Nov 102007

Wearing a garment identical to that of Hope, Charity also reveals a resembling face: the same model probably served Giotto in painting both virtues. The woman humbly smiles and bends slightly backwards, producing a set of graceful and plastic movements, and a subtle contrapposto. She balances easily standing on a few sacks of grain or flour; her posture, though firmly stable, is somewhat dance-like. She seems like a buxom peasant not devoid of a characteristic elegance.

The bowl symmetrically mirrors the image of God in a symbolical correlation of fertility and abundance with divinity. Charity’s gaze focuses on the deity and the single fruit it provides. Her thoughts appear to wander as far away as possible from the supplies she carries and treads upon: between material and divine, she clearly aspires towards the latter; yet she serves as a kind of mediator between the two — between God and mankind.

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Charity, circa 1305
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The act of receiving fruit via divine intervention resembles the activity of harvest picking: the artist visually equates the two, constructing an allegory (not unlike the gathering of manna), and conveying the notion of God the provider. In turn, believers who enjoy the harvest express their gratitude in daily thanks and graces. Both the overfull container and the sacks imply that the depicted scene captures only a single moment of a continuous and arduous process.

The figure’s facial expression, though quite severe, betrays a distinct measure of cheerfulness. Her broad, open visage and hair adorned with the produce bring to mind peasant festivities associated with crops and harvesting. The way she suggestively holds the bowl — across the central horizontal axis of the composition, and in line with her abdomen — suggests that she, as Charity should, generously distributes the contents to whoever needs them. Thus Giotto interjects a moral lesson into the generally joyful narrative.

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Considering the natural tendency of the viewer’s eye is to progress from left to right, from the center towards the upper parts of an image, the figure of God becomes a kind of a visual conclusion — the final compositional point of the entire scene. The column-like lower half of the mural suggests that above, where the temple should be, worship takes place — and that charity, indeed, is an act that pleases the Lord.

*this article has been edited at a later date

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