The treatment of this subject was, in Giotto’s time, so rigidly fixed by tradition that it was out of his power to display any of his own special modes of thought; and, as in the Bearing of the Cross, so here, but yet more distinctly, the temporary circumstances are little regarded, the significance of the event being alone cared for. But even long after this time, in all the pictures of the Crucifixion by the great masters, with the single exception perhaps of that by Tintoret in the Church of San Cassano at Venice, there is a tendency to treat the painting as a symmetrical image, or collective symbol of sacred mysteries, rather than as a dramatic representation. Even in Tintoret’s great Crucifixion in the School of St. Roch, the group of fainting women forms a kind of pedestal for the Cross. The flying angels in the composition before us are thus also treated with a restraint hardly passing the limits of decorative symbolism. The fading away of their figures into flame-like cloud may perhaps be founded on the verse, “He maketh His angels spirits; His ministers a flame of fire” (though erroneously, the right reading of that verse being, “He maketh the winds His messengers, and the flaming fire His servant"); but it seems to me to give a greater sense of possible truth than the entire figures, treading the clouds with naked feet, of Perugino and his successors.
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I do not consider that in fulfilling the task of interpreter intrusted to me, with respect to this series of engravings, I may in general permit myself to unite with it the duty of a critic. But in the execution of a laborious series of engravings, some must of course be better, some worse; and it would be unjust, no less to the reader than to Giotto, if I allowed this plate to pass without some admission of its inadequacy. It may possibly have been treated with a little less care than the rest, in the knowledge that the finished plate, already in the possession of the members of the Arundel Society, superseded any effort with inferior means; be that as it may, the tenderness of Giotto’s composition is, in the engraving before us, lost to an unusual degree.
It may be generally observed that the passionateness of the sorrow both of the Virgin and disciples, is represented by Giotto and all great following designers as reaching its crisis at the Entombment, not at the Crucifixion. The expectation that, after experiencing every form of human suffering, Christ would yet come down from the cross, or in some other visible and immediate manner achieve for Himself the victory, might be conceived to have supported in a measure the minds of those among His disciples who watched by His cross. But when the agony was closed by actual death, and the full strain was put upon their faith,