Nov 122007

The episcopal garment and the reflective facial expression immediately immerse the viewer into a serious, perhaps somewhat grave context. The facial expression adheres to medieval iconic standards more than any other in the entire group of fourteen allegories, and purposefully so: Giotto amplifies the theme of faith via an association with a long standing pictorial tradition.

Standing upright, and revealing only a slight contrapposto by the bended knee, Faith displays a detached certitude. Her ethereal manner conveys an air of absolute objectivity that aims to uproot the very notion of the possibility of doubt. She puts forward the accessories — the cross and the scroll — and may appear to hide behind them, as if suggesting, almost apologetically, that there’s nothing she can do: these powerful, undeniable truths speak for themselves. It’s an effective, is somewhat manipulative, psychological tactic.

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The cross-staff, a self-evident symbol, naturally divides into two parts. The cross, apparently painted gold, signifies Christianity as a whole. The staff functions as an enforcing agent, referring to the various ways of spreading the gospel: missionary work (traveling cane), holy war (the spears and lances of the crusades), and harsh education (teacher’s ruler). Only attached to the tip of the staff can the cross reach high, and essentially act as a regal scepter. Christianity, Giotto reminds the observer, rests and depends on a range of enforcing activities.

The scroll, apparently one of the gospels written in ancient Greek, appears to unwind upwards in a supernatural fashion. It reaches for a saint in the upper right corner whose breath — whose word — lands on the vellum (or papyrus), revealing, in fact, an opposite flow: more explicable, but only by the figurative idiom of the church. Once again, Giotto dovetails the literal with the figurative, producing a straightforward and effective analogy. The image mentions text in a different context as well: Faith stands on a few tablets with some unidentifiable letters, possibly texts concerned with other religions, all proven false, and defeated.

Finally, the key, the smallest of the objects, as well as the most obscure (hanging near the abdomen), resembles the keys to heaven (it appears identical to the keys on the Vatican coat of arms), and invokes the authority of the church in matters of faith. It can also suggest, in a more symbolic interpretation, that faith, in general, holds the key — be it to truth, salvation, or grace.

*this article has been edited at a later date

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