkers in the streets of Florence, and see how,
being essentially _un_able to talk, they try to make lips of their
fingers! How they poke, wave, flourish, point, jerk, shake finger and
fist at their antagonists--dumb essentially, all the while, if they
knew it; unpersuasive and ineffectual, as the shaking of tree branches
in the wind.
You will at first think her figure ungainly and stiff. It is so,
partly, the dress being more coarsely repainted than in any other of
the series. But she is meant to be both stout and strong. What she has
to say is indeed to persuade you, if possible; but assuredly to
overpower you. And _she_ has not the Florentine girdle, for she
does not want to move. She has her girdle broad at the waist--of all
the sciences, you would at first have thought, the one that most needed
breath! No, says Simon Memmi. You want breath to run, or dance, or
fight with. But to speak!--If you know _how_, you can do your work
with few words; very little of this pure Florentine air will be enough,
if you shape it rightly.
Note, also, that calm setting of her hand against her side. You think
Rhetoric should be glowing, fervid, impetuous? No, says Simon Memmi.
Above all things,--_cool_.
And now let us read what is written on her scroll:--Mulceo, dum loquor,
varios induta colores.
Her chief function, to melt; make soft, thaw the hearts of men with
kind fire; to overpower with peace; and bring rest, with rainbow
colours. The chief mission of all words that they should be of comfort.
You think the function of words is to excite? Why, a red rag will do
that, or a blast through a brass pipe. But to give calm and gentle
heat; to be as the south wind, and the iridescent rain, to all
bitterness of frost; and bring at once strength, and healing. This is
the work of human lips, taught of God.
One farther and final lesson is given in the medallion above.
Aristotle, and too many modern rhetoricians of his school, thought
there could be good speaking in a false cause. But above Simon Memmi's
Rhetoric is _Truth_, with her mirror.
There is a curious feeling, almost innate in men, that though they are
bound to speak truth, in speaking to a single person, they may lie as
much as they please, provided they lie to two or more people at once.
There is the same feeling about killing: most people would shrink from
shooting one innocent man; but will fire a mitrailleuse contentedly
into an innocent regiment.
When you look down from the figure of the Science, to that of Cicero,
beneath, you will at first think it entirely overthrows my conclusion
that Rhetoric has no need of her hands. For Cicero, it appears, has
three instead of two.
The uppermost, at his chin, is the only genuine one. That raised, with
the finger up, is entirely false. That on the book, is repainted so as
to defy conjecture of its original action.
But observe how the gesture of the true one confirms instead of
overthrowing what I have said above. Cicero is not speaking at all, but
profoundly thinking _before_ he speaks. It is the most abstractedly
thoughtful face to be found among all the philosophers; and very beautiful.
The whole is under Solomon, in the line of Prophets.
_Technical Points_.--These two figures have suffered from
restoration more than any others, but the right hand of Rhetoric is
still entirely genuine, and the left, except the ends of the fingers.
The ear, and hair just above it, are quite safe, the head well set on
its original line, but the crown of leaves rudely retouched, and then
faded. All the lower part of the figure of Cicero has been not only
repainted but changed; the face is genuine--I believe retouched, but so
cautiously and skilfully, that it is probably now more beautiful than
III. LOGIC. The science of reasoning, or more accurately Reason
herself, or pure intelligence.
Science to be gained after that of Expression, says Simon Memmi; so,
young people, it appears, that though you must not speak before you
have been taught how to speak, you may yet properly speak before you
have been taught how to think.
For indeed, it is only by frank speaking that you _can_ learn how
to think. And it is no matter how wrong the first thoughts you have may
be, provided you express them clearly;--and are willing to have them
Fortunately, nearly all of this beautiful figure is practically safe,
the outlines pure everywhere, and the face perfect: the
_prettiest_, as far as I know, which exists in Italian art of this
early date. It is subtle to the extreme in gradations of colour: the
eyebrows drawn, not with a sweep of the brush, but with separate cross
touches in the line of their growth--exquisitely pure in arch; the nose
straight and fine; the lips--playful slightly, proud, unerringly cut;
the hair flowing in sequent waves, ordered as if in musical time; head
perfectly upright on the shoulders; the height of the brow completed by
a crimson frontlet set with pearls, surmounted by a _fleur-de-lys_.
Her shoulders were exquisitely drawn, her white jacket fitting close to
soft, yet scarcely rising breasts; her arms singularly strong, at
perfect rest; her hands, exquisitely delicate. In her right, she holds
a branching and leaf-bearing rod, (the syllogism); in her left, a
scorpion with double sting, (the dilemma)--more generally, the powers
of rational construction and dissolution.
Beneath her, Aristotle,--intense keenness of search in his half-closed
Medallion above, (less expressive than usual) a man writing, with his
The whole under Isaiah, in the line of Prophets.
_Technical Points_.--The only parts of this figure which have
suffered seriously in repainting are the leaves of the rod, and the
scorpion. I have no idea, as I said above, what the background once
was; it is now a mere mess of scrabbled grey, carried over the
vestiges, still with care much redeemable, of the richly ornamental
extremity of the rod, which was a cluster of green leaves on a black
ground. But the scorpion is indecipherably injured, most of it confused
repainting, mixed with the white of the dress, the double sting
emphatic enough still, but not on the first lines.
The Aristotle is very genuine throughout, except his hat, and I think
that must be pretty nearly on the old lines, through I cannot trace
them. They are good lines, new or old.
IV. MUSIC. After you have learned to reason, young people, of course
you will be very grave, if not dull, you think. No, says Simon Memmi.
By no means anything of the kind. After learning to reason, you will
learn to sing; for you will want to. There is so much reason for
singing in the sweet world, when one thinks rightly of it. None for
grumbling, provided always you _have_ entered in at the strait
gate. You will sing all along the road then, in a little while, in a
manner pleasant for other people to hear.
This figure has been one of the loveliest in the series, an extreme
refinement and tender severity being aimed at throughout. She is
crowned, not with laurel, but with small leaves,--I am not sure what
they are, being too much injured: the face thin, abstracted, wistful;
the lips not far open in their low singing; the hair rippling softly on
the shoulders. She plays on a small organ, richly ornamented with
Gothic tracery, the down slope of it set with crockets like those of
Santa Maria del Fiore. Simon Memmi means that _all_ music must be
"sacred." Not that you are never to sing anything but hymns, but that
whatever is rightly called music, or work of the Muses, is divine in
help and healing.
The actions of both hands are singularly sweet. The right is one of the
loveliest things I ever saw done in painting. She is keeping down one
note only, with her third finger, seen under the raised fourth: the
thumb, just passing under; all the curves of the fingers exquisite, and
the pale light and shade of the rosy flesh relieved against the ivory
white and brown of the notes. Only the thumb and end of the forefinger
are seen of the left hand, but they indicate enough its light pressure
on the bellows. Fortunately, all these portions of the fresco are
Underneath, Tubal-Cain. Not Jubal, as you would expect. Jubal is the
inventor of musical instruments. Tubal-Cain, thought the old
Florentines, invented harmony. They, the best smiths in the world, knew
the differences in tones of hammer strokes on anvil. Curiously enough,
the only piece of true part-singing, done beautifully and joyfully,
which I have heard this year in Italy, (being south of Alps exactly six
months, and ranging from Genoa to Palermo) was out of a busy smithy at
Perugia. Of bestial howling, and entirely frantic vomiting up of
hopelessly damned souls through their still carnal throats, I have
heard more than, please God, I will ever endure the hearing of again in
one of His summers.
You think Tubal-Cain very ugly? Yes. Much like a shaggy baboon: not
accidentally, but with most scientific understanding of baboon
character. Men must have looked like that, before they had invented
harmony, or felt that one note differed from another, says, and knows
Simon Memmi. Darwinism, like all widely popular and widely mischievous
fallacies, has many a curious gleam and grain of truth in its tissue.
Medallion, a youth drinking. Otherwise, you might have thought only
church music meant, and not feast music also.
