Giotto

Giotto di Bondone
Giotto di Bondone

    The story is that the great Florentine painter Cimabue discovered a shepherd boy drawing pictures of sheep on a rock. He was so impressed he asked his father if he could take the boy as an apprentice. The boy was Giotto di Bondone. If the story is true you had the last great Byzantine artist teaching the first great artist of the renaissance. You only need to see paintings by them to understand what changed in the 1300’s. During the Byzantine period commissions for the artists came from the church along with strict guidelines about how the work was to be done. They controlled the style of the period, of which Cimabue was very much a part. As the period ended wealth had spread throughout society. Enrico Scrovegni's father, a banker, was notorious for charging excessive interest. In 1306 Enrico commissioned Giotto to decorate the family chapel. The Arena Chapel may have been built as penance to keep his father out of Hell for usury, but it gave Giotto a freer hand to explore a more natural style of painting. When I think of the great renaissance artists, Giotto is not someone that comes to mind. An artist though must be seen in the context of the time and place in which he lived and worked. Giotto’s greatness was in bringing form, expression, and drama to his work, something not seen before in the middle ages. He tried to use perspective to create space and humanize the story he was illustrating. Giotto worked in fresco and egg tempera on wooden panels; the tools of the Byzantine period. The renaissance artists that followed would have different tools to expand on the style Giotto had established.


Cimabue

Cimabue
Giotto

Giotto
Cimabue

Cimabue
Giotto

Giotto

Giotto painted the Arena Chapel and he was chosen to design the new campanile (bell tower) of the Florence Cathedral in 1334. That is all that is certain of his biography. Every other aspect of his life is subject to speculation. Giotto was said to be short, homely, and a great wit. He was married and left six children at his death. There is a story that Dante visited Giotto while he was painting the Arena Chapel. Seeing the artist's children underfoot he asked how a man who painted such beautiful pictures could create such plain children. Giotto is said to have replied "I made them in the dark." Giotto was a popular painter who saved his money and possessed large estates in Florence. He knew the Pope and was a friend of King Robert of Naples. In 1334 the city of Florence designated him Magnus Magister (Great Master) and appointed him head Florentine architect and chief of public works. He was in the middle of building the Campanile ('Giotto's Tower') in Florence when he died. Despite his fame no surviving painting can be documented with any certainty as being by him. Giotto's birth date, birthplace, appearance, his apprenticeship, the order in which he created his works, and burial place are unknown and can only be guessed at.

This is the best commentary I found on the work of Giotto: The Arena Chapel


The Arena Chapel Blue Pigment Haileys Comet The Style of Giotto Enrico Scrovegni The Bell Tower Portrait of Gioto