Born in 1266
Born in 1266, Giotto di Bondone was an extremely important painter and architect from Florence, Italy, and worked during the Gothic/Proto-Renaissance era. Today, many of his works are considered some of the best from this time. Little is known about Giotto in his younger years. Today, it is commonly accepted that he was born in a village called Vespigano. “The year of his birth is calculated from the fact that Antonio Pucci, the town crier of Florence, wrote a poem in Giotto’s honor which stated that he was seventy at the time of his death.” (Eimerl) He grew up displaying an amazing art talent, which may have earned him apprenticeship under Florentine painter Cimabue. Many say that Cimabue saw a lifelike drawing of some sheep that belonged to Giotto, which prompted Cimabue to ask Giotto’s father if he could become his apprentice. Though he was a citizen of Florence, he also worked in Assisi, Rome, Padua, Milan and Naples.
Giotto was believed to be almost completely self-taught. Giotto’s style of work resembled a medieval style incorporating both gothic and byzantine. His work began to evolve to be less stylized than his master Cimabue, who painted in a manner that is distinctly medieval, having aspects of both the Byzantine and the Gothic. Giotto’s style drew from Arnolfo di Cambio, another famous Italian painter and architect; focusing on the quality of realness in his art, which was unique and new at the time. Throughout his early career, he experimented with tighter than normal brush strokes; in hopes of creating more realistic looking artwork.
One of his first known work, the frescoes on the life of St. Francis at the church of Assisi, demonstrate the use of this technique. However, many scholars debate whether Giotto was present or not during these creations as it is only documented that Cimabue went to Assisi during the mid to late 1290’s to paint several frescoes. Texts from Riccobaldo Ferrarese, an Italian notary, mentions that Giotto painted at Assisi but does not specify the works done at St. Francis: “What kind of art Giotto made is testified to by works done by him in the Franciscan churches at Assisi, Rimini, Padua…” (Hankey) Although his unique realistic style was still growing, many assumed Giotto would explode in popularity around Italy in the next few years.
At the age of 20, Giotto married Ricevuta di Lapo del Pela, and had numerous children. (Emirel) As Giotto grew older, he travelled much of Italy with his master and sparked an increase in his reputation. He worked in Rome from 1297-1300, but little evidence exists today of his works there. According to documents from 1301 and 1304, Giotto possessed large estates in Florence, and it is possible that he was already had a large workshop and was receiving commissions from throughout Italy. (Emirel) As Giotto’s fame as a painter spread, he was called to work in Padua, and in Rimini, where today only a Crucifix remains in the Church of St. Francis, painted before 1309.
While in Padua, Giotto executed his most influential work, the painted decoration of the interior of the Scrovegni Chapel. Giotto attempted to express as much of a story in his paintings of the frescoes as possible, due to many Europeans being illiterate during the 14th century. The only way many people learned the stories of the Bible was by hearing the words of the priest in the church, and by looking at paintings and sculptures. Several painters from Italy were influenced by Giotto following his work in Padua, such as Guariento, Jacopo Avanzi, and Altichiero. Soon enough, poets like Dante were praising him in verse, claiming that he had surpassed Cimabue in his abilities. According to Dante, Giotto’s reputation had surpassed Cimabue’s, even though Cimabue was also considered a revolutionary painter at the time. (Keene)
In 1306, Giotto arrived in Assisi to start painting the frescoes in the transparent area of the Lower Church of the St. Basilica of St. Francis. By 1311 Giotto has completed “The Life of Christ”, “Franciscan Allegories” and the Maddalena Chapel, drawing on stories from the Golden Legend and the portrait of Bishop Teobaldo Pontano, who commissioned the work. Around 1320, Giotto completed the painting “Stefaneschi Triptych” for Cardinal Jacopo who also commissioned him for decoration of St. Peter’s apse. Giorgio Vasari, another famous Italian painter from the 15th century states in his “Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects” Giotto stayed in Rome for six years, receiving numerous commissions in Italy.
In 1328, he was called by King Robert of Anjou to Naples, where he remained with a group of pupils until 1333. In 1332, King Robert named him the first court painter, with a yearly pension included. Two years later, Giotto was appointed chief architect to Florence Cathedral. Soon after, he designed the bell tower, known as Giotto’s Campanile; though it was not completed entirely to his design. Approaching his final years, Giotto had become friends with Boccaccio and Sacchetti, two Italian poets who featured him in their stories. In January of 1337, Giotto passed away at the presumed age of seventy. He was buried in Santa Maria del Fiore, the Cathedral of Florence, on the left of the entrance with the spot marked by a white marble plaque.
Giotto provided a new take during the Gothic/Proto-Renaissance era on an existing style and revised it to his liking and taste. He influenced the Italian Renaissance movement vastly. Italy’s embracement of Giotto’s work sparked a new type of art to be viewed and appreciated around Italy. His hard work and beautiful creations helped him to be known as one of the most important Italian artists of the 14th century. Giotto managed to earn the interest of people from the late 1200’s to the late 1300’s and still manages to spark interest today. The Renaissance era, with Giotto’s help, was just beginning to take shape.