_Technical Points_.--The Tubal-Cain, one of the most entirely pure
and precious remnants of the old painting, nothing lost: nothing but
the redder ends of his beard retouched. Green dress of Music, in the
body and over limbs entirely repainted: it was once beautifully
embroidered; sleeves, partly genuine, hands perfect, face and hair
nearly so. Leaf crown faded and broken away, but not retouched.
V. ASTRONOMY. Properly Astro-logy, as (Theology) the knowledge of so
much of the stars as we can know wisely; not the attempt to define
their laws for them. Not that it is unbecoming of us to find out, if we
can, that they move in ellipses, and so on; but it is no business of
ours. What effects their rising and setting have on man, and beast, and
leaf; what their times and changes are, seen and felt in this world, it
is our business to know, passing our nights, if wakefully, by that
divine candlelight, and no other.
She wears a dark purple robe; holds in her left hand the hollow globe
with golden zodiac and meridians: lifts her right hand in noble awe.
"When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the
stars, which Thou hast ordained."
Crowned with gold, her dark hair in elliptic waves, bound with
glittering chains of pearl. Her eyes dark, lifted.
Beneath her, Zoroaster,[Footnote: Atlas! according to poor Vasari, and
sundry modern guides. I find Vasari's mistakes usually of this
_brightly_ blundering kind. In matters needing research, after a
while, I find _he_ is right, usually.] entirely noble and
beautiful, the delicate Persian head made softer still by the
elaborately wreathed silken hair, twisted into the pointed beard, and
into tapering plaits, falling on his shoulders. The head entirely
thrown back, he looks up with no distortion of the delicately arched
brow: writing, as he gazes.
For the association of the religion of the Magi with their own in the
mind of the Florentines of this time, see "Before the Soldan."
The dress must always have been white, because of its beautiful
opposition to the purple above and that of Tubal-Cain beside it. But it
has been too much repainted to be trusted anywhere, nothing left but a
fold or two in the sleeves. The cast of it from the knees down is
entirely beautiful, and I suppose on the old lines; but the restorer
could throw a fold well when he chose. The warm light which relieves
the purple of Zoroaster above, is laid in by him. I don't know if I
should have liked it better, flat, as it was, against the dark purple;
it seems to me quite beautiful now. The full red flush on the face of
the Astronomy is the restorer's doing also. She was much paler, if not
Under St. Luke.
Medallion, a stern man, with sickle and spade. For the flowers, and for
us, when stars have risen and set such and such times;--remember.
_Technical Points_.--Left hand globe, most of the important folds
of the purple dress, eyes, mouth, hair in great part, and crown,
genuine. Golden tracery on border of dress lost; extremity of falling
folds from left sleeve altered and confused, but the confusion prettily
got out of. Right hand and much of face and body of dress repainted.
Zoroaster's head quite pure. Dress repainted, but carefully, leaving
the hair untouched. Right hand and pen, now a common feathered quill,
entirely repainted, but dexterously and with feeling. The hand was once
slightly different in position, and held, most probably, a reed.
VI. GEOMETRY. You have now learned, young ladies and gentlemen, to
read, to speak, to think, to sing, and to see. You are getting old, and
will have soon to think of being married; you must learn to build your
house, therefore. Here is your carpenter's square for you, and you may
safely and wisely contemplate the ground a little, and the measures and
laws relating to that, seeing you have got to abide upon it:--and that
you have properly looked at the stars; not before then, lest, had you
studied the ground first, you might perchance never have raised your
heads from it. This is properly the science of all laws of practical
labour, issuing in beauty.
She looks down, a little puzzled, greatly interested, holding her
carpenter's square in her left hand, not wanting that but for practical
work; following a diagram with her right.
Her beauty, altogether soft and in curves, I commend to your notice, as
the exact opposite of what a vulgar designer would have imagined for
her. Note the wreath of hair at the back of her head, which though
fastened by a _spiral_ fillet, escapes at last, and flies off
loose in a sweeping curve. Contemplative Theology is the only other of
the sciences who has such wavy hair.
Beneath her, Euclid, in white turban. Very fine and original work
throughout; but nothing of special interest in him.
Under St. Matthew.
Medallion, a soldier with a straight sword (best for science of
defence), octagon shield, helmet like the beehive of Canton Vaud. As
the secondary use of music in feasting, so the secondary use of
geometry in war--her noble art being all in sweetest peace--is shown in
_Technical Points_.--It is more than fortunate that in nearly
every figure, the original outline of the hair is safe. Geometry's has
scarcely been retouched at all, except at the ends, once in single
knots, now in confused double ones. The hands, girdle, most of her
dress, and her black carpenter's square are original. Face and breast
VII. ARITHMETIC. Having built your house, young people, and
understanding the light of heaven, and the measures of earth, you may
marry--and can't do better. And here is now your conclusive science,
which you will have to apply, all your days, to all your affairs.
The Science of Number. Infinite in solemnity of use in Italy at this
time; including, of course, whatever was known of the higher abstract
mathematics and mysteries of numbers, but reverenced especially in its
vital necessity to the prosperity of families and kingdoms, and first
fully so understood here in commercial Florence.
Her hand lifted, with two fingers bent, two straight, solemnly
enforcing on your attention her primal law--Two and two are--four, you
observe,--not five, as those accursed usurers think.
Under her, Pythagoras.
Above, medallion of king, with sceptre and globe, counting money. Have
you ever chanced to read carefully Carlyle's account of the foundation
of the existing Prussian empire, in economy?
You can, at all events, consider with yourself a little, what empire
this queen of the terrestrial sciences must hold over the rest, if they
are to be put to good use; or what depth and breadth of application
there is in the brief parables of the counted cost of Power, and number
To give a very minor, but characteristic, instance. I have always felt
that with my intense love of the Alps, I ought to have been able to
make a drawing of Chamouni, or the vale of Cluse, which should give
people more pleasure than a photograph; but I always wanted to do it as
I saw it, and engrave pine for pine, and crag for crag, like Albert
Durer. I broke my strength down for many a year, always tiring of my
work, or finding the leaves drop off, or the snow come on, before I had
well begun what I meant to do. If I had only _counted_ my pines
first, and calculated the number of hours necessary to do them in the
manner of Durer, I should have saved the available drawing time of some
five years, spent in vain effort.
But Turner counted his pines, and did all that could be done for them,
and rested content with that.
So in all the affairs of life, the arithmetical part of the business is
the dominant one. How many and how much have we? How many and how much
do we want? How constantly does noble Arithmetic of the finite lose
itself in base Avarice of the Infinite, and in blind imagination of it!
In counting of minutes, is our arithmetic ever solicitous enough? In
counting our days, is she ever severe enough? How we shrink from
putting, in their decades, the diminished store of them! And if we ever
pray the solemn prayer that we may be taught to number them, do we even
try to do it after praying?
_Technical Points_.--The Pythagoras almost entirely genuine. The
upper figures, from this inclusive to the outer wall, I have not been
able to examine thoroughly, my scaffolding not extending beyond the
Here then we have the sum of sciences,--seven, according to the
Florentine mind--necessary to the secular education of man and woman.
Of these the modern average respectable English gentleman and
gentlewoman know usually only a little of the last, and entirely hate
the prudent applications of that: being unacquainted, except as they
chance here and there to pick up a broken piece of information, with
either grammar, rhetoric, music, [Footnote: Being able to play the
piano and admire Mendelssohn is not knowing music.] astronomy, or
geometry; and are not only unacquainted with logic, or the use of
reason, themselves, but instinctively antagonistic to its use by
We are now to read the series of the Divine sciences, beginning at the
opposite side, next the window.
VIII. CIVIL LAW. Civil, or 'of citizens,' not only as distinguished
from Ecclesiastical, but from Local law. She is the universal Justice
of the peaceful relations of men throughout the world, therefore holds
the globe, with its _three_ quarters, white, as being justly
governed, in her left hand.
She is also the law of eternal equity, not erring statute; therefore
holds her sword _level_ across her breast. She is the foundation
of all other divine science. To know anything whatever about God, you
must begin by being Just.
Dressed in red, which in these frescoes is always a sign of power, or
zeal; but her face very calm, gentle and beautiful. Her hair bound
close, and crowned by the royal circlet of gold, with pure thirteenth
century strawberry leaf ornament.
