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Italian Renaissance Learning Resources

In collaboration with the National Gallery of Art


Giotto (di Bondone)

(b ?Vespignano, nr Florence, 1267–75; d Florence, 8 Jan 1337).

Italian painter and designer. In his own time and place he had an unrivalled reputation as the best painter and as an innovator, superior to all his predecessors, and he became the first post-Classical artist whose fame extended beyond his lifetime and usual residence. This was partly the consequence of the rich literary culture of two of the cities where he worked, Padua and Florence. Writing on art in Florence was pioneered by gifted authors and, although not quite art criticism, it involved the comparison of local artists in terms of quality. The most famous single appreciation is found in Dante’s verses (Purgatory xi) of 1315 or earlier. . . . About the same date, Giotto’s unique status was suggested by his inclusion, unprecedented for an artist, in a world chronicle (c. 1312–13) by Riccobaldo Ferrarese. The artist’s name first became synonymous with ‘the best painting’ in a poem by the Florentine Cecco d’Ascoli (d 1327) and, more subtly, in several observations by Petrarch. . . . Giotto’s frescoes in the Arena Chapel (Capella degli Scrovegni) at Padua comprise his earliest work of known date and that on which our idea of his art is chiefly based. . . . Praise of Giotto began by claiming that he was not indebted to his predecessors; his naturalism was contrasted with the Byzantine ‘Greek manner’ of Cimabue, with whom he is traditionally thought to have trained. The notion of a rigid, lifeless Byzantine art, however, has been challenged, and such works as Cimabue’s Assisi Crucifixion fresco have been shown to stress similar dramatic human concerns to those found in Giotto’s work; differences occur in the drawing of the figures, where Byzantine conventions are rejected by Giotto and a more naturalistic style, much influenced by French Gothic sculpture and Classical Roman work, is adopted.

Creighton E. Gilbert