Giotto Di Bondone

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

The Italian painter Giotto di Bondone was the most important artist of the late Middle Ages. Unlike other artists of his day, he painted realistic figures whose faces and gestures show strong human emotions. Giotto's work looked forward to the painting styles of the Renaissance.

Very little is known about Giotto's early life. He was born about 1267 in a remote mountain village in Tuscany, Italy. He is believed to have studied art in Florence, probably with Cimabue, a leading Florentine artist. Giotto began to work on his own about 1300.

One of Giotto's earliest works was a large altarpiece painted for the Church of Ognissanti (All Saints) in Florence. It depicts the Virgin Mary seated on a throne and surrounded by saints and angels. The holy figures are painted in a way that was revolutionary for that time. In most paintings of the Middle Ages, figures appear flat and one-dimensional. Giotto's figures seem three-dimensional and almost real, with the solidity and weight of sculpture. Many people were amazed at Giotto's skill.

About 1305, Giotto was called to the town of Padua, near Venice. He was commissioned by one of Padua's wealthiest citizens to paint the inside of the Arena Chapel with a series of frescoes—wall paintings done on wet plaster—depicting the life of Christ and his parents.

Giotto's frescoes in the Arena Chapel are among the most important paintings in the history of Western art. Artists before Giotto had painted Christ as a superhuman figure, but Giotto showed the human side of Christ. In the frescoes, Christ experiences the same strong emotions of friendship, joy, fear, and sorrow felt by all of us. Giotto's skill at painting men and women who seem to be alive helped him tell his stories in an effective way. The Arena Chapel frescoes were imitated by many other artists and thus had a very strong influence on the development of Italian art.

About 1330, Giotto painted two chapels in the church of Santa Croce in Florence. In one of the chapels Giotto painted scenes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi. In the other he painted stories from the lives of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.

In 1334, Giotto was placed in charge of the building of the Cathedral of Florence. He designed the bell tower (campanile) that stands beside the cathedral. He died in 1337, before the tower was completed.

Bruce Cole
Author, Giotto and Florentine Painting 1250-1375

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