Under her, the Emperor Justinian, in blue, with conical mitre of white
and gold; the face in profile, very beautiful. The imperial staff in
his right hand, the Institutes in his left.
Medallion, a figure, apparently in distress, appealing for justice.
(Trajan's suppliant widow?)
_Technical Points_.--The three divisions of the globe in her hand
were originally inscribed ASIA, AFRICA, EUROPE. The restorer has
ingeniously changed AF into AME--RICA. Faces, both of the science and
emperor, little retouched, nor any of the rest altered.
IX. CHRISTIAN LAW. After the justice which rules men, comes that which
rules the Church of Christ. The distinction is not between secular law,
and ecclesiastical authority, but between the equity of humanity, and
the law of Christian discipline.
In full, straight-falling, golden robe, with white mantle over it; a
church in her left hand; her right raised, with the forefinger lifted;
(indicating heavenly source of all Christian law? or warning?)
Head-dress, a white veil floating into folds in the air. You will find
nothing in these frescoes without significance; and as the escaping
hair of Geometry indicates the infinite conditions of lines of the
higher orders, so the floating veil here indicates that the higher
relations of Christian justice are indefinable. So her golden mantle
indicates that it is a glorious and excellent justice beyond that which
unchristian men conceive; while the severely falling lines of the
folds, which form a kind of gabled niche for the head of the Pope
beneath, correspond with the strictness of true Church discipline
firmer as well as more luminous statute.
Beneath, Pope Clement V., in red, lifting his hand, not in the position
of benediction, but, I suppose, of injunction,--only the forefinger
straight, the second a little bent, the two last quite. Note the strict
level of the book; and the vertical directness of the key.
The medallion puzzles me. It looks like a figure counting money.
_Technical Points_.--Fairly well preserved; but the face of the
science retouched: the grotesquely false perspective of the Pope's
tiara, one of the most curiously naive examples of the entirely
ignorant feeling after merely scientific truth of form which still
characterized Italian art.
Type of church interesting in its extreme simplicity; no idea of
transept, campanile, or dome.
X. PRACTICAL THEOLOGY. The beginning of the knowledge of God being
Human Justice, and its elements defined by Christian Law, the
application of the law so defined follows, first with respect to man,
then with respect to God.
"Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's--and to God the things
that are God's."
We have therefore now two sciences, one of our duty--to men, the other
to their Maker.
This is the first: duty to men. She holds a circular medallion,
representing Christ preaching on the Mount, and points with her right
hand to the earth.
The sermon on the Mount is perfectly expressed by the craggy pinnacle
in front of Christ, and the high dark horizon. There is curious
evidence throughout all these frescos of Simon Memmi's having read the
Gospels with a quite clear understanding of their innermost meaning.
I have called this science Practical Theology:--the instructive
knowledge, that is to say, of what God would have us do, personally, in
any given human relation: and the speaking His Gospel therefore by act.
"Let your light so shine before men."
She wears a green dress, like Music her hair in the Arabian arch, with
Beneath her, Peter Lombard,
_Technical Points_.--It is curious that while the instinct of
perspective was not strong enough to enable any painter at this time to
foreshorten a foot, it yet suggested to them the expression of
elevation by raising the horizon.
I have not examined the retouching. The hair and diadem at least are
genuine, the face is dignified and compassionate, and much on the old
XI. DEVOTIONAL THEOLOGY.--Giving glory to God, or, more accurately,
whatever feelings He desires us to have towards Him, whether of
affection or awe.
This is the science or method of _devotion_ for Christians
universally, just as the Practical Theology is their science or method
In blue and red: a narrow black rod still traceable in the left hand; I
am not sure of its meaning. ("Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me?")
The other hand open in admiration, like Astronomy's; but Devotion's is
held at her breast. Her head very characteristic of Memmi, with
upturned eyes, and Arab arch in hair. Under her, Dionysius the
Areopagite--mending his pen! But I am doubtful of Lord Lindsay's
identification of this figure, and the action is curiously common and
meaningless. It may have meant that meditative theology is essentially
a writer, not a preacher.
The medallion, on the other hand, is as ingenious. A mother lifting her
hands in delight at her child's beginning to take notice.
Under St. Paul.
_Technical Points_.--Both figures very genuine, the lower one
almost entirely so. The painting of the red book is quite exemplary in
XII. DOGMATIC THEOLOGY.--After action and worship, thought becoming too
wide and difficult, the need of dogma becomes felt; the assertion, that
is, within limited range, of the things that are to be believed.
Since whatever pride and folly pollute Christian scholarship naturally
delight in dogma, the science itself cannot but be in a kind of
disgrace among sensible men: nevertheless it would be difficult to
overvalue the peace and security which have been given to humble
persons by forms of creed; and it is evident that either there is no
such thing as theology, or some of its knowledge must be thus, if not
expressible, at least reducible within certain limits of expression, so
as to be protected from misinterpretation.
In red,--again the sign of power,--crowned with a black (once golden?)
triple crown, emblematic of the Trinity. The left hand holding a scoop
for winnowing corn; the other points upwards. "Prove all things--hold
fast that which is good, or of God."
Beneath her, Boethius.
Under St. Mark.
Medallion, female figure, laying hands on breast.
_Technical Points_.--The Boethius entirely genuine, and the
painting of his black book, as of the red one beside it, again worth
notice, showing how pleasant and interesting the commonest things
become, when well painted.
I have not examined the upper figure.
XIII. MYSTIC THEOLOGY. [Footnote: Blunderingly in the guide-books
called 'Faith!'] Monastic science, above dogma, and attaining to new
revelation by reaching higher spiritual states.
In white robes, her left hand gloved (I don't know why)--holding
chalice. She wears a nun's veil fastened under her chin, her hair
fastened close, like Grammar's, showing her necessary monastic life;
all states of mystic spiritual life involving retreat from much that is
allowable in the material and practical world.
There is no possibility of denying this fact, infinite as the evils are
which have arisen from misuse of it. They have been chiefly induced by
persons who falsely pretended to lead monastic life, and led it without
having natural faculty for it. But many more lamentable errors have
arisen from the pride of really noble persons, who have thought it
would be a more pleasing thing to God to be a sibyl or a witch, than a
useful housewife. Pride is always somewhat involved even in the true
effort: the scarlet head-dress in the form of a horn on the forehead in
the fresco indicates this, both here, and in the Contemplative
Under St. John.
Medallion unintelligible, to me. A woman laying hands on the shoulders
of two small figures.
_Technical Points_.--More of the minute folds of the white dress
left than in any other of the repainted draperies. It is curious that
minute division has always in drapery, more or less, been understood as
an expression of spiritual life, from the delicate folds of Athena's
peplus down to the rippled edges of modern priests' white robes;
Titian's breadth of fold, on the other hand, meaning for the most part
bodily power. The relation of the two modes of composition was lost by
Michael Angelo, who thought to express spirit by making flesh colossal.
For the rest, the figure is not of any interest, Memmi's own mind being
intellectual rather than mystic.
XIV. POLEMIC THEOLOGY.[Footnote: Blunderingly called 'Charity' in the
"Who goes forth, conquering and to conquer?" "For we war, not with
flesh and blood," etc.
In red, as sign of power, but not in armour, because she is herself
invulnerable. A close red cap, with cross for crest, instead of helmet.
Bow in left hand; long arrow in right.
She partly means Aggressive Logic: compare the set of her shoulders and
arms with Logic's.
She is placed the last of the Divine sciences, not as their culminating
power, but as the last which can be rightly learned. You must know all
the others, before you go out to battle. Whereas the general principle
of modern Christendom is to go out to battle without knowing _any
one_ of the others; one of the reasons for this error, the prince of
errors, being the vulgar notion that truth may be ascertained by
debate! Truth is never learned, in any department of industry, by
arguing, but by working, and observing. And when you have got good hold
of one truth, for certain, two others will grow out of it, in a
beautifully dicotyledonous fashion, (which, as before noticed, is the
meaning of the branch in Logic's right hand). Then, when you have got
so much true knowledge as is worth fighting for, you are bound to fight
for it. But not to debate about it, any more.
