In yet another respect we have already found Duccio eminent -- in his grouping. We have dealt with it hitherto only in so far as it concerned clearness of rendering; but Duccio went farther, and so grouped as to produce effects of mass and line, pleasant to the eye in and by themselves, and pleasantly distributed within the space at his command. In other words, he composed well. A few examples will make my meaning clear. In one or two panels, we have already noted the arrangement for its value as Illustration, we now shall see that it has still greater merit. The 'Incredulity of Thomas' would be brought home to us as a mere historical episode nearly as well if the masses made by the figures were not so rhythmically divided, if a façade of just the right size and shape did not give the entire group the exact background it needed.
The expression of Christ and His attitude would have been no different if He did not stand directly under the peak of a pediment, whose height magnifies His own stature, or were not seen against an arched door, which frames Him in, and separates Him from the bystanders, thus making Him more strikingly the centre of attention. Nor, as the mere telling of a tale, would much have been lost if the composition were comprised in a square, instead of being on a panel, that begins, half-way up its height, to slope inwards, thus emphasizing those lines of the sloping roof, which have, in their turn, given distinction to the figure of Christ. Even with all this, the sloping lines of the panel might have been continued until they met high above in a peak. But this would have had many unhappy results, among them one most unhappy.
The centre of attention, the point at which all the lines tend to converge, would no longer have been the head of Christ, but a spot high above Him in the pediment. There would have been a conflict between the inclination of our eyes to rest on the spot marked out for them by the tendency of the dominant lines, and the desire of our hearts to dwell in rapt contemplation upon the point of highest spiritual interest, the face of Christ. This picture, then, does much besides telling its story: it is a Composition so subtle in its effects of mass and line that we shall scarcely find its like -- at least outside the works of one other artist, that artist also a Central Italian, and holding the place among the Renaissance masters of that region which Duccio held among those of the Middle Ages -- I refer of course to Raphael.
Let it not be believed that I have chosen the one and only instance in which Duccio is a great composer. There is scarcely a painting of his which does not betray a sense little less delicate, if at all, for mass and line and enclosure. Want of space, and the fear of vexing the reader with descriptions which, to be exact, should be couched in the jangling vocabulary of geometry, restrain me from giving many further examples. But let me refer to one with which we already are familiar, the 'Betrayal of Judas'. What compactness and dignity are given to the mass in which we find Christ, by the two tufted trees that surmount it!
Without them, the group would look dwarfed and heavy. Note that the most important figure here, that of Christ, stands directly under one of these trees, which occupies the middle of the whole composition. See how this tree serves, not only to converge all the lines upon His head, but helps, by being in continuous upward movement with Him, to heighten His figure. And what a glamour of beauty is lent to the scene by the lances and torches of the soldiers -lines that are and are not parallel -- an effect so easily attained, yet counting for so much, not only here, but in numerous compositions ranging through art, from the Pompeian 'Battle of Alexander' to the 'Lancers' of Velazquez!
If Duccio was so sublime in his conceptions, so deep in feeling, so skilful in transcribing them in adequate forms; if, in addition to all these merits as an Illustrator, he can win us with the material splendour of his surfaces; if he composes as few but Raphael, and can even make us realize space, why have we heard of him so seldom? Why is he not as renowned as Giotto? Why is he not ranked with the greatest painters? Giotto was but little younger, and there could have been a scarcely perceptible difference between the public of the one and the public of the other. Most of Giotto's paintings now existing were, in fact, executed rather earlier than Duccio's reredos. Is the illustrative part of Giotto's work greater?
On the whole, it certainly is not; at times it is decidedly inferior, seldom having Duccio's manifold expressiveness and delicately shaded feeling. If Giotto, then, was no greater an Illustrator than Duccio, and if his illustrations, as illustrations, correspond no more than Duccio's to topics we crave nowadays to see interpreted in visual form, and if, as interpretation, they are equally remote from our own conception and feeling; if, in short, one is no more than the other a writer of pictorial leaders on the entrancing interests of the hour, why is the one still a living force, while the other has faded to the shadow of a name? There must exist surely a viaticum which bears its possessor to our own hearts, across the wastes of time -- some secret that Giotto possessed and Duccio had never learned.
What is this mysterious life-conserving virtue -- in what does it consist? The answer is brief -- in life itself. If the artist can cunningly seize upon the spirit of life and imprison it in his paintings, his works, barring material accidents, will live for ever. If he contrives to give range to this spirit, to make it leap out, to mingle with and increase the life in our veins, then, for as long as we remain humanized beings, he will hold us in his thrall.
Renaissance Art, Renaissance Painting, Giorgione, Italian Art, Lotto, Giotto, The School of Leonardo, Raphael, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Velasquez, Longhi, Massacchio, Verocchio, Naturalism, Duccio, Simone Martini, Renaissance Painters, Donatello, Pisanello, Liberale, Boticelli, Melozzo da Forli, Luca Signorelli, Michelangelo, Butinole, Zenalle, Bramante, Bramantino, Correggio, Leoardo da Vinci, Tactile Values, Humanism, The School of Verona, The Umbrian School, The School of Perugia, Domenico Brusasorci, Vincenzo Foppa, Milanese Art, Venetian Art, The School of Piedmont, Florence Art
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