Nov 132007

The visual thrust of the Justice allegory ensues mostly from the various attributes and ornamental additions: they may appear to “steal the show” from the sitting crowned figure — in fact, of course, complementing her and expounding her purpose. This rivalry occurs on some level in other allegories as well, but in this one it reaches a notable scale, or a critical mass. One reason for this growth lies in the fact that the attributes consist of several miniature figures of living people, who interact and move, vying for the viewer’s attention — which may be lulled by the static, regal protagonist.

Since there is little variety in the facial expression (Giotto paints similar faces in Hope and Faith) across the entire mural, observers will naturally turn towards fresh, previously unseen visual elements. The tendency to seek digressions could have been a problem Giotto foresaw and solved, by offering harmlessly entertaining, yet still relevant narrative accompaniments. In a way, the miniatures play the role of jewelry, attracting the eye to the otherwise unremarkable owner.

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The crown, the richest of all head gears, appears in several of the virtues and vices: Charity is portrayed in the process of reaching for one (simple in appearance), while Foolishness wears an unusually designed piece, reminiscent of Native American feather headdress. The crown clearly denotes Justice as the most important of all virtues in the secular dealings of men and women; the illusionist regal architecture, echoing the spiky decorative ornament of the head gear, further emphasizes her exceptional status.

The protagonist indeed sits like a queen: stately and immobile, somewhat detached and almost inapproachable, she implies objectivity and unconditional clarity. In her hands she holds the notorious scales, punishment stands on one and clemency on the other. Also allegories, they are occupied with their respective activities, to which the condemned in front of them react accordingly (the one in front of clemency was lost). The scales are almost even, with clemency pulling down just a little bit more; the imaginary line between the two accurately divides the scene into two halves, suggesting impartiality.

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The scene below the throne is rich in figurative details that bring to mind some of the other virtues. We see some growth, a possible hint at charity, and a woman holding a tambourine as if it were a mirror, an allusion to prudence and knowledge. The men on horseback, who are probably warriors, imply fortitude. It is interesting to compare this scene with the one below Injustice — festive and lively atmosphere defined by order and symmetry versus chaos, destruction, and obstruction.

Overall, there is considerably more tension, movement and drama in Giotto’s vices. Though they exhibit less balance and harmony, their emphasized, ridiculed imperfections and deviations make them more fascinating, even if somewhat disturbing. They suggest a sustained, genuine inquiry and study of human psychology — interests closely linked to the ideas of Renaissance.

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