There is, however, one further reason for Polemic Theology being put
beside Mystic. It is only in some approach to mystic science that any
man becomes aware of what St. Paul means by "spiritual wickedness in
heavenly [Footnote: With cowardly intentional fallacy, translated
'high' in the English Bible.] places;" or, in any true sense, knows the
enemies of God and of man.
Beneath St. Augustine. Showing you the proper method of controversy;
--perfectly firm; perfectly gentle.
You are to distinguish, of course, controversy from rebuke. The
assertion of truth is to be always gentle: the chastisement of wilful
falsehood may be--very much the contrary indeed. Christ's sermon on the
Mount is full of polemic theology, yet perfectly gentle:--"Ye have
heard that it hath been said--but _I_/ say unto you";--"And if ye
salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others?" and the like.
But His "Ye fools and blind, for whether is greater," is not merely the
exposure of error, but rebuke of the avarice which made that error
Under the throne of St. Thomas; and next to Arithmetic, of the
Medallion, a soldier, but not interesting.
Technical Points.--Very genuine and beautiful throughout. Note the use
of St. Augustine's red bands, to connect him with the full red of the
upper figures; and compare the niche formed by the dress of Canon Law,
above the Pope, for different artistic methods of attaining the same
object,--unity of composition.
But lunch time is near, my friends, and you have that shopping to do,
THE SIXTH MORNING.
THE SHEPHERD'S TOWER.
I am obliged to interrupt my account of the Spanish chapel by the
following notes on the sculptures of Giotto's Campanile: first because
I find that inaccurate accounts of those sculptures are in course of
publication; and chiefly because I cannot finish my work in the Spanish
chapel until one of my good Oxford helpers, Mr. Caird, has completed
some investigations he has undertaken for me upon the history connected
with it. I had written my own analysis of the fourth side, believing
that in every scene of it the figure of St. Dominic was repeated. Mr.
Caird first suggested, and has shown me already good grounds for his
belief,[Footnote: He wrote thus to me on 11th November last: "The three
preachers are certainly different. The first is Dominic; the second,
Peter Martyr, whom I have identified from his martyrdom on the other
wall; and the third, Aquinas."] that the preaching monks represented
are in each scene intended for a different person. I am informed also
of several careless mistakes which have got into my description of the
fresco of the Sciences; and finally, another of my young helpers, Mr.
Charles F. Murray,--one, however, whose help is given much in the form
of antagonism,--informs me of various critical discoveries lately made,
both by himself, and by industrious Germans, of points respecting the
authenticity of this and that, which will require notice from me: more
especially he tells me of certification that the picture in the
Uffizii, of which I accepted the ordinary attribution to Giotto, is by
Lorenzo Monaco,--which indeed may well be, without in the least
diminishing the use to you of what I have written of its predella, and
without in the least, if you think rightly of the matter, diminishing
your confidence in what I tell you of Giotto generally. There is one
kind of knowledge of pictures which is the artist's, and another which
is the antiquary's and the picture-dealer's; the latter especially
acute, and founded on very secure and wide knowledge of canvas,
pigment, and tricks of touch, without, necessarily, involving any
knowledge whatever of the qualities of art itself. There are few
practised dealers in the great cities of Europe whose opinion would not
be more trustworthy than mine, (if you could _get_ it, mind you,)
on points of actual authenticity. But they could only tell you whether
the picture was by such and such a master, and not at all what either
the master or his work were good for. Thus, I have, before now, taken
drawings by Varley and by Cousins for early studies by Turner, and have
been convinced by the dealers that they knew better than I, as far as
regarded the authenticity of those drawings; but the dealers don't know
Turner, or the worth of him, so well as I, for all that. So also, you
may find me again and again mistaken among the much more confused work
of the early Giottesque schools, as to the authenticity of this work or
the other; but you will find (and I say it with far more sorrow than
pride) that I am simply the only person who can at present tell you the
real worth of _any_; you will find that whenever I tell you to
look at a picture, it is worth your pains; and whenever I tell you the
character of a painter, that it _is_ his character, discerned by
me faithfully in spite of all confusion of work falsely attributed to
him in which similar character may exist. Thus, when I mistook Cousins
for Turner, I was looking at a piece of subtlety in the sky of which
the dealer had no consciousness whatever, which was essentially
Turneresque, but which another man might sometimes equal; whereas the
dealer might be only looking at the quality of Whatman's paper, which
Cousins used, and Turner did not.
Not, in the meanwhile, to leave you quite guideless as to the main
subject of the fourth fresco in the Spanish chapel,--the Pilgrim's
Progress of Florence,--here is a brief map of it:
On the right, in lowest angle, St. Dominic preaches to the group of
Infidels; in the next group towards the left, he (or some one very like
him) preaches to the Heretics: the Heretics proving obstinate, he sets
his dogs at them, as at the fatallest of wolves, who being driven away,
the rescued lambs are gathered at the feet of the Pope. I have copied
the head of the very pious, but slightly weak-minded, little lamb in
the centre, to compare with my rough Cumberland ones, who have had no
such grave experiences. The whole group, with the Pope above, (the
niche of the Duomo joining with and enriching the decorative power of
his mitre,) is a quite delicious piece of design.
The Church being thus pacified, is seen in worldly honour under the
powers of the Spiritual and Temporal Rulers. The Pope, with Cardinal
and Bishop descending in order on his right; the Emperor, with King and
Baron descending in order on his left; the ecclesiastical body of the
whole Church on the right side, and the laity,--chiefly its poets and
artists, on the left.
Then, the redeemed Church nevertheless giving itself up to the vanities
and temptations of the world, its forgetful saints are seen feasting,
with their children dancing before them, (the Seven Mortal Sins, say
some commentators). But the wise-hearted of them confess their sins to
another ghost of St. Dominic; and confessed, becoming as little
children, enter hand in hand the gate of the Eternal Paradise, crowned
with flowers by the waiting angels, and admitted by St. Peter among the
serenely joyful crowd of all the saints, above whom the white Madonna
stands reverently before the throne. There is, so far as I know,
throughout all the schools of Christian art, no other so perfect
statement of the noble policy and religion of men.
I had intended to give the best account of it in my power; but, when at
Florence, lost all time for writing that I might copy the group of the
Pope and Emperor for the schools of Oxford; and the work since done by
Mr. Caird has informed me of so much, and given me, in some of its
suggestions, so much to think of, that I believe it will be best and
most just to print at once his account of the fresco as a supplement to
these essays of mine, merely indicating any points on which I have
objections to raise, and so leave matters till Fors lets me see
Florence once more.
Perhaps she may, in kindness forbid my ever seeing it more, the wreck
of it being now too ghastly and heartbreaking to any human soul that
remembers the days of old. Forty years ago, there was assuredly no spot
of ground, out of Palestine, in all the round world, on which, if you
knew, even but a little, the true course of that world's history, you
saw with so much joyful reverence the dawn of morning, as at the foot
of the Tower of Giotto. For there the traditions of faith and hope, of
both the Gentile and Jewish races, met for their beautiful labour: the
Baptistery of Florence is the last building raised on the earth by the
descendants of the workmen taught by Dadalus: and the Tower of Giotto
is the loveliest of those raised on earth under the inspiration of the
men who lifted up the tabernacle in the wilderness. Of living Greek
work there is none after the Florentine Baptistery; of living Christian
work, none so perfect as the Tower of Giotto; and, under the gleam and
shadow of their marbles, the morning light was haunted by the ghosts of
the Father of Natural Science, Galileo; of Sacred Art, Angelico, and
the Master of Sacred Song. Which spot of ground the modern Florentine
has made his principal hackney-coach stand and omnibus station. The
hackney coaches, with their more or less farmyard-like litter of
occasional hay, and smell of variously mixed horse-manure, are yet in
more permissible harmony with the place than the ordinary populace of a
fashionable promenade would be, with its cigars, spitting, and harlot-
planned fineries: but the omnibus place of call being in front of the
door of the tower, renders it impossible to stand for a moment near it,
to look at the sculptures either of the eastern or southern side; while
the north side is enclosed with an iron railing, and usually encumbered
with lumber as well: not a soul in Florence ever caring now for sight
of any piece of its old artists' work; and the mass of strangers being
on the whole intent on nothing but getting the omnibus to go by steam;
and so seeing the cathedral in one swift circuit, by glimpses between
the puffs of it.
