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Giotto di Bondone
Giotto di
Italia 1267−1337
Biography and information
Giotto di Bondone (July 1266, Vespignano — January 8, 1337, Florence) is an Italian painter and architect of Renaissance, founder of the Italian school of painting, one of the greatest reformers in the history of European art.

Creative features of Giotto di Bondone. He is known as the master of church fresco cycles (Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Scrovegni Chapel in Padua), as his «secular» paintings, which he made during his stay at the court of Robert of Anjou in Naples, did not survive apparently, although Vasari refers to them. In his innovative fresco painting, radically different from the Byzantine painting, Giotto fully exalts the value of real human life. His style proposes vivid and dramatically interpreted images, which are naturally opposed to the abstract and symbolic art of the Middle Ages; that is why you can call Giotto the first Renaissance painter.

Famous works by Giotto di Bondone: The Arrest of Christ (Kiss of Judas), The Mourning of Christ (Scenes from the Life of Christ), Joachim’s Dream (Scenes from the Life of Joachim), Homage of a Simple Man (А Fool Prophets the Glorious Future for Young Francis), Ognissanti Madonna, Last Judgement

The oeuvre of Giotto di Bondone, the Florentine painter and architect of 13th — 14th centuries, is the line between the medieval Gothic and the art of the Renaissance. European art has crossed this Rubicon and changed its features radically and forever.

Giotto’s mission is to overcome the Byzantine icon-painting tradition.

Giotto was the first to depict biblical events in his works on a very certain rather than assumed architectural or landscape background. It was he who «invented» the composition style to show the events of the Holy History with his own dominant point of view, his unique author’s vision, casting off the strict canon. It was Giotto di Bondone who began outlining the perspective and working with the depth of field. It was he who let live emotions into religious painting. Finally, it was Giotto di Bondone who overcame the medieval flatness in his works, realizing that if you gradually brighten or darken a local color, you will get a voluminous and plastic form.

The works of Giotto di Bondone were the first step for European art to choose reality instead of speculation.

Giotto’s biography: childhood and education

He was born about 1267 (date is assumed) in the village of Vespignano, 14 miles east of Florence, into a poor peasant family. From his childhood, Giotto di Bondone was restless, bright-minded and fervent. His father would early introduce his son to the family business entrusting him herding the sheep.

According to a popular legend, a Florentine artist Cimabue passed by the teenager with sheep. The merry shepherd boy took a piece of coal and drew a lamb on a stone, seeing that he always had the nature at hand. Cimabue convinced Giotto’s parents that the boy needed to study, and for that purpose, he had to enter his studio. This is how the young provincial first came to the capital of Tuscany.

At the turn of 14th century, Florence was a magnificent and politically independent city with a population of 100,000 people, unimaginable for the time. It thrived on wool trade and banking. Consequently, there was always demand for large-scale construction, and the artists of the Cimabue’s studio had commissions in plenty.

After a short time, Giotto moved from grinding pigments and preparing the panels for Cimabue to painting the backgrounds and even minor figures by himself. That was how he started discovering his own style, which brought him the first prominence. There in Florence, he met his contemporary almost of the same age, Dante Alighieri, who would become his friend and mark his place on the pages of «Divine Comedy». This turning period of the 14th century would later be called «the era of Dante and Giotto».

Giotto’s work in Assisi: St. Francis Chronicle

Dante was the founder of Italian literature; he was the first to write not in Latin but in his native Tuscan dialect. Giotto was a reformer in painting. About a century earlier, there lived an Italian who had radically transformed his field of activity. It was Francis of Assisi.

The future Saint Francis has broken with the rich and unruly life and has chosen the path of poverty and penance. He denounced the corrupted church, healed the lepers, acquired stigmata and preached to the birds, denoting a new era in the history of Catholicism.

Francis was born in the town of Assisi, Umbria. At the end of the 14th century, a grand temple was built there in his memory. The head of the Franciscan order Giovanni di Muro della Marca invited the recognized expert Cimabue to decorate the church, and a few years later, his talented apprentice Giotto followed him.

Assisi was the place where the inevitable thing happened: the artwork of Giotto eclipsed the works of his teacher. Some debates revolve around who of them performed which part of the paintings. It is believed that the transept ceiling was painted by Cimabue, and most of the 28 frescoes about the life and exploits of Francis were made in Giotto’s style. In his further works, Giotto would use his Assisi discoveries: realistic details painted from life, a consistent «time-lapse» storyboard. This touch was the reason why Giotto would be jokingly called the chronicler of St. Francis.

Giotto’s biography: family affairs

In the late 1280s, still an apprentice of Cimabue, Giotto married Civutte di Lappo del Piella who would give him eight children. They did not live in misery, since Giotto possessed talent to create his artworks and commercial acumen as well. The contemporaries considered him a successful businessman; the documents came down to us saying that he could afford to live like a nobleman. Over time, Giotto became so rich that he decided to buy up land in and around Vespignano so that the places he loved since childhood became the property of his numerous family.

Giotto in Padua: the Scrovegni Chapel

At the beginning of the 14th century, Giotto di Bondone received an interesting commision. He was to paint a small chapel in Padua. Now it is referred by two names. The first name is the Arena Chapel, as it was built on the site where the ancient amphitheater once rustled and raged. The second name is the Scrovegni Chapel, named after a rich family that sponsored its construction.

The customer’s name was Enrico Scrovegni. His late father, who owned the land where the chapel was supposed to be, led a rich and unrighteous life. Thus, Giotto had to come to arrange the chapel, which was a kind of expiation for the Scrovegni family, an attempt to atone the earthly sins for the Almighty. Therefore, the chapel was lavishly bankrolled.

