Sunday, 8 January 2012
Proust on Giotto's "Charity" & "Envy"
Proust on Giotto
One of the pleasures that the internet can add to reading, is the opportunity, if your attention is arrested by a particularly vivid description of an artwork, or building, to view images of the object thus described. This allows the reader to implement a sort of 'gold standard' to judge the writer's descriptive and interpretative powers. They are 24 carat in this instance, I hope you agree.
"... it is without any apparent suspicion of what she is about that the powerfully built housewife who is portrayed in the the Arena beneath the label 'Caritas', and a reproduction of whose portrait hung upon the wall of my schoolroom in Combray, incarnates that virtue, for it seems impossible that any thought of charity can ever have found expression in her vulgar and energetic face. By a fine stroke of the painter's invention she is tumbling all the treasures of the earth at her feet, but exactly as if she were treading grapes in a wine-press to extract their juice, or, still more, as if she had climbed on a heap of sacks to raise herself higher; and she is holding out her flaming heart to God, or shall we say 'handing' it to Him, exactly as a cook might hand up a corkscrew through the skylight of her underground kitchen to some one who had called down to ask her for it from the ground level above."
"The 'Invidia,' again, should have had the same look on her face of envy. But in this fresco, too, the symbol occupies so large a place and is represented with such realism; the serpent hissing between the lips of Envy is so huge, and so completely fills her wide-opened mouth that the muscles of her face are strained and contorted, like a child's who is filling a balloon with his breath, and that Envy, and we ourselves for that matter, when we look at her, since all her attention and ours are concentrated on the action of her lips, have no time, almost, to spare for envious thoughts."
On Giotto's method
"in later years I understood that the arresting strangeness, the special beauty of these frescoes lay in the great part played in each of them by its symbols, while the fact that these were depicted, not as symbols (for the thought symbolised was nowhere expressed), but as real things, actually felt or materially handled, added something more precise and more literal to their meaning, something more concrete and more striking to the lesson they imparted."