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ment and return of attention is inevitable under the conditions of this type; and this it is which allows the free play, — which, indeed, constitutes and expresses the activity belonging to the subject, just as the fixation of the pyramid constitutes the quietude of the religious picture. Thus it is that the diagonal composition is particularly suited to portray scenes of grandeur, and to induce a feeling of awe in the spectator, because only here can the eye rove in one large sweep from side to side of the picture, recalled by the mass and interest of the side from which it moves. The swing of the pendulum is here widest, so to speak, and all the feeling-tones which belong to wide, free movement are called into play. If, at the same time, the element of the deep vista is introduced, we have the extreme of concentration combined with the extreme of movement; and the result is a picture in the “grand style - comparable to high tragedy - in which all the feeling-tones which wait on motor impulses are, as it were, while yet in the same reciprocal relation,
, tuned to the highest pitch. Such a picture is the “ Finding of the Ring,” Paris Bordone, in the Venice Academy. All the mass and the interest and the suggestion of attention is toward the right, the sweep of the downward lines and of the magnificent perspective toward the left, and the effect of the whole space composition is of superb largeness of life and feeling. Compare Titian’s “ Presentation of the Virgin,” also the two great composi
tions by Veronese, “ Martyrdom of St. Mark,” etc., in the Doge's Palace, Venice, and “Esther before Ahasuerus,” in the Uffizi, Florence. In these last two, the mass, direction of interest, movement, and attention are toward the left, while all the lines tend diagonally to the right, where a vista is also suggested, the diagonal making a V just at the end. Here, too, the effect is of magnificence and vigor.
If, then, the pyramid belongs to contemplation, the diagonal to action, what can be said of landscape? It is without action, it is true, and yet does not express that positive quality, that will not to act, of the rapt contemplation. The landscape uncomposed is negative, and it demands unity. Its type of composition, then, must give it something positive besides unity. It lacks both concentration and action; but it can gain them both from a space composition which shall combine unity with a tendency to movement. And this is given by the diagonal and V-shaped type. This type merely allows free play to the natural tendency of the “ active" picture; but it constrains the neutral, inanimate landscape. The shape itself imparts motion to the picture: the sweep of line, the concentration of the vista, the unifying power of the inverted triangle between two masses, act, as it were, externally to the suggestion of the object itself. There is always enough quiet in a landscape, whelming suggestion of the horizontal suffices for that; it is movement that is needed for richness of
effect, and, as I have shown, no type imparts the feeling of movement so strongly as the diagonal and V-shaped type of composition. Landscapes need energy to produce “ stimulation,” not repression, and so the diagonal type is proportionately more
The rigid square is found only at an early stage in the development of composition. Moreover, all the examples are “story” pictures, for the most part scenes from the lives of the saints, etc. Many of them are double-centre, — square, that is, with a slight break in the middle, the grouping purely logical, to bring out the relations of the characters. Thus, in the “Dream of Saint Martin," Simone Martini, a fresco at Assisi, the saint lies straight across the picture with his head in one corner. Behind him on one side stand the Christ and angels, grouped closely together, their heads on the same level. These are all, of course, in one sense symmetrical, — in the weight of interest, at least, – but
they are completely amorphous from an æsthetic point of view. The forms, that is, do not count at all, — only the meanings. The story is told by a clear separation of the parts, and as, in most stories, there are two principal actors, it merely happens that they fall into the two sides of the picture. On the other hand, a rigid geometrical symmetry is also characteristic of early composition, and these two facts seem to contradict each other. But it is to be noted, first, that the rigid geometrical symmetry
belongs only to the “Madonna Enthroned,” and
general “ Adoration” pieces; and secondly, that this very rigidity of symmetry in details can coexist with variations which destroy balance. Thus, in a “ Madonna Enthroned" of Giotto, where absolute symmetry in detail is kept, the Child sits far out on the right knee of the Madonna.
It would seem that the symmetry of these early pictures was not dictated by a conscious demand for symmetrical arrangement, or rather for real balance, else such failures would hardly occur. The presence of geometrical symmetry is more easily explained as the product, in large part, of technical conditions : of the fact that these pictures were painted as altar-pieces to fill a space definitely symmetrical in character — often, indeed, with ar
chitectural elements intruding into it. We may even connect the Madonna pictures with the temple images of the classic period, to explain why it was natural to paint the object of worship seated exactly facing the worshiper. Thus we may separate the two classes of pictures, the one giving an object of worship, and thus taking naturally, as has been said, the pyramidal, symmetrical shape, and being moulded to symmetry by all other suggestions of technique ; the other aiming at nothing except logical clearness. This antithesis of the symbol and the story has a most interesting parallel in the two great classes of primitive art — the one symbolic, merely suggestive, shaped by the space it had to
fill, and so degenerating into the slavishly symmetrical; the other descriptive, “story-telling,” and without a trace of space composition. On neither side is there evidence of direct æsthetic feeling. Only in the course of artistic development do we find the rigid, yet often unbalanced, symmetry relaxing into a free substitutional symmetry, and the formless narrative crystallizing into a really unified and balanced space-form. The two antitheses approach each other in the “ balance” of the masterpieces of civilized art — in which, for the first time,
- a real feeling for space composition makes itself felt.