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Giotto and his works in Padua Part 2

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14. The Virgin Annunciate.

15. The Salutation.

16. The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds.

17. The Wise Men's Offering.

18. The Presentation in the Temple.

19. The Flight into Egypt.

20. The Ma.s.sacre of the Innocents.

21. The Young Christ in the Temple.

22. The Baptism of Christ.

23. The Marriage in Cana.

24. The Raising of Lazarus.

25. The Entry into Jerusalem.

26. The Expulsion from the Temple.

27. The Hiring of Judas.

28. The Last Supper.

29. The Washing of the Feet.

30. The Kiss of Judas.

31. Christ before Caiaphas.

32. The Scourging of Christ.

33. Christ bearing his Cross.

34. The Crucifixion.

35. The Entombment.

36. The Resurrection.

37. The Ascension.

38. The Descent of the Holy Spirit.

I.

THE REJECTION OF JOACHIM'S OFFERING.

"At that time, there was a man of perfect holiness, named Joachim, of the tribe of Juda, and of the city of Jerusalem. And this Joachim had in contempt the riches and honours of the world; and for greater despite to them, he kept his flocks, with his shepherds.

"... And he, being so holy and just, divided the fruits which he received from his flocks into three parts: a third part--wool, and lambs, and such like--he gave to G.o.d, that is to say, to those who served G.o.d, and who ministered in the temple of G.o.d; another third part he gave to widows, orphans, and pilgrims; the remaining third he kept for himself and his family. And he persevering in this, G.o.d so multiplied and increased his goods that there was no man like him in the land of Israel.... And having come to the age of twenty years, he took to wife Anna, the daughter of Ysaya, of his own tribe, and of the lineage of David.

"This precious St. Anna had always persevered in the service of G.o.d with great wisdom and sincerity; ... and having received Joachim for her husband, was subject to him, and gave him honour and reverence, living in the fear of G.o.d. And Joachim having lived with his wife Anna for twenty years, yet having no child, and there being a great solemnity in Jerusalem, all the men of the city went to offer in the temple of G.o.d, which Solomon had built; and Joachim entering the temple with (incense?) and other gifts to offer on the altar, and Joachim having made his offering, the minister of the temple, whose name was Issachar, threw Joachim's offering from off the altar, and drove Joachim out of the temple, saying, 'Thou, Joachim, art not worthy to enter into the temple, seeing that G.o.d has not added his blessing to you, as in your life you have had no seed.' Thus Joachim received a great insult in the sight of all the people; and he being all ashamed, returned to his house, weeping and lamenting most bitterly." (MS. Harl.)

The Gospel of St. Mary differs from this MS. in its statement of the respective cities of Joachim and Anna, saying that the family of the Virgin's father "was of Galilee and of the city of Nazareth, the family of her mother was of Bethlehem." It is less interesting in details; but gives a better, or at least more graceful, account of Joachim's repulse, saying that Issachar "despised Joachim and his offerings, and asked him why he, who had no children, would presume to appear among those who had: adding, that his offerings could never be acceptable to G.o.d, since he had been judged by Him unworthy to have children; the Scripture having said, Cursed is every one who shall not beget a male in Israel."

Giotto seems to have followed this latter account, as the figure of the high priest is far from being either ign.o.ble or ungentle.

The temple is represented by the two most important portions of a Byzantine church; namely, the ciborium which covered the altar, and the pulpit or reading desk; with the low screen in front of the altar enclosing the part of the church called the "cancellum." Lord Lindsay speaks of the priest within this enclosure as "confessing a young man who kneels at his feet." It seems to me, rather, that he is meant to be accepting the offering of another worshipper, so as to mark the rejection of Joachim more distinctly.

II.

JOACHIM RETIRES TO THE SHEEPFOLD.

"Then Joachim, in the following night, resolved to separate himself from companionship; to go to the desert places among the mountains, with his flocks; and to inhabit those mountains, in order not to hear such insults. And immediately Joachim rose from his bed, and called about him all his servants and shepherds, and caused to be gathered together all his flocks, and goats, and horses, and oxen, and what other beasts he had, and went with them and with the shepherds into the hills; and Anna his wife remained at home disconsolate, and mourning for her husband, who had departed from her in such sorrow."