The front of Notre Dame of Paris was similarly turned into a coach-office
when I last saw it--1872. [Footnote: See Fors Clavigera in that year.]
Within fifty yards of me as I write, the Oratory of the Holy Ghost is used
for a tobacco-store, and in fine, over all Europe, mere Caliban bestiality
and Satyric ravage staggering, drunk and desperate, into every once
enchanted cell where the prosperity of kingdoms ruled and the miraculous-
ness of beauty was shrined in peace.
Deluge of profanity, drowning dome and tower in Stygian pool of vilest
thought,--nothing now left sacred, in the places where once--nothing
For _that_ is indeed the teaching, if you could receive it, of the
Tower of Giotto; as of all Christian art in its day. Next to declaration of
the facts of the Gospel, its purpose, (often in actual work the eagerest,)
was to show the _power_ of the Gospel. History of Christ in due place;
yes, history of all He did, and how He died: but then, and often, as I say,
with more animated imagination, the showing of His risen presence in
granting the harvests and guiding the labour of the year. All sun and
rain, and length or decline of days received from His hand; all joy,
and grief, and strength, or cessation of labour, indulged or endured,
as in His sight and to His glory. And the familiar employments of the
seasons, the homely toils of the peasant, the lowliest skills of the
craftsman, are signed always on the stones of the Church, as the first
and truest condition of sacrifice and offering.
Of these representations of human art under heavenly guidance, the
series of bas-reliefs which stud the base of this tower of Giotto's
must be held certainly the chief in Europe. [Footnote: For account of
the series on the main archivolt of St. Mark's, see my sketch of the
schools of Venetian sculpture in third forthcoming number of 'St.
Mark's Rest.'] At first you may be surprised at the smallness of their
scale in proportion to their masonry; but this smallness of scale
enabled the master workmen of the tower to execute them with their own
hands; and for the rest, in the very finest architecture, the
decoration of most precious kind is usually thought of as a jewel, and
set with space round it,--as the jewels of a crown, or the clasp of a
girdle. It is in general not possible for a great workman to carve,
himself, a greatly conspicuous series of ornament; nay, even his energy
fails him in design, when the bas-relief extends itself into
incrustation, or involves the treatment of great masses of stone. If
his own does not, the spectator's will. It would be the work of a long
summer's day to examine the over-loaded sculptures of the Certosa of
Pavia; and yet in the tired last hour, you would be empty-hearted. Read
but these inlaid jewels of Giotto's once with patient following; and
your hour's study will give you strength for all your life. So far as
you can, examine them of course on the spot; but to know them
thoroughly you must have their photographs: the subdued colour of the
old marble fortunately keeps the lights subdued, so that the photograph
may be made more tender in the shadows than is usual in its renderings
of sculpture, and there are few pieces of art which may now be so well
known as these, in quiet homes far away.
We begin on the western side. There are seven sculptures on the
western, southern, and northern sides: six on the eastern; counting the
Lamb over the entrance door of the tower, which divides the complete
series into two groups of eighteen and eight. Itself, between them,
being the introduction to the following eight, you must count it as the
first of the terminal group; you then have the whole twenty-seven
sculptures divided into eighteen and nine.
Thus lettering the groups on each side for West, South, East, and
North, we have:
W. S. E. N.
7 + 7 + 6 + 7 = 27; or,
W. S. E.
7 + 7 + 4 = 18; and,
2 + 7 = 9
There is a very special reason for this division by nines but, for
convenience' sake, I shall number the whole from 1 to 27,
straightforwardly. And if you will have patience with me, I should like
to go round the tower once and again; first observing the general
meaning and connection of the subjects and then going back to examine
the technical points in each, and such minor specialties as it may be
well, at the first time, to pass over.
1. The series begins, then, on the west side, with the Creation of Man.
It is not the beginning of the story of Genesis; but the simple
assertion that God made us, and breathed, and still breathes, into our
nostrils the breath of life.
This, Giotto tells you to believe as the beginning of all knowledge and
all power. [Footnote: So also the Master-builder of the Ducal Palace of
Venice. See Fors Clavigera for June of this year.] This he tells you to
believe, as a thing which he himself knows.
He will tell you nothing but what he _does_ know.
2. Therefore, though Giovanna Pisano and his fellow sculptors had
given, literally, the taking of the rib out of Adam's side, Giotto
merely gives the mythic expression of the truth he knows,--"they two
shall be one flesh."
3. And though all the theologians and poets of his time would have
expected, if not demanded, that his next assertion, after that of the
Creation of Man, should be of the Fall of Man, he asserts nothing of
the kind. He knows nothing of what man was. What he is, he knows best
of living men at that hour, and proceeds to say. The next sculpture is
of Eve spinning and Adam hewing the ground into clods. Not
_digging_: you cannot, usually, dig but in ground already dug. The
native earth you must hew.
They are not clothed in skins. What would have been the use of Eve
spinning if she could not weave? They wear, each, one simple piece of
drapery, Adam's knotted behind him, Eve's fastened around her neck with
a rude brooch.
Above them are an oak and an apple-tree. Into the apple-tree a little
bear is trying to climb.
The meaning of which entire myth is, as I read it, that men and women
must both eat their bread with toil. That the first duty of man is to
feed his family, and the first duty of the woman to clothe it. That the
trees of the field are given us for strength and for delight, and that
the wild beasts of the field must have their share with us. [Footnote:
The oak and apple boughs are placed, with the same meaning, by Sandro
Botticelli, in the lap of Zipporah. The figure of the bear is again
represented by Jacopo della Quercia, on the north door of the Cathedral
of Florence. I am not sure of its complete meaning.]
4. The fourth sculpture, forming the centre-piece of the series on the
west side, is nomad pastoral life.
Jabal, the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have
cattle, lifts the curtain of his tent to look out upon his flock. His
dog watches it.
5. Jubal, the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.
That is to say, stringed and wind instruments;--the lyre and reed. The
first arts (with the Jew and Greek) of the shepherd David, and shepherd
Giotto has given him the long level trumpet, afterwards adopted so
grandly in the sculptures of La Robbia and Donatello. It is, I think,
intended to be of wood, as now the long Swiss horn, and a long and
shorter tube are bound together.
6. Tubal Cain, the instructor of every artificer in brass and iron.
Giotto represents him as sitting, _fully robed_, turning a wedge
of bronze on the anvil with extreme watchfulness.
These last three sculptures, observe, represent the life of the race of
Cain; of those who are wanderers, and have no home. _Nomad_
pastoral life; Nomad artistic life, Wandering Willie; yonder organ man,
whom you want to send the policeman after, and the gipsy who is mending
the old schoolmistress's kettle on the grass, which the squire has
wanted so long to take into his park from the roadside.
7. Then the last sculpture of the seven begins the story of the race of
Seth, and of home life. The father of it lying drunk under his
trellised vine; such the general image of civilized society, in the
abstract, thinks Giotto.
With several other meanings, universally known to the Catholic world of
that day,--too many to be spoken of here.
The second side of the tower represents, after this introduction, the
sciences and arts of civilized or home life.
8. Astronomy. In nomad life you may serve yourself of the guidance of
the stars; but to know the laws of _their_ nomadic life, your own
must be fixed.
The astronomer, with his sextant revolving on a fixed pivot, looks up
to the vault of the heavens and beholds their zodiac; prescient of what
else with optic glass the Tuscan artist viewed, at evening, from the
top of Fesole.
Above the dome of heaven, as yet unseen, are the Lord of the worlds and
His angels. To-day, the Dawn and the Daystar: to-morrow, the Daystar
arising in the heart.
9. Defensive architecture. The building of the watchtower. The
beginning of security in possession.
