Mornings in Florence
Part 2 out of 3
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
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