Saturday, May 9, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices ~ Infidelity


And Judah was taken into exile because of their unfaithfulness. I Chronicles 9:1
The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them! Psalm 135:15-18
This saying is trustworthy: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself. 2 Timothy 2:11-13
[S]in frequently manifests itself in the history of Israel, especially as infidelity to the God of the Covenant and as transgression of the Law of Moses. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 401
Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Jesus says, "You cannot serve God and mammon."44 Many martyrs died for not adoring "the Beast"45 refusing even to simulate such worship. Idolatry rejects the unique Lordship of God; it is therefore incompatible with communion with God. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2113

When I first looked at this picture of Infidelity, I thought it was a man holding up his mistress, but as I read a few things--links below--I realized that it very well might be a woman, although there is some disagreement there, and that she is holding an idol. The very few words of the inscription that survive support this, Infidelis claudicat /ydola..../spernit qui se predicat/visu tradit ydolatria.... The best I can figure out is, Infidelity limps/idol..../he rejects that which is proclaimed/he surrenders vision for idolatry. It has been quite a while since I have studied Latin and I was never very advanced, so this may be less than perfect. I've written someone to ask for help, so if he writes back and says it's wrong. I'll update the post. 

Rough as that translation may be, however, and abbreviated as the inscription is, it goes a long way toward explaining the image. Infidelity is certainly holding an idol, which controls her with a rope tied around the idolater's neck. This is a great image. It perfectly portrays our relationships with whatever idols, large or small, have a hold on us. Above her head, we see a figure, perhaps a prophet, some suggest, or perhaps God the Father, Himself, handing down some message. Perhaps it is the First Commandment. 

Unfortunately, Infidelity cannot see this messenger because she is wearing a helmet that blocks her vision of all that is above. I find this helmet very curious. I looks Asian to me, so I went looking for pictures of 14th century Asian helmets, and found some that were similar. I also found that there is a book called, Giotto and the Influences of the Mongols and the Chinese on His Art by Hidemichi Tanaki, so maybe it is Asian. I also found some pictures of Crusader helmets that looked similar.

Giving the idol a sideways glance, her right eye, at least, is actually closed, as she blinds herself to truth of her bondage. At first, I thought that the left eye was clearly open, but the more I look at it, the more I think that it is closed and just looks open because of some damage. There have been restorations since these pictures were taken, and even in the pictures of the restoration, here, I still can't really tell. Sometimes I feel like David Hemmings in Blow-Up.

And what to make of that left hand lifting the hem of that garment? She does so to reveal her foot, the limping one, I suppose, which looks blackened and perhaps has been withdrawn from the flames that rise up under the idol-the flames of hell, one would imagine.

The way that I write these posts is that I look at the images several times at different magnifications until I see everything I can. By that time, I'm pretty sure what I want to write, but if I have any questions, I look around to see what other people have written--of which precious little is available online. I'm sure I could find more if I had access to a library, but I don't. These are the websites that I have used. 

The Web Gallery of Art - This has been my main resource. It's where I found the pictures, and you can see them there at larger magnifications.

The Scrovegni Chapel and the Frescoes Painted by Giotto Therein by Andrea Moschetti - mostly useful for the inscriptions

Art and Critique - just a person like me, apparently, and unfortunately, because there is a lot of interesting stuff there, the blog seems to be defunct.

gettyimages - This is where you can see the restored images.


P.S. If you haven't see the detail pictures from Faith, you might want to take a look at them.


  1. From the artistic+theological point of view, I think this is my favorite of these pieces so far--the work itself, I mean. That image is perfect. The person no doubt thinks he/she is in control, since the idol is, after all, so much smaller. It makes me think of the little spirit of lust that's attached to the guy's shoulder in The Great Divorce.

    1. Yes, except that the little spirit in TGD is repulsive, whereas the idol is beautiful, which is even more dangerous.

      I didn't really think about this until just this moment, but it seems that she might be trying to put a bit of distance between the idol and herself, but, of course, there's only so far she can go without strangling herself.


    2. True. And yeah--the idol is at arm's length, but nevertheless attached. Very appropriate.

    3. There really is a lot in this one, and, I think, in all the rest. Or maybe the more I look at them, the more I get into looking at them.


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