But it is to be noted, first, that the rigid geometrical symmetry belongs only to the Madonna Enthroned, and general Adoration pieces; and secondly, that this very rigidity of symmetry in details can coexist with variations which destroy balance. Thus, in the Madonna Enthroned, Giotto (715), where absolute symmetry in detail is kept, the Child sits far out on the right knee of the Madonna. Compare also Madonna, Vitale di Bologna (157), in which the C. is almost falling off M.’s arms to the right, her head is bent to the right, and a monk is kneeling at the right lower corner; also Madonna, Ottaviano Nelli (175)—all very early pictures. Hence, it would seem that the symmetry of these early pictures was not dictated by a conscious demand for symmetrical arrangement, or rather for real balance, else such failures would hardly occur. The presence of geometrical symmetry is more easily explained as the product, in large part, of technical conditions: of the fact that these pictures were painted as altarpieces to fill a space definitely symmetrical in character—often, indeed, with architectural elements intruding into it. We may even venture to connect the Madonna pictures with the temple images of the classic period, to explain why it was natural to paint the object of worship seated exactly facing the worshipper. Thus we may separate the two classes of pictures, the one giving an object of worship, and thus taking naturally, as has been said, the pyramidal, symmetrical shape, and being moulded to symmetry by all other suggestions of technique; the other aiming at nothing except logical clearness. This antithesis of the symbol and the story has a most interesting parallel in the two great classes of primitive art—the one symbolic, merely suggestive, shaped by the space it had to fill, and so degenerating into the slavishly symmetrical, the other descriptive, ‘story-telling’ and without a trace of space composition. On neither side is there evidence of direct aesthetic feeling. Only in the course of artistic development do we find the rigid, yet often unbalanced, symmetry relaxing into a free substitutional symmetry, and the formless narrative crystallizing into a really unified and balanced space form. The two antitheses approach each other in the ‘balance’ of the masterpieces of civilized art—in which, for the first time, a real feeling for space composition makes itself felt.
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BY ROSWELL PARKER ANGIER.