10. Pottery. The making of pot, cup, and platter. The first civilized
furniture; the means of heating liquid, and serving drink and meat with
decency and economy.
11. Riding. The subduing of animals to domestic service.
12. Weaving. The making of clothes with swiftness, and in precision of
structure, by help of the loom.
13. Law, revealed as directly from heaven.
14. Dadalus (not Icarus, but the father trying the wings). The conquest
of the element of air.
As the seventh subject of the first group introduced the arts of home
after those of the savage wanderer, this seventh of the second group
introduces the arts of the missionary, or civilized and gift-bringing
15. The Conquest of the Sea. The helmsman, and two rowers, rowing as
Venetians, face to bow.
16. The Conquest of the Earth. Hercules victor over Antaus. Beneficent
strength of civilization crushing the savageness of inhumanity.
17. Agriculture. The oxen and plough.
18. Trade. The cart and horses.
19. And now the sculpture over the door of the tower. The Lamb of God,
expresses the Law of Sacrifice, and door of ascent to heaven. And then
follow the fraternal arts of the Christian world.
20. Geometry. Again the angle sculpture, introductory to the following
series. We shall see presently why this science must be the foundation
of the rest.
24. Arithmetic. The laws of number, weight, and measures of capacity.
25 Music. The laws of number, weight (or force), and measure, applied
26. Logic. The laws of number and measure applied to thought.
27. The Invention of Harmony.
You see now--by taking first the great division of pre-Christian and
Christian arts, marked by the door of the Tower; and then the divisions
into four successive historical periods, marked by its angles--that you
have a perfect plan of human civilization. The first side is of the
nomad life, learning how to assert its supremacy over other wandering
creatures, herbs, and beasts. Then the second side is the fixed home
life, developing race and country; then the third side, the human
intercourse between stranger races; then the fourth side, the
harmonious arts of all who are gathered into the fold of Christ.
Now let us return to the first angle, and examine piece by piece with
1. _Creation of Man._
Scarcely disengaged from the clods of the earth, he opens his eyes to
the face of Christ. Like all the rest of the sculptures, it is less the
representation of a past fact than of a constant one. It is the
continual state of man, 'of the earth,' yet seeing God.
Christ holds the book of His Law--the 'Law of life'--in His left hand.
The trees of the garden above are,--central above Christ, palm
(immortal life); above Adam, oak (human life). Pear, and fig, and a
large-leaved ground fruit (what?) complete the myth of the Food of
As decorative sculpture, these trees are especially to be noticed, with
those in the two next subjects, and the Noah's vine as differing in
treatment from Giotto's foliage, of which perfect examples are seen in
16 and 17. Giotto's branches are set in close sheaf-like clusters; and
every mass disposed with extreme formality of radiation. The leaves of
these first, on the contrary, are arranged with careful concealment of
their ornamental system, so as to look inartificial. This is done so
studiously as to become, by excess, a little unnatural!--Nature herself
is more decorative and formal in grouping. But the occult design is
very noble, and every leaf modulated with loving, dignified, exactly
right and sufficient finish; not done to show skill, nor with mean
forgetfulness of main subject, but in tender completion and harmony
Look at the subdivisions of the palm leaves with your magnifying glass.
The others are less finished in this than in the next subject. Man
himself incomplete, the leaves that are created with him, for his life,
must not be so.
(Are not his fingers yet short; growing?)
2. _Creation of Woman._
Far, in its essential qualities, the transcendent sculpture of this
subject, Ghiberti's is only a dainty elaboration and beautification of
it, losing its solemnity and simplicity in a flutter of feminine grace.
The older sculptor thinks of the Uses of Womanhood, and of its dangers
and sins, before he thinks of its beauty; but, were the arm not lost,
the quiet naturalness of this head and breast of Eve, and the bending
grace of the submissive rendering of soul and body to perpetual
guidance by the hand of Christ--(_grasping_ the arm, note, for
full support)--would be felt to be far beyond Ghiberti's in beauty, as
in mythic truth.
The line of her body joins with that of the serpent-ivy round the tree
trunk above her: a double myth--of her fall, and her support afterwards
by her husband's strength. "Thy desire shall be to thy husband." The
fruit of the tree--double-set filbert, telling nevertheless the happy
The leaves in this piece are finished with consummate poetical care and
precision. Above Adam, laurel (a virtuous woman is a crown to her
husband); the filbert for the two together; the fig, for fruitful
household joy (under thy vine and fig-tree [Footnote: Compare Fors
Clavigera, February, 1877.]--but vine properly the masculine joy); and
the fruit taken by Christ for type of all naturally growing food, in
his own hunger.
Examine with lens the ribbing of these leaves, and the insertion on
their stem of the three laurel leaves on extreme right: and observe
that in all cases the sculptor works the moulding _with_ his own
part of the design; look how he breaks variously deeper into it,
beginning from the foot of Christ, and going up to the left into full
depth above the shoulder.
3. _Original labour._
Much poorer, and intentionally so. For the myth of the creation of
humanity, the sculptor uses his best strength, and shows supremely the
grace of womanhood; but in representing the first peasant state of
life, makes the grace of woman by no means her conspicuous quality. She
even walks awkwardly; some feebleness in foreshortening the foot also
embarrassing the sculptor. He knows its form perfectly--but its
perspective, not quite yet.
The trees stiff and stunted--they also needing culture. Their fruit
dropping at present only into beasts' mouths.
If you have looked long enough, and carefully enough, at the three
previous sculptures, you cannot but feel that the hand here is utterly
changed. The drapery sweeps in broader, softer, but less true folds;
the handling is far more delicate; exquisitely sensitive to gradation
over broad surfaces--scarcely using an incision of any depth but in
outline; studiously reserved in appliance of shadow, as a thing
precious and local--look at it above the puppy's head, and under the
This is assuredly painter's work, not mere sculptor's. I have no doubt
whatever it is by the own hand of the shepherd-boy of Fesole. Cimabue
had found him drawing, (more probably _scratching_ with Etrurian
point,) one of his sheep upon a stone. These, on the central
foundation-stone of his tower he engraves, looking back on the fields
of life: the time soon near for him to draw the curtains of his tent.
I know no dog like this in method of drawing, and in skill of giving
the living form without one touch of chisel for hair, or incision for
eye, except the dog barking at Poverty in the great fresco of Assisi.
Take the lens and look at every piece of the work from corner to
corner--note especially as a thing which would only have been enjoyed
by a painter, and which all great painters do intensely enjoy--the
_fringe_ of the tent, [Footnote: "I think Jabal's tent is made of
leather; the relaxed intervals between the tent-pegs show a curved
ragged edge like leather near the ground" (Mr. Caird). The edge of the
opening is still more characteristic, I think.] and precise insertion
of its point in the angle of the hexagon, prepared for by the archaic
masonry indicated in the oblique joint above; [Footnote: Prints of
these photographs which do not show the masonry all round the hexagon
are quite valueless for study.] architect and painter thinking at once,
and _doing_ as they thought.
I gave a lecture to the Eton boys a year or two ago, on little more
than the shepherd's dog, which is yet more wonderful in magnified scale
of photograph. The lecture is partly published--somewhere, but I can't
refer to it.
Still Giotto's, though a little less delighted in; but with exquisite
introduction of the Gothic of his own tower. See the light surface
sculpture of a mosaic design in the horizontal moulding.
Note also the painter's freehand working of the complex mouldings of
the table--also resolvedly oblong, not square; see central flower.
6. _Tubal Cain_.
Still Giotto's, and entirely exquisite; finished with no less care than
the shepherd, to mark the vitality of this art to humanity; the spade
and hoe--its heraldic bearing--hung on the hinged door. [Footnote:
Pointed out to me by Mr. Caird, who adds farther, "I saw a forge
identical with this one at Pelago the other day,--the anvil resting on
a tree-stump: the same fire, bellows, and implements; the door in two
parts, the upper part like a shutter, and used for the exposition of
finished work as a sign of the craft; and I saw upon it the same
finished work of the same shape as in the bas-relief--a spade and a
hoe."] For subtlety of execution, note the texture of wooden block under
anvil, and of its iron hoop.
