Giotto

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Giotto

Giotto (Giotto di Bondone) (jôt´tō dē bōndô´nā), c.1266–c.1337, Florentine painter and architect. He is noted not only for his own work, but for the lasting impact he had on the course of painting in Europe.

Training

Giotto reputedly was born at Colle, near Florence. According to tradition, he was a pupil of Cimabue. Modern critics also see the influence of the Roman school exemplified by Pietro Cavallini and of the sculptors Nicola and Giovanni Pisano. Whatever his training, it is certain that Giotto broke with the formulas of Byzantine painting and gave new life to the art of painting in Italy.

Works of Art

Giotto designed a great number of works, many of which have disappeared. It is thought that he first participated in the decoration of the Upper Church at Assisi. Scenes from the Life of Christ,Legend of St. Francis, and Isaac and Esau have all been credited to Giotto (and questioned). About 1300 he was in Rome, where he executed the mosaic of the Navicella now in St. Peter's. He also worked on frescoes in the Lateran Basilica, which have been lost.

About 1304 he began to design the series of 38 frescoes in the Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel in Padua. These frescoes are among the greatest works of Italian art. The cycle consists of scenes from the Life of the Virgin,Life of Christ, the Last Judgment, and Virtues and Vices. His power of narration is exemplified by such episodes as the Flight into Egypt,Betrayal of Judas,Raising of Lazarus, and Lamentation. In Padua, Giotto also seems to have painted a fresco of the Crucifixion (Church of Sant' Antonio) and may have designed the astrological motifs for the Palazzo della Ragione (now repainted).

Returning to Florence, he decorated two chapels in the Church of Santa Croce; in the Peruzzi Chapel he painted frescoes of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist; in the Bardi Chapel he worked on the magnificent cycle of scenes from the Life of St. Francis. About 1330 Giotto went to Naples. Working in the service of King Robert, he painted a series of famous men in the Castelnuovo and executed works in the palace chapel and monastery of Santa Chiara. Nothing remains of these works or of the Vana Gloria executed later in Milan for Azzo Visconti. Upon the death of Arnolfo di Cambio Giotto became chief architect of the cathedral in Florence. During his last years he designed the campanile next to the cathedral, known as "Giotto's Tower." He is probably also responsible for the design of some of the relief decoration later completed by Andrea Pisano.

Among the panel paintings attributed to Giotto are the Madonna in Glory (Uffizi); an altarpiece created for the Badia (now in the Church of Santa Croce, Florence); a crucifix (Church of Santa Maria Novella, Florence); altarpieces in the Vatican and Bologna galleries; Death of the Virgin and Crucifixion (Berlin); Madonna and Child (National Gall. of Art, Washington, D.C.); and Presentation in the Temple (Gardner Mus., Boston). His Wedding of St. Catherine in the Uffizi was badly damaged in the flood of 1966.

Style and Influence

Compared with the gracefulness of Byzantine forms, Giotto's figures are monumental, even bulky. As he creates figures that are solemn and slow-moving, Giotto builds up a mounting rhythm into a supremely forceful drama. His figures are imbued with a new compassion for the human being, probably inspired by the tenets of the Franciscan order. In his era, Giotto achieved a remarkably convincing representation of space, harmoniously allying figures and background. These effects were not obtained from a system of perspective, but through his own inherent clarity of conception and his ability to give strength and simplicity to his forms. His reforms in painting were carried throughout Italy by his many pupils and followers. Giotto's popularity as a great Florentine and artist is attested in literature by Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Sacchetti, and Villani.

Bibliography

See his paintings ed. by A. Martindale (1969); studies by B. Cole (1977), M. Barasch (1987), and M. and J. Guillaud (1988).

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