The records on Giotto are much more complete than Duccio. He was a practical man who madea great deal of money and managed his affairs well. He owned land and lent money at interest like any good prosperous Florentine, but there is no indication that he was anything but an honest man as well as a successful one. The fact that he was a Florentine may account for the high esteem in which he was held, for it was Florence that would discover the artist as a man of God given talents and freedoms. Thus, Giotto might be considered the first Renaissance artist. Dante had already written, in Canto XI of ”Purgatorio”: ” In painting Cimabue thought to hold the field; now hath Giotto all the cry, so that the other’s fame is less extoll’d.”
Cimabue is the link between conventional Byzantism and Giotto’s drastic revolution, and Giotto has been called, without the best basis in the world, Cimabue’s pupil. The Arena Chapel remains his unquestioned and unviolated masterwork, and it is difficult to believe that any lost works by Cimabue or by other artists could give more than the faintest hints of precedents. Cimabue seems unimportant in comparison to the individual genius of Giotto.
Giotto’s Arena Chapel frescoes do not appear to be given justice as individual reproduced pieces to be studies in isolation. Photography and reduction in size are said to produce a heaviness of outline that flattens the roundness of the figures making the full volumes tend towards mere bulkiness. Evidently, the soft powdery surface of the frescoes, the impression of pearliness is lacking under, or lacking all aura, in mechanical reproduction. There is a progression of the story as it follows from section to section; each incident conceived in its own appropriate emotional air as part of a unit as in a symphonic musical composition.
”Bryson examined the Kiss of Judas by Giotto in the Arena Chapel in Padua, c. 1305, and the Kiss of Judas by Duccio in the Maestra Altarpiece, 1308-1311. He believes Giotto created fa more convincing realism, which he explains through his form of Semiotics. Giotto provides much information beyond Judas kissing Christ. Bryson found information in the profiles of Christ and Judas. In a Formal examination of the line, the edges of Christ’s forehead and nose are straight, which suggest associations with “right” and “rectitude.” Christ is higher up than Judas, with a strong and expansive neck. Judas’s head is tilted so that his neck is hidden below his garment. These are signs as to the moral superiority of Christ, who looks down on Judas and is more open, honest, and self-assured.”
Giotto’s ”Lamentation” in an ultimate expression whose power is felt even when the painting is reproduced in isolation as a print. The figures are remarkable for their fullness and soldity, qualities that are set off by the band of angels who, fading into the diaphanous sky, swirl and flutterin an agony of grief like frantic birds. The barren landscape holds a single tree, leafless; what can grow and flourish in the face of such tragedy?
Symbolically however, the tree is a happier prophecy. Dante describes a Tree of Knowledge, withered through the sin of Adam and Eve, but revivified by the death of Christ, the sacrificial atonement for original sin, and the restorer of life. Yet, the literary reminder may be incidental to the impact of the painting, an impact that would be great even if it were divorced from the Christian story. The composition of ”Lamentation” seems clear, but very complex with regard to the unifying elements of Duccio which are strictly delineated by line. In Lamentation, the mourning figures occuy, singly, their own space and, together, define a hollow in which the body of Christ and his mother are embraced. The only disrupting note schematically, would be the haloes, which tend to intrude on the modeled forms and by necessity and tradition, be worn like so many golden platters by saints who otherwise are conceived as human beings suffering human grief.
Outside the Christian context, Lamentation is simply a great work of art, whose figures suggest comparison with sculpture; full and solid and in obeyance with the laws of gravity while emphasizing the rational. From this point of departure, Giotto added the human and psychological. The figures, one by one, and as an entity, tell a story of gresat passion, irrespective of ones faith. Giotto was the beginning of a universalized expression of emotion that each could share. Like any great tragic composition, whether written or painted, Lamentation invites vicarious participation that purifies through pity, if not through terror.
Giotto’s revolution was an articulation, a recognition, of the capacity for grandeur in human emotion. He is usually called the first Renaissance artist, because in humanizing the Christian story, he opened a tradition of reference to nature. He is also a great artist in the classical tradition, which ennobles people in their physical being, as a vessel of the intellect and the spirit. His art is beyond time and space; Giotto’s art is universal.
The difference between Duccio and Giotto is best seen in their Kiss of Judas. Giotto captures actions not only as symbols, but also as living moments in time. Duccio compresses time dependent elements within one frame, almost as an animated film story board. Giotto’s Kiss of Judas does not move through time, but ”vibrates” in time. A moment in which all things shown, ”occur” . Call it a capturing of the ”now” not subject to the artifice of linear progression. It reinforces the personal nature of Giotto’s painting. The difference with Duccio, is the latter’s explicit, as opposed to implicit symbolism. The explicit form detracting from the power of the moment, and that ”moment”, that art as image, providing a springboard for a new, more subtle and complex narrative.
The shared ”gaze” in Giotto’s Judas achieves a sense of participation based on an understanding of one’s own guilt, perhaps as a uniquely western phenomenon, as Giotto broke free from the confines of the dominant Eastern Orthodoxy. The sublime characterizations of ”evil” are transformed into a fate; Judas blindly falling into the enormity of his deed, thus raising the issue of his own unconscious impulses and the degree to which he was acting as an agent of ”free will” Perhaps Giotto’s Kiss of Judas is that faint echo, if one puts their ear to the ground on a clear day, one can discern the strange haunting passion that is none other than the humanity of Christ and the rumbling awakenings of energy and light.
”His Kiss of Judas is less concerned with an intellectual, in the modern sense of the word, symbolism and far less with“realism.” Instead Giotto expresses the Real through the reality of Jesus Christ ashuman. At the centre of the scene Jesus gazes silently upon Judas’ face, while aroundand outside this silence rushes the tumultuous chaos of the mob. In this gaze, thiseternal moment, Giotto’s Christ is alive. Not life-like, as realism strives for, but alive:living, breathing, grieving, hurting. Christ is human, precisely what the PassionThere can be no doubt Christ forgave his betrayer for what in the end is a tragicnecessity. This sense of forgiveness is evident in both Duccio’s and Giotto’sdepictions. But, whereas in Giotto the gaze of Jesus expresses both forgiveness andsorrow, in Duccio’s Son of Man there appears to be little feeling for Judas and hisactions. Christ’s immediate blessing and forgiveness appear almost compulsory, his eyes staring off instead to the imminent future. Maybe this shows the attitude of aman resigned to his fate. If this portrayal is seen in terms of Christ’s human naturethen this resignation implies a will steeled and detached from the external events. Thisis to depict Christ as superhuman, which sets his example beyond the norm.Alternatively, seen in terms of Christ’s divine nature, this resignation implies atranscendence of the oncoming events. This is to depict Christ as suprahuman, which is to fall prey to the docetic heresy. In either case this resignation in the face of death belies Jesus’ human nature. If Duccio’s Christ is suprahuman then he denies the veryhumanity of the Passion. If he is human then his withdrawal robs him of the compassion that is fundamental to the heart of Christianity.”( Timothy Scott )