(MS. Harl.)

"But upon inquiry, he found that all the righteous had raised up seed in Israel. Then he called to mind the patriarch Abraham,--how that G.o.d in the end of his life had given him his son Isaac: upon which he was exceedingly distressed, and would not be seen by his wife; but retired into the wilderness and fixed his tent there, and fasted forty days and forty nights, saying to himself, 'I will not go down to eat or drink till the Lord my G.o.d shall look down upon me; but prayer shall be my meat and drink.'" (Protevangelion, chap. i.)

Giotto seems here also to have followed the ordinary tradition, as he has represented Joachim retiring unattended,--but met by two of his shepherds, who are speaking to each other, uncertain what to do or how to receive their master. The dog hastens to meet him with joy. The figure of Joachim is singularly beautiful in its pensiveness and slow motion; and the ign.o.bleness of the herdsmen's figures is curiously marked in opposition to the dignity of their master.

III.

THE ANGEL APPEARS TO ANNA.

"Afterwards the angel appeared to Anna his wife, saying, 'Fear not, neither think that which you see is a spirit. For I am that angel who hath offered up your prayers and alms before G.o.d, and am now sent to tell you that a daughter will be born unto you.... Arise, therefore, and go up to Jerusalem; and when you shall come to that which is called the Golden Gate (because it is gilt with gold), as a sign of what I have told you, you shall meet your husband, for whose safety you have been so much concerned.'" (Gospel of St. Mary, chap. iii.

1-7.)

The accounts in the Protevangelion and in the Harleian MS. are much expanded: relating how Anna feared her husband was dead, he having been absent from her five months; and how Judith, her maid, taunted her with her childlessness; and how, going then into her garden, she saw a sparrow's nest, full of young, upon a laurel-tree, and mourning within herself, said, "I am not comparable to the very beasts of the earth, for even they are fruitful before thee, O Lord.... I am not comparable to the very earth, for the earth produces its fruits to praise thee. Then the angel of the Lord stood by her," &c.

Both the Protevangelion and Harleian MS. agree in placing the vision in the garden; the latter adding, that she fled "into her chamber in great fear, and fell upon her bed, and lay as in a trance all that day and all that night, but did not tell the vision to her maid, because of her bitter answering." Giotto has deviated from both accounts in making the vision appear to Anna in her chamber, while the maid, evidently being considered an important personage, is at work in the pa.s.sage. Apart from all reference to the legends, there is something peculiarly beautiful in the simplicity of Giotto's conception, and in the way in which he has shown the angel entering at the window, without the least endeavour to impress our imagination by darkness, or light, or clouds, or any other accessory; as though believing that angels might appear any where, and any day, and to all men, as a matter of course, if we would ask them, or were fit company for them.

IV.

THE SACRIFICE OF JOACHIM.

The account of this sacrifice is only given clearly in the Harleian MS.; but even this differs from Giotto's series in the order of the visions, as the subject of the _next_ plate is recorded first in this MS., under the curious heading, "_Disse Sancto Theofilo_ como l'angelo de Dio aperse a Joachim lo qual li anuntia la nativita della vergene Maria;" while the record of this vision and sacrifice is headed, "Como l'angelo de Dio apa.r.s.e _anchora_ a Joachim." It then proceeds thus: "At this very moment of the day" (when the angel appeared to Anna), "there appeared a most beautiful youth (_unno belitissimo zovene_) among the mountains there, where Joachim was, and said to Joachim, 'Wherefore dost thou not return to thy wife?' And Joachim answered, 'These twenty years G.o.d has given me no fruit of her, wherefore I was chased from the temple with infinite shame.... And, as long as I live, I will give alms of my flocks to widows and pilgrims.'... And these words being finished, the youth answered, 'I am the angel of G.o.d who appeared to thee the other time for a sign; and appeared to thy wife Anna, who always abides in prayer, weeping day and night; and I have consoled her; wherefore I command thee to observe the commandments of G.o.d, and his will, which I tell you truly, that of thee shall be born a daughter, and that thou shalt offer her to the temple of G.o.d, and the Holy Spirit shall rest upon her, and her blessedness shall be above the blessedness of all virgins, and her holiness so great that human nature will not be able to comprehend it.'...[14]

