[Footnote 17: In the next chapter, it is said that “Joseph drew back his rod when every one else presented his.”]
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THE WATCHING OF THE RODS AT THE ALTAR.
“After the high-priest had received their rods, he went into the temple to pray.
“And when he had finished his prayer, he took the rods and went forth and distributed them; and there was no miracle attended them.
“The last rod was taken by Joseph; and, behold, a dove proceeded out of the rod, and flew upon the head of Joseph.” (Protevangelion, viii. 9-11.)
This is among the least graceful designs of the series; though the clumsiness in the contours of the leading figures is indeed a fault which often occurs in the painter’s best works, but it is here unredeemed by the rest of the composition. The group of the suitors, however, represented as waiting at the outside of the temple, is very beautiful in its earnestness, more especially in the passionate expression of the figure in front. It is difficult to look long at the picture without feeling a degree of anxiety, and strong sympathy with the silent watching of the suitors; and this is a sign of no small power in the work. The head of Joseph is seen far back on the extreme left; thus indicating by its position his humility, and desire to withdraw from the trial.
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THE BETROTHAL OF THE VIRGIN.
There is no distinct notice of this event in the apocryphal Gospel: the traditional representation of it is nearly always more or less similar. Lord Lindsay’s account of the composition before us is as follows:
“The high-priest, standing in front of the altar, joins their hands; behind the Virgin stand her bridesmaids; behind St. Joseph the unsuccessful suitors, one of whom steps forward to strike him, and another breaks his rod on his knee. Joseph bears his own rod, on the flower of which the Holy Spirit rests in the semblance of a dove.”
The development of this subject by Perugino (for Raffaelle’s picture in the Brera is little more than a modified copy of Perugino’s, now at Caen,) is well known; but notwithstanding all its beauty, there is not, I think, any thing in the action of the disappointed suitors so perfectly true or touching as that of the youth breaking his rod in this composition of Giotto’s; nor is there among any of the figures the expression of solemn earnestness and intentness on the event which is marked among the attendants here, and in the countenances of the officiating priests.