Friday, 16 October 2015

The Shroud Of Christ By Paul Vignon D.Sc (Fr) Part 30.

Giotto was doubtless a contemporary of the unknown author of the Assisi fresco, and we know that for picturesque grouping and general movement, his work is excellent. But the Christs painted by him are uniformly uninteresting, whether we consider the heads only, or the general treatment. There is at Padua a fresco of Christ raising Lazarus , which has been photographed ; the outlines are badly drawn, but the grouping and general movement are well rendered.

From our point of view, the two most instructive works of Giotto are The Descent from the Cross and The Entombment, both in the Lower Church at Assisi. In a general way the qualities and defects of these two works are much the same as in the fresco of Padua ; above all, we recognize the puny imagination of the artist when he attempts to depict the body of Christ borne by the reverent hands of the disciples to the sepulchre. It is a difficult subject, but we may add that in the many heads of Christ executed by this artist the work is usually bad.

As a parallel to The Calvary of Assisi we should wish to put a work by Duccio di Buoninsegna on the same subject, which is at Sienna. Here we shall see that art has made rapid progress. The group of Pharisees is painted with singular force, but as soon as spirituality of expression is necessary the power of the artist diminishes, and we find the holy women and the friends of Christ only moderately conceived, while the figure of the Christ Himself is without strength—without beauty—it leaves us cold.

At Assisi also is to be found some of the work of Taddeo Gaddi, an energetic but unequal artist a few years younger than Giotto. We reproduce here his Calvary (fig. 25), if it be but to show that the task was greater than he was able to perform. The composition gives just the three essential figures, the Christ, the Virgin, and St. John, a proof that the artist desires to concentrate his powers of imagination and technique. Some parts of the work are in fact quite admirable. The Saint John is most powerful ; never has painting, even at its best, given a more sincere and dramatic attitude, or more expressive line of drapery—the head in its agony of entreaty is inexpressibly grand. The figure of the Virgin, however, is, we think, less powerfully conceived ; the expression of sorrow is almost a grimace. But let us consider the central figure, the Christ. Here it is that the artist's lack of power is conspicuous ; the head might have been hewed out with a hatchet, and the rendering of the body, while aspiring to truth, is really little else than vulgar. No doubt Taddeo Gaddi wished to emphasize the anatomy of the figure—to show the muscles, the veins, and the distortion of the feet violently drawn together—but the effect is repulsive.

With the painters Giotto and Duccio we were conscious of an "effort to idealize—to draw from the inward vision a touching and spiritual representation—but in Taddeo Gaddi we have also a honest conscientious worker, who in his endeavour to paint naturally, sinks to the level of mere realism.

But at this very period, at this epoch in the history of the world's Art, the Christ on the Shroud shows neither weakness nor brutality.

Thus we pass beyond the fateful date of 1353. The suppositious author of the figure on the Shroud has been vainly sought in France, while in Italy we have found no work of that period which could rank as its artistic equal. We may now usefully glance at the subsequent centuries and their productions.

In France we may mention the Enshrouding of Christ at the Abbey of Solesme. It is an important piece of fifteenth century work, a model of which may be seen at the Trocadero. Many portions of it are very good ; the body of the recumbent Christ is a fine piece of modelling, but the head is cold and lacks expression. A somewhat similar subject is The Entombment of Saint Mihiel at the Church of St. Stephen, a sixteenth-century group by Ligier-Richard. A cast of this is also to be found at the Museum of Comparative Sculpture. The artist is a perfect master of technicality, but the figure of Christ is heavily done—a large, unenlightened head. Let us notice in passing the Christ of Puget, the original of which is at Marseilles ; here the artist errs on the side of conventionality and senti-mentalism, characteristic faults of the seventeenth century.