The workman's face is the best sermon on the dignity of labour yet
spoken by thoughtful man. Liberal Parliaments and fraternal Reformers
have nothing essential to say more.
Andrea Pisano's again, more or less imitative of Giotto's work.
We have a new hand here altogether. The hair and drapery bad; the face
expressive, but blunt in cutting; the small upper heads, necessarily
little more than blocked out, on the small scale; but not suggestive of
grace in completion: the minor detail worked with great mechanical
precision, but little feeling; the lion's head, with leaves in its
ears, is quite ugly; and by comparing the work of the small cusped arch
at the bottom with Giotto's soft handling of the mouldings of his, in
5, you may for ever know common mason's work from fine Gothic. The
zodiacal signs are quite hard and common in the method of bas-relief,
but quaint enough in design: Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces, on the
broad heavenly belt; Taurus upside down, Gemini, and Cancer, on the
I think the whole a restoration of the original panel, or else an
inferior workman's rendering of Giotto's design, which the next piece
is, with less question.
The larger figure, I am disposed finally to think, represents civic
power, as in Lorenzetti's fresco at Siena. The extreme rudeness of the
minor figures may be guarantee of their originality; it is the
smoothness of mass and hard edge work that make me suspect the 8th for
Very grand; with much painter's feeling, and fine mouldings again. The
_tiled_ roof projecting in the shadow above, protects the first
Ceramicus-home. I think the women are meant to be carrying some kind of
wicker or reed-bound water-vessel. The Potter's servant explains to
them the extreme advantages of the new invention. I can't make any
conjecture about the author of this piece.
Again Andrea Pisano's, it seems to me. Compare the tossing up of the
dress behind the shoulders, in 3 and 2. The head is grand, having
nearly an Athenian profile: the loss of the horse's fore-leg prevents
me from rightly judging of the entire action. I must leave riders to
Andrea's again, and of extreme loveliness; the stooping face of the
woman at the loom is more like a Leonardo drawing than sculpture. The
action of throwing the large shuttle, and all the structure of the loom
and its threads, distinguishing rude or smooth surface, are quite
wonderful. The figure on the right shows the use and grace of finely
woven tissue, under and upper--that over the bosom so delicate that the
line of separation from the flesh of the neck is unseen.
If you hide with your hand the carved masonry at the bottom, the
composition separates itself into two pieces, one disagreeably
rectangular. The still more severely rectangular masonry throws out by
contrast all that is curved and rounded in the loom, and unites the
whole composition; that is its aesthetic function; its historical one
is to show that weaving is queen's work, not peasant's; for this is
13. _The Giving of Law_.
More strictly, of _the_ Book of God's Law: the only one which
_can_ ultimately be obeyed. [Footnote: Mr. Caird convinced me of
the real meaning of this sculpture. I had taken it for the giving of a
book, writing further of it as follows:--
All books, rightly so called, are Books of Law, and all Scripture is
given by inspiration of God. (What _we_ now mostly call a book,
the infinite reduplication and vibratory echo of a lie, is not given
but belched up out of volcanic clay by the inspiration of the devil.)
On the Book-giver's right hand the students in cell, restrained by the
lifted right hand:
"Silent, you, till you know"; then, perhaps, you also.
On the left, the men of the world, kneeling, receive the gift.
Recommendable seal, this, for Mr. Mudie!
Mr. Caird says: "The book is written law, which is given by Justice to
the inferiors, that they may know the laws regulating their relations
to their superiors--who are also under the hand of law. The vassal is
protected by the accessibility of formularized law. The superior is
restrained by the right hand of power." ]
The authorship of this is very embarrassing to me. The face of the
central figure is most noble, and all the work good, but not delicate;
it is like original work of the master whose design No. 8 might be a
Andrea Pisano again; the head superb, founded on Greek models, feathers
of wings wrought with extreme care; but with no precision of
arrangement or feeling. How far intentional in awkwardness, I cannot
say; but note the good mechanism of the whole plan, with strong
standing board for the feet.
An intensely puzzling one; coarse (perhaps unfinished) in work, and
done by a man who could not row; the plaited bands used for rowlocks
being pulled the wrong way. Right, had the rowers been rowing Englishwise:
but the water at the boat's head shows its motion forwards, the way the
oarsmen look. I cannot make out the action of the figure at the stern; it
ought to be steering with the stern oar.
The water seems quite unfinished. Meant, I suppose, for surface and
section of sea, with slimy rock at the bottom; but all stupid and
16. _Hercules and Antaus._
The Earth power, half hidden by the earth, its hair and hand becoming
roots, the strength of its life passing through the ground into the oak
tree. With Cercyon, but first named, (Plato, _Laws_, book VII.,
796), Antaus is the master of contest without use;--[GREEK: philoneikias
achrestou]--and is generally the power of pure selfishness and its various
inflation to insolence and degradation to cowardice;--finding its strength
only in fall back to its Earth,--he is the master, in a word, of all such
kind of persons as have been writing lately about the "interests of
England." He is, therefore, the Power invoked by Dante to place Virgil
and him in the lowest circle of Hell;--"Alcides whilom felt,--that grapple,
straitened sore," etc. The Antaus in the sculpture is very grand; but the
authorship puzzles me, as of the next piece, by the same hand. I believe
both Giotto's design.
The sword in its Christian form. Magnificent: the grandest expression
of the power of man over the earth and its strongest creatures that I
remember in early sculpture,--(or for that matter, in late). It is the
subduing of the bull which the sculptor thinks most of; the plough,
though large, is of wood, and the handle slight. But the pawing and
bellowing labourer he has bound to it!--here is victory.
18. _The Chariot._
The horse also subdued to draught--Achilles' chariot in its first, and
to be its last, simplicity. The face has probably been grand--the
figure is so still. Andrea's, I think by the flying drapery.
19. _The Lamb, with the symbol of Resurrection._
Over the door: 'I am the door;--by me, if any man enter in,' etc. Put
to the right of the tower, you see, fearlessly, for the convenience of
staircase ascent; all external symmetry being subject with the great
builders to interior use; and then, out of the rightly ordained
infraction of formal law, comes perfect beauty; and when, as here, the
Spirit of Heaven is working with the designer, his thoughts are
suggested in truer order, by the concession to use. After this
sculpture comes the Christian arts,--those which necessarily imply the
conviction of immortality. Astronomy without Christianity only reaches
as far as--'Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels--and put
all _things_ under His feet':--Christianity says beyond this,--'Know
ye not that we shall judge angels (as also the lower creatures shall judge
us!)' [Footnote: In the deep sense of this truth, which underlies all the
bright fantasy and humour of Mr. Courthope's "Paradise of Birds," that
rhyme of the risen spirit of Aristophanes may well be read under the tower
of Giotto, beside his watch-dog of the fold.] The series of sculptures
now beginning, show the arts which _can_ only be accomplished through
belief in Christ.
Not 'mathematics': _they_ have been implied long ago in astronomy
and architecture; but the due Measuring of the Earth and all that is on
it. Actually done only by Christian faith--first inspiration of the
great Earth-measurers. Your Prince Henry of Spain, your Columbus, your
Captain Cook, (whose tomb, with the bright artistic invention and
religious tenderness which are so peculiarly the gifts of the
nineteenth century, we have just provided a fence for, of old cannon
open-mouthed, straight up towards Heaven--your modern method of
symbolizing the only appeal to Heaven of which the nineteenth century
has left itself capable--'The voice of thy Brother's blood crieth to
me'--your outworn cannon, now silently agape, but sonorous in the ears
of angels with that appeal)--first inspiration, I say, of these; constant
inspiration of all who set true landmarks and hold to them, knowing
their measure; the devil interfering, I observe, lately in his own way,
with the Geometry of Yorkshire, where the landed proprietors, [Footnote:
I mean no accusation against any class; probably the one-fielded statesman
is more eager for his little gain of fifty yards of grass than the squire
for his bite and sup out of the gypsy's part of the roadside. But it is
notable enough to the passing traveller, to find himself shut into a
narrow road between high stone dykes which he can neither see over nor
climb over, (I always deliberately pitch them down myself, wherever I need
a gap,) instead of on a broad road between low grey walls with all the moor
beyond--and the power of leaping over when he chooses in innocent trespass
for herb, or view, or splinter of grey rock.] when the neglected walls by
the roadside tumble down, benevolently repair the same, with better
stonework, _outside_ always of the fallen heaps;--which, the wall
being thus built _on_ what was the public road, absorb themselves,
with help of moss and time, into the heaving swells of the rocky field-and
behold, gain of a couple of feet--along so much of the road as needs
This then, is the first of the Christian sciences: division of land
rightly, and the general law of measuring between wisely-held compass
points. The type of mensuration, circle in square, on his desk, I use
for my first exercise in the laws of Fesole.
