The virtue of Justice in art. The images of Giotto and Pietro del Pollaiolo

The scales, the sword, the globe: symbols of the universal lordship of justice and its link with charity

by Mario Vitali

From ancient times to the present day, art has resorted to numerous symbols to represent Justice: a blindfolded female figure holding the balance, signifying the mission of social balance, holding a sword, a symbol of distributive power. , with the crown, the scepter or with a purple mantle, to want to consider her almost queen among the virtues and, again, with a blindfold, to signify impartiality in judgments, or as the sun that sheds light on everything and benefits everyone without distinction.

But what is Justice? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church “justice is the moral virtue which consists in the constant and firm will to give to God and neighbor what is due to them. Justice towards God is called a “virtue of religion”. Justice towards men disposes to respect the rights of each one and to establish harmony in human relationships that promotes equity towards persons and the common good. The just man, often mentioned in the Holy Books, is distinguished by the habitual straightness of his thoughts and the rectitude of his conduct towards his neighbor. “You will not treat the poor with partiality, nor will you use preferences towards the powerful; but you will judge your neighbor with justice “(Lv 19:15). “You, masters, give your servants what is just and equitable, knowing that you too have a master in heaven” (Col 4: 1). “(No.1807)

Fig. 1 – Giotto La Giustizia (Scrovegni Chapel, Padua)

For Giotto (circa 1267-1337) justice has a dominant position among the other virtues and the fundamental element that defines it is the judgment on good and evil, so Giotto represents her as a queen, crowned and seated on a throne, while he holds a scale suspended over his shoulders in his hands, with no visible figure supporting it.

On the right plate of the scales, then, an angel is depicted in the act of crowning a seated man, while on the left plate another angel is about to behead a criminal. The two dishes are in balance, thus indicating the fairness of Justice which rewards those who observe the laws and punishes those who transgress them, endangering the common good.

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Fig. 2 Piero del Pollaiolo – Justice (Uffizi Gallery, Florence)

For Piero del Pollaiolo (1443-1496) (Fig. 1) instead, the two symbols that best represent the essence of justice are the globe and the sword. Il Pollaiolo represents her as a young woman sitting on a chair while she holds the globe in one hand, a symbol of the world over which she extends her dominion, and in the other hand she holds a sword with which she applies so impartial sentence.

The young woman wears an armor that, together with the sword, evokes the combat, the strength and the power that justice must exercise to enforce its judgments. The double-edged sword symbolizes the idea that order translates into a duty and a right.

The symbol of the sword seems to be suggested by St. Paul: “Each person submits to the authorities that are superior to him. In fact, there is no authority if it does not come from God … Do good and you will receive praise from it. It is in fact at the service of God on your behalf, so that you do good. But if you do evil, fear, because it does not carry the sword in vain …“(Rom. 13, 1-4).

The sword held by the woman in the work of Pollaiolo is turned upwards and seems to want to indicate the asceticism that occurs through the practice of Justice that “does not express itself exclusively in the exact respect of rights and duties; ” in fact, the exercise of justice is not reduced to “an arithmetic problem that is solved by adding and subtracting. Christian virtue is more ambitious: it pushes us to show ourselves grateful, affable, generous; to behave as loyal and honest friends”(St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer).

In the Holy Scriptures justice is referred to countless times as an attribute of God, often associated with Mercy.

It is often said, in fact, that God is both just and merciful at the same time. Two aspects that in God do not come into conflict. Sometimes one thinks that God is just, but he also chooses to be merciful, in reality He is both just and merciful: “Good and just is the Lord, our God is merciful “ (Ps. 116.5).

The words used by St. Josemaria Escrivà in recalling the essence of the virtue of justice and its link with charity are moving: “Charity, (…) is like a generous overflow of justice … in my opinion, the behavior of mothers is the clearest example of this practical union of justice with charity. They love all their children with identical affection, and precisely this love leads them to treat them differently – with ‘unequal’ justice – because each is different from the others. Well, even with our neighbor, charity perfects and completes justice, because it pushes us to behave in an unequal way with those who are unequal … Justice requires giving each his own, which does not mean giving everyone the same thing

Saturday, November 5, 2022

The virtue of Justice in art. The images of Giotto and Pietro del Pollaiolo – Alleanza Cattolica