THE THIRD MORNING. BEFORE THE SOLDAN.
And there is meaning in Christ's words. Whatever misuse may have been made of them, - whatever false prophets - and Heaven knows there have been many - have called the young children to them, not to bless, but to curse, the assured fact remains, that if you will obey God, there will come a moment when the voice of man will be raised, with all its holiest natural authority, against you. The friend and the wise adviser - the brother and the sister - the father and the master - the entire voice of your prudent and keen-sighted acquaintance - the entire weight of the scornful stupidity of the vulgar world - for once, they will be against you, all at one. You have to obey God rather than man. The human race, with all its wisdom and love, all its indignation and folly, on one side, - God alone on the other. You have to choose.
That is the meaning of St. Francis's renouncing his inheritance; and it is the beginning of Giotto's gospel of Works. Unless this hardest of deeds be done first, - this inheritance of mammon and the world cast away, - all other deeds are useless. You cannot serve, cannot obey, God and mammon. No charities, no obediences, no self-denials, are of any use, while you are still at heart in conformity with the world. You go to church, because the world goes. You keep Sunday, because your neighbours keep it. But you dress ridiculously, because your neighbours ask it; and you dare not do a rough piece of work, because your neighbours despise it. You must renounce your neighbour, in his riches and pride, and remember him in his distress. That is St. Francis's 'disobedience.'
And now you can understand the relation of subjects throughout the chapel, and Giotto's choice of them.
The roof has the symbols of the three virtues of labour - Poverty, Chastity, Obedience.
A. Highest on the left side, looking to the window. The life of St. Francis begins in his renunciation of the world.
B. Highest on the right side. His new life is approved and ordained by the authority of the church.
C. Central on the left side. He preaches to his own disciples.
D. Central on the right side. He preaches to the heathen.
E. Lowest on the left side. His burial.
F. Lowest on the right side. His power after death.
Besides these six subjects, there are, on the sides of the window, the four great Franciscan saints, St. Louis of France, St. Louis of Toulouse, St. Clare, and St. Elizabeth of Hungary.
So that you have in the whole series this much given you to think of: first, the law of St. Francis's conscience; then, his own adoption of it; then, the ratification of it by the Christian Church; then, his preaching it in life; then, his preaching it in death; and then, the fruits of it in his disciples.
I have only been able myself to examine, or in any right sense to see, of this code of subjects, the first, second, fourth, and the St. Louis and Elizabeth. I will ask you only to look at two more of them, namely, St. Francis before the Soldan, midmost on your right, and St. Louis.
The Soldan, with an ordinary opera-glass, you may see clearly enough; and I think it will be first well to notice some technical points in it.
If the little virgin on the stairs of the temple reminded you of one composition of Titian's, this Soldan should, I think, remind you of all that is greatest in Titian; so forcibly, indeed, that for my own part, if I had been told that a careful early fresco by Titian had been recovered in Santa Croce, I could have believed both report and my own eyes, more quickly than I have been able to admit that this is indeed by Giotto. It is so great that - had its principles been understood-there was in reality nothing more to be taught of art in Italy; nothing to be invented afterwards, except Dutch effects of light.
That there is no 'effect of light' here arrived at, I beg you at once to observe as a most important lesson. The subject is St. Francis challenging the Soldan's Magi, - fire-worshippers - to pass with him through the fire, which is blazing red at his feet. It is so hot that the two Magi on the other side of the throne shield their faces. But it is represented simply as a red mass of writhing forms of flame; and casts no firelight whatever. There is no ruby colour on anybody's nose: there are no black shadows under anybody's chin; there are no Rembrandtesque gradations of gloom, or glitterings of sword-hilt and armour.
Is this ignorance, think you, in Giotto, and pure artlessness? He was now a man in middle life, having passed all his days in painting, and professedly, and almost contentiously, painting things as he saw them. Do you suppose he never saw fire cast firelight? - and he the friend of Dante! who of all poets is the most subtle in his sense of every kind of effect of light - though he has been thought by the public to know that of fire only. Again and again, his ghosts wonder that there is no shadow cast by Dante's body; and is the poet's friend, because a painter, likely, therefore, not to have known that mortal substance casts shadow, and terrestrial flame, light? Nay, the passage in the 'Purgatorio' where the shadows from the morning sunshine make the flames redder, reaches the accuracy of Newtonian science; and does Giotto, think you, all the while, see nothing of the sort?