[Footnote 14: This pa.s.sage in the old Italian of the MS. may interest some readers: "E complice queste parole lo zovene respoxe, dignando, Io son l'angelo de Dio, lo quale si te apa.r.s.e l'altra fiada, in segno, e apa.r.s.e a toa mulier Anna che sempre sta in oration plauzando di e note, e si lo consolada; unde io te comando che tu debie observare li comandimenti de Dio, ela soua volunta che io te dico veramente, che de la toa somenza insera una fiola, e questa offrila al templo de Dio, e lo Spirito santo reposera in ley, ela soa beat.i.tudine sera sovera tute le altre verzene, ela soua sant.i.ta sera si grande che natura humana non la pora comprendere."]

"Then Joachim fell upon the earth, saying, 'My lord, I pray thee to pray G.o.d for me, and to enter into this my tabernacle, and bless me, thy servant.' The angel answered, 'We are all the servants of G.o.d: and know that my eating would be invisible, and my drinking could not be seen by all the men in the world; but of all that thou wouldest give to me, do thou make sacrifice to G.o.d.' Then Joachim took a lamb without spot or blemish ...; and when he had made sacrifice of it, the angel of the Lord disappeared and ascended into heaven; and Joachim fell upon the earth in great fear, and lay from the sixth hour until the evening."

This is evidently nothing more than a very vapid imitation of the scriptural narrative of the appearances of angels to Abraham and Manoah. But Giotto has put life into it; and I am aware of no other composition in which so much interest and awe has been given to the literal "burnt sacrifice." In all other representations of such offerings which I remember, the interest is concentrated in the _slaying_ of the victim. But Giotto has fastened on the _burning_ of it; showing the white skeleton left on the altar, and the fire still hurtling up round it, typical of the Divine wrath, which is "as a consuming fire;" and thus rendering the sacrifice a more clear and fearful type not merely of the outward wounds and death of Christ, but of his soul-suffering. "All my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels."[15]

[Footnote 15: (Note by a friend):--"To me the most striking part of it is, that the skeleton is _entire_ ('a bone of him shall not be broken'), and that the head stands up still looking to the skies: is it too fanciful to see a meaning in this?"]

The hand of the Deity is seen in the heavens--the sign of the Divine Presence.

V.

THE ANGEL (RAPHAEL) APPEARS TO JOACHIM.

"Now Joachim being in this pain, the Lord G.o.d, Father of mercy, who abandons not his servants, nor ever fails to console them in their distresses, if they pray for his grace and pity, had compa.s.sion on Joachim, and heard his prayer, and sent the angel Raphael from heaven to earth to console him, and announce to him the nativity of the Virgin Mary. Therefore the angel Raphael appeared to Joachim, and comforted him with much peace, and foretold to him the birth of the Virgin in that glory and gladness, saying, 'G.o.d save you, O friend of G.o.d, O Joachim! the Lord has sent me to declare to you an everlasting joy, and a hope that shall have no end.'... And having finished these words, the angel of the Lord disappeared from him, and ascended into the heaven." (MS. Harl.)

The pa.s.sage which I have omitted is merely one of the ordinary Romanist accounts of the immaculate conception of the Virgin, put into the form of prophecy. There are no sufficient details of this part of the legend either in the Protevangelion or Gospel of St. Mary; but it is quite clear that Giotto followed it, and that he has endeavoured to mark a distinction in character between the angels Gabriel and Raphael[16] in the two subjects,--the form of Raphael melting back into the heaven, and being distinctly recognised as angelic, while Gabriel appears invested with perfect humanity. It is interesting to observe that the shepherds, who of course are not supposed to see the form of the Angel (his manifestation being only granted to Joachim during his sleep), are yet evidently under the influence of a certain degree of awe and expectation, as being conscious of some presence other than they can perceive, while the animals are unconscious altogether.

[Footnote 16: The MS. makes the angel Raphael the only messenger.

Giotto clearly adopts the figure of Gabriel from the Protevangelion.]

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Giotto and his works in Padua Part 2 summary

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