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Italian painter, sculptor and architect

Born 1267 - Died 1337

  • Biography
  • Relationships
  • Images of the Artist

Florentine painter and architect. Outstanding as a painter, sculptor, and architect, Giotto was recognized as the first genius of art in the Italian Renaissance. Giotto lived and