The first piece of the closing series on the north side of the
Campanile, of which some general points must be first noted, before any
The two initial ones, Sculpture and Painting, are by tradition the only
ones attributed to Giotto's own hand. The fifth, Song, is known, and
recognizable in its magnificence, to be by Luca della Robbia. The
remaining four are all of Luca's school,--later work therefore, all
these five, than any we have been hitherto examining, entirely
different in manner, and with late flower-work beneath them instead of
our hitherto severe Gothic arches. And it becomes of course instantly a
vital question--Did Giotto die leaving the series incomplete, only its
subjects chosen, and are these two bas-reliefs of Sculpture and
Painting among his last works? or was the series ever completed, and
these later bas-reliefs substituted for the earlier ones, under Luca's
influence, by way of conducting the whole to a grander close, and
making their order more representative of Florentine art in its fulness
I must repeat, once more, and with greater insistence respecting Sculpture
than Painting, that I do not in the least set myself up for a critic of
authenticity,--but only of absolute goodness. My readers may trust me to
tell them what is well done or ill; but by whom, is quite a separate
question, needing for any certainty, in this school of much-associated
masters and pupils, extremest attention to minute particulars not at all
bearing on my objects in teaching.
Of this closing group of sculptures, then, all I can tell you is that
the fifth is a quite magnificent piece of work, and recognizably, to my
extreme conviction, Luca della Robbia's; that the last, Harmonia, is
also fine work; that those attributed to Giotto are fine in a different
way,--and the other three in reality the poorest pieces in the series,
though done with much more advanced sculptural dexterity.
But I am chiefly puzzled by the two attributed to Giotto, because they
are much coarser than those which seem to me so plainly his on the west
side, and slightly different in workmanship--with much that is common
to both, however, in the casting of drapery and mode of introduction of
details. The difference may be accounted for partly by haste or failing
power, partly by the artist's less deep feeling of the importance of
these merely symbolic figures, as compared with those of the Fathers of
the Arts; but it is very notable and embarrassing notwithstanding,
complicated as it is with extreme resemblance in other particulars.
You cannot compare the subjects on the tower itself; but of my series
of photographs take 6 and 21, and put them side by side.
I need not dwell on the conditions of resemblance, which are instantly
visible; but the _difference_ in the treatment of the heads is
incomprehensible. That of the Tubal Cain is exquisitely finished, and
with a painter's touch; every lock of the hair laid with studied flow,
as in the most beautiful drawing. In the 'Sculpture,' it is struck out
with ordinary tricks of rapid sculptor trade, entirely unfinished, and
with offensively frank use of the drill hole to give picturesque
rustication to the beard.
Next, put 22 and 5 back to back. You see again the resemblance in the
earnestness of both figures, in the unbroken arcs of their backs, in
the breaking of the octagon moulding by the pointed angles; and here,
even also in the general conception of the heads. But again, in the one
of Painting, the hair is struck with more vulgar indenting and
drilling, and the Gothic of the picture frame is less precise in touch
and later in style. Observe, however,--and this may perhaps give us
some definite hint for clearing the question,--a picture-frame _would
be_ less precise in making, and later in style, properly, than
cusped arches to be put under the feet of the inventor of all musical
sound by breath of man. And if you will now compare finally the eager
tilting of the workman's seat in 22 and 6, and the working of the wood
in the painter's low table for his pots of colour, and his three-legged
stool, with that of Tubal Cain's anvil block; and the way in which the
lines of the forge and upper triptych are in each composition used to
set off the rounding of the head, I believe you will have little
hesitation in accepting my own view of the matter--namely, that the
three pieces of the Fathers of the Arts were wrought with Giotto's
extremest care for the most precious stones of his tower; that also,
being a sculptor and painter, he did the other two, but with quite
definite and wilful resolve that they _should be_, as mere symbols
of his own two trades, wholly inferior to the other subjects of the
patriarchs; that he made the Sculpture picturesque and bold as you see
it is, and showed all a sculptor's tricks in the work of it; and a
sculptor's Greek subject, Bacchus, for the model of it; that he wrought
the Painting, as the higher art, with more care, still keeping it
subordinate to the primal subjects, but showed, for a lesson to all the
generations of painters for evermore,--this one lesson, like his circle
of pure line containing all others,--'Your soul and body must be all in
I can't resist the expression of a little piece of personal exultation,
in noticing that he holds his pencil as I do myself: no writing master,
and no effort (at one time very steady for many months), having ever
cured me of that way of holding both pen and pencil between my fore and
second finger; the third and fourth resting the backs of them on my
As I finally arrange these notes for press, I am further confirmed in
my opinion by discovering little finishings in the two later pieces
which I was not before aware of. I beg the masters of High Art, and
sublime generalization, to take a good magnifying glass to the
'Sculpture' and look at the way Giotto has cut the compasses, the edges
of the chisels, and the keyhole of the lock of the toolbox. For the
rest, nothing could be more probable, in the confused and perpetually
false mass of Florentine tradition, than the preservation of the memory
of Giotto's carving his own two trades, and the forgetfulness, or quite
as likely ignorance, of the part he took with Andrea Pisano in the
initial sculptures. I now take up the series of subjects at the point
where we broke off, to trace their chain of philosophy to its close.
To Geometry, which gives to every man his possession of house and land,
succeed 21, Sculpture, and 22, Painting, the adornments of permanent
habitation. And then, the great arts of education in a Christian home.
23. _Grammar_, or more properly Literature altogether, of which we
have already seen the ancient power in the Spanish Chapel series; then,
24. _Arithmetic_, central here as also in the Spanish Chapel, for
the same reasons; here, more impatiently asserting, with both hands,
that two, on the right, you observe-and two on the left-do indeed and
for ever make Four. Keep your accounts, you, with your book of double
entry, on that principle; and you will be safe in this world and the
next, in your steward's office. But by no means so, if you ever admit
the usurers Gospel of Arithmetic, that two and two make Five. You see
by the rich hem of his robe that the asserter of this economical first
principle is a man well to do in the world.
25. _Logic_. The art of Demonstration. Vulgarest of the whole
series, far too expressive of the mode in which argument is conducted
by those who are not masters of its reins.
The essential power of music in animal life. Orpheus. the symbol of it
all, the inventor properly of Music, the Law of Kindness, as Dadalus of
Music, the Law of Construction. Hence the "Orphic life" is one of ideal
mercy, (vegetarian,)--Plato, _Laws_, Book VI., 782,--and he is
named first after Dadalus, and in balance to him as head of the school
of harmonists, in Book III., 677, (Steph.) Look for the two singing
birds clapping their wings in the tree above him; then the five mystic
beasts,--closest to his feet the irredeemable boar; then lion and bear,
tiger, unicorn, and fiery dragon closest to his head, the flames of its
mouth mingling with his breath as he sings. The audient eagle, alas!
has lost the beak, and is only recognizable by his proud holding of
himself; the duck, sleepily delighted after muddy dinner, close to his
shoulder, is a true conquest. Hoopoe, or indefinite bird of crested
race, behind; of the other three no clear certainty. The leafage
throughout such as only Luca could do, and the whole consummate in
skill and understanding.
Music of Song, in the full power of it, meaning perfect education in
all art of the Muses and of civilized life: the mystery of its concord
is taken for the symbol of that of a perfect state; one day, doubtless,
of the perfect world. So prophesies the last corner stone of the