Giotto di Bondone (better known as just Giotto,) was born in poverty in the countryside near Florence. He was the son of Bondone, a peasant, and was himself a shepherd.
The legend says that at the age of 10, while attending the sheep, he used to draw on the rocks with a chalk. Cimabue saw him drawing a sheep, so natural and so perfect, that he immediately asked his father if he could bring Giotto with him to let him study art,. Giotto's career would have started in Cimabue's workshop.
His art was extremely innovative, and is commonly considered a precursor of the evolution which lead to the explosion of the Italian Renaissance.
He treated the religious themes (quite exclusively used in medieval art) with a new spirit, rendering them with a clear freshness and an unexpected liveliness. Many critics talk about a "human emotion" as the most peculiar feature of his works. He received commissions for many works throughout Italy, and became a good friend of the King of Naples. The legend also tells that he was able to paint incredibly perfect circles freehand.
Hundreds of years old & stunning.
Location:Scrovegni chapel in Padua
Astonishing detail: The mothers of the children massacred by King Herod. You can see traces of real tears run down their faces. Giotto is regarded as a founder of modern western painting because his work broke free from the stylisations of Byzantine art by introducing a convincing sense of three dimensional space. His work stunned the poet Dante and other contemporaries. Giotto's frescos offer an astonishing transparency and lightness of colour. Unlike other fresco painters who painted on dry plaster, Giotto worked directly onto the wet plaster, painting just enough as he could cover in a day. This way the paint penetrated deeply into the plaster and retained its vivid colour to this day. Giotto resurrected perspective lost in the Dark Ages, and translated the three-dimensional world perfectly onto a two-dimensional surface. In Giotto the world rises out of flatness, into fullness.
Location:Cappella dell'Arena, Padua
This sad and poignant fresco shows the Virgin embracing her Son for the last time. Giotto has arranged the figures and squeezed them together in a way that is not real at all. The event appears to be carefully staged. The perspectives are distorted and flattened. This was quite a new approach to early Christian art where each figure had to be shown in completeness.
Location:St. Francis, Upper Church, Assisi, Italy.
In this fresco, a villager crouches before the saint, spreading a pearly cloth under his feet. St. Francis steps onto it smiling at the man, extending his hand in blessing - a blessing that looks like a friendly invitation to rise, and take his hand. Behind them, a painted portico with a brick floor appears solid enough to be lifted and moved. The poet Dante was Giotto's friend and came to visit the artist while he was executing the frescoes at Padua. Giotto, happily married, was surrounded by his children, who were apparently getting underfoot. Dante asked the artist how he could produce art of such great beauty and children who were so homely. 'I make my pictures by day,' Giotto replied, 'and my babies by night.'
Location:St. Francis, Upper Church, Assisi, Italy
"Once when Francis was travelling, he met a stranger who had two little lambs hanging bound up over his shoulder. When the saint heard them bleating, he was filled with pity. He approached and he touched them gently as a mother caresses her weeping children. He asked the man, 'Why are you torturing my brother lambs in this way?' The man answered: 'I am taking them to market because I need the money.' Francis asked: 'But then what will happen to them?' He answered: 'Those who buy them will kill them and eat them, I suppose.' 'God forbid!' the saint replied. 'This must not happen. Give the lambs to me, and take this mantle that I am wearing as their price.' The stranger gladly gave him the lambs and took the cloak, for the cloak was worth much more money." (Thomas of Celano)
Location:St. Francis, Upper Church, Assisi, Italy
"It happened once that Francis came to Arezzo where the whole town was wracked by feuding and civil conflicts. As he approached the city he saw devils rejoicing over it and stirring up the citizens to each other's destruction, so he called a brother, Sylvester by name, a man of God of worthy simplicity, and he said to him: 'Go before the gate of the city and on the part of almighty God command the devils to leave the city quickly.' The man hurried to the city gate speaking psalms of praise before the face of the Lord. Then he cried out loudly before the gate: 'On the part of almighty God, and at the command of our father Francis, depart from here, all you devils!' " (Thomas of Celano)
Location:Bardi Chapel, Church of Santa Croce, Florence, Italy.
This is one of the salient episodes in the life of St. Francis: he went to Rome with his brothers to ask Pope Innocent III to approve the new order's rule that was based on a vow of poverty, obedience and chastity. The fact that Francis, who came from a wealthy family, renounced his fortune to preach to the humble aroused more than a few perplexities among the Roman curia that feared the spread of religious notions that were beyond pontifical control. For this reason approval only came after complex reflection. Here Giotto conveyed the historical significance of the event with two facing groups: the pope above, and the brothers kneeling in humility and recognition of the constituted papal authority.
Location:Fresco. St. Francis, Upper Church, Assisi, Italy.
"And behold, about midnight when some of the brethren were sleeping and others were praying devoutly in silence, a fiery chariot entered through the door of the house. It wheeled around inside, here and there, two or three times. A big globe of bright light rode above it like the sun and lit up the night. Those who had been asleep were startled into waking, and all of the watchers were amazed. They gathered together in wonder, trying to say what it was. Then, by the grace of the light, each one's mind was opened to the others, and they understood that it was the soul of their holy father that shone with such brilliance in tenderness for his sons . . ." (Thomas of Celano)
Giotto has been described as the creator of modern painting. He managed to instill life and substance into flat, painted forms a century before the Renaissance and he broke free of the stiff hieratic formula that had been the convention of religious paintings. Equally important is his achievement of creating some of the most unforgettable images of humanity within vividly presented dramatic scenes. His greatest surviving work is the series of fresco paintings in the Arena Chapel.
Learning art through great artists and their paintings is fun and exciting. Our friend and resident artist Stefan Mager has kindly given this introduction to the art world.