Saturday, April 11, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices - Justice

This is a model of the chapel which was exhibited
at Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv
 Along the sides of the bottom register of the Scrovegni Chapel there is a series of fourteen grisaille figures which represent the seven virtues and the seven vices. From left to right in this picture, you can see Charity, Hope, Desperation, and Envy. Note that the virtues are on the right hand side of Christ in the depiction of the Last Judgement on the far wall, and the vices are on the left. I chose to use this picture of a life size model because you can see the pictures more clearly than in pictures of the actual chapel.

I had originally planned on writing about a different virtue or vice every day for fourteen days, but as soon as I started looking at the picture below, I realized it was going to take longer than that, so I'll probably post one every few days.

 Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and enter the land which the Lord your God gives you. Dueteronomy 16:20
Justice is here taken in its ordinary and proper sense to signify the most important of the cardinal virtues. It is a moral quality or habit which perfects the will and inclines it to render to each and to all what belongs to them....Together with charity it regulates man's intercourse with his fellow men. But charity leads us to help our neighbour in his need out of our own stores, while justice teaches us to give to another what belongs to him.  From the Catholic Encyclopedia
...justice is love serving God only, and therefore ruling well all else...On the Morals of the Catholic Church, Chapter 15,St. Augustine

Giotto depicts Justice, "the most important of the cardinal virtues," wearing a crown which signifies her authority. She looks as if she were enthroned. Although we cannot see any kind of elaborate throne, any chair in the 14th century would have belonged to someone in authority. She balances the scales in her hands. According to this author, the figures in the scales are clemency and punishment, and that seems to be correct. Note that clemency is on her right hand. Each is exercising his role upon a person on the ledge on either side of justice. Unfortunately, the side figures have been damaged and we cannot see who they are or what they are doing. Beneath her feet, we see the result of her administration, people going about their business in peace, a safe home, people dancing!

In the bottom register of the picture there is a Latin inscription:
Equa lance cuncta librat/ perfecta justicia/coronando bono vibrat/ensem contra vicia/cuncta gaudent libertate/ipsa si regnaverit/agit cun iocunditate/quisque quidquid volvert/miles propter hanc venatur/ comitatur truditur/mercatores iam proditur
At least that is what Andrea Moschetti thinks it says. I don't see it exactly that way and other authors give a slightly different version. I can't translate this myself--I tried and it is way beyond my abilities--and I can't find a translation. If anyone else knows what it says, please tell me. I think it has something to do with perfect justice, crowned with good, brandishing a lance that frees all and all rejoice to be free. Something about she so reigns and somebody thanks with laughter and everyone turns and a soldier and merchants. Not very helpful, but I think it has something to do with the scene above. But the important thing is that Justice is in aid of a good life.

Ah! Now my daughter tells me that the first part is right, and the last part says something like,  "whatever you wish the soldier hunts on account of this and merchants are unmasked."

If you go to the Web Gallery of Art, you can see the fresco in much greater detail.


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