It is a thankless task demonstrating the failings of a great man, and one instance more shall suffice. Again it is a subject which affords unsurpassable opportunities for rendering tactile values and movement -- the 'Deposition from the Cross'. A more pathetic, a more felt, a more dignified version of this theme does not exist, and Duccio has arranged it as if to go even farther. An elderly disciple, with his foot firmly planted on the ladder, and one arm hooked over the beam of the cross, supports with the other arm the body of Jesus as it falls forward lifeless into His Mother's embrace.
Meanwhile, another disciple, kneeling, draws out the nails from Christ's feet while still they are fixed to the cross, and yet another disciple clasps the body about the waist to prevent its falling forward too far. As mere shape, Christ's body is a much finer nude than any Giotto ever painted; nor could the attitudes and gestures of limp helplessness be better expressed: yet nothing really happens. There are no tactile values; nothing has the weight wherewith to fall; the arms and hands do not really support -- and all for a very good reason. The reason is that, even if Duccio felt tactile values and movement, here, at least, he was so preoccupied with the facial expression that he could not attend to them.
A question suggests itself at this point, which requires at least a brief answer. If, as results from all that we have just now been observing, Duccio either had no feeling for tactile values and movement, or was too busy elsewhere to attend to them, why has he chosen attitudes and actions which seem to suggest an absorbing interest in them? Surely, for mere Illustration, for mere Composition, for mere material charm -- the qualities in which we have found him great -other arrangements of the figures would have done as well; and how does it happen that he has preferred precisely the arrangements which an artist would have chosen whose dominant interest lay in the presentation of directly life-communicating elements?
The answer is, I think, simple. Duccio did not choose them, but found them ready-made, probably the entire compositions, certainly the single figures; for it is, to me at least, inconceivable that a painter who had perhaps no feeling for tactile values and movement, and certainly no interest in rendering them, should have invented motives valuable chiefly as opportunities for modelling and action. Duccio, I repeat, must have found these motives ready and used them, not for what their inventors had valued in them, but for the mere shapes and attitudes as dramatic factors in Illustration. To him, then, form and movement -- the two most essential elements in the figure arts -- had no real meaning of their own. He exploited them as a dilettante, but did not understand their real purpose; and herein again Duccio, the first of the great Central Italian Painters, was singularly like the last of them; for Raphael also saw in tactile values and movement not the principal pursuit of the artist, but a mere aid to Illustration.
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