Giotto arrived in Padua with his «team» of painters and helpers from his own studio, and they made things hum. It was the Scrovegni Chapel that not only made Giotto famous throughout Italy, but also to glorified his name in the ages. He developed the unique and very spectacular «draft» of the chapel decoration. All the walls and the plafond were covered with several parallel rows of excellent frescos; there were at least 38 of them.

Giotto decided to tell a Gospel story in a series of the consecutive episodes. They were so detailed, as if they were an illustrated Bible for those who could not read. It was quite a bold way of pictorial presentation. In addition, in his innovative impulse, the Florentine painter desisted from making golden backgrounds, which was typical of the Byzantine icons, while his teacher Cimabue kept on using them. Giotto di Bondone was the first European painter to depict the events of Biblical history on a «natural» background of a landscape or architectural structures.

Giotto had another revolutionary discovery: he began to show the well-known events against the Byzantine icon-painting canon, which was unchanged throughout the centuries. Giotto depicted the scenes, just as if he saw these events himself and was ready to tell us about them.

Giotto’s Frescoes for the Scrovegni Chapel

When you visit the chapel, you see that Giotto did not paint faces or conventional figures. He has introduced his own style. His paintings feature living characters of flesh and blood: Virgin Mary solemnly marching to the altar, accompanied by a cheerful wedding cortege; Christ and Judas peering at each other intensely; Mary bowing to the face of the dead Son with an expression of deep sorrow… These were no longer faces in an icon-painting tradition, they were comprehensive pictorial characters experiencing real human emotions and dramas. That is why Giotto di Bondone is usually considered the initiator of the great Renaissance painting.

He introduced innovation into the painting technique as well. Cimabue used to set to work after the walls had been plastered and dried, whereas Giotto began his work on wet plaster, which he applied in fragments strictly before painting. The plaster dried out quickly; this caused him to work more dynamically using more saturated colour pigments. Therefore, due to his unique style, the Padua works of Giotto retain their festive brightness until now.

The most famous works of Giotto are The Meeting at the Golden Gate, The Flight into Egypt, The Kiss of Judas, The Mourning of Christ. All of them were painted in the Scrovegni Chapel.

Giotto’s oeuvre: Arezzo, Naples, Rome, Milan

During the following decades, Giotto travelled much throughout the Apennine peninsula, carrying out the commissions of the King of Naples, the Arezzo churches, the Florentine bankers, the Milanese gentlefolks and even the Pope. According to Vasari, the rumour has come on the Pope about great Giotto’s artistry. He sent his envoys to the artist in order to make sure that Giotto di Bondone was trustworthy enough to work in the Eternal City. The envoy demanded some drawings from Giotto to confirm his skills. The artist’s answer was the following: he dipped his brush into the red paint, put his elbow on his side and drew an ideal circle without using a compass. Then he added that he would not demonstrate anything else. This episode has fostered an Italian proverb to describe simple-minded people: più tondo dell’O di Giotto — «rounder than the O of Giotto

After visiting France, Giotto gained the international reputation.

Giotto’s later years: Florence

Giotto returned to Florence again and again, and the city gave him his due. The former shepherd was ennobled and elected an honorary citizen of Florence. It was Giotto di Bondone who had changed people’s attitude towards the work of an artist: they did not consider painting as simple handicraft anymore; its status became immeasurably higher.

In 1334, Giotto was appointed chief architect of Florence and «intendant of all the fortifications of the city». He was responsible for all construction sites, reconstruction of bridges, and began his work on the most ambitious project in the history of Florence: the construction of the cathedral (Duomo). Giotto worked on the sketches and construction plans, he designed a bell tower (now called Giotto’s Campanile), but he did not have a chance to see the end of the construction. On January 8, 1337, Giotto di Bondone, the great person of Renaissance, died at the age of about 70 years after a long period of illness.

Giovanni Boccaccio, a Renaissance writer, another famous Tuscan and Giotto’s junior contemporary, the author of Decameron said, «We can rightfully call Giotto one of the Florentine Saints.»
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Artworks by the artist
total 190 artworks
Giotto di Bondone. Lamentation of Christ. Scenes from the life of Christ
Lamentation of Christ. Scenes from the life of Christ
1305, 185×200 cm
Giotto di Bondone. The dream of Joachim (Scenes of the life of St. Joachim)
The dream of Joachim (Scenes of the life of St. Joachim)
1304, 200×185 cm
Giotto di Bondone. Magnification of the common man (The Holy One predicts the coming glory to the young Francis). The Legend of St. Francis
Magnification of the common man (The Holy One predicts the coming glory to the young Francis). The Legend of St. Francis
1300, 270×230 cm
Giotto di Bondone. The Last Judgment
The Last Judgment
1306, 1000×840 cm
Giotto di Bondone. Madonna of Oniissanti (Maesta)
Madonna of Oniissanti (Maesta)
1300-th , 325×204 cm
Giotto di Bondone. Taking Christ in custody (The Kiss of Judah). Scenes from the life of Christ
Taking Christ in custody (The Kiss of Judah). Scenes from the life of Christ
1306, 185×200 cm
Giotto di Bondone. The cycle of frescoes of the arena chapel in Padua. The wedding in Cana of Galilee. Fragment
The cycle of frescoes of the arena chapel in Padua. The wedding in Cana of Galilee. Fragment
Giotto di Bondone. Death of a knight from Celano. The Legend of St. Francis
Death of a knight from Celano. The Legend of St. Francis
1290-th , 270×230 cm
Giotto di Bondone. Awakening Drusiana John the Evangelist (detail)
Awakening Drusiana John the Evangelist (detail)
View 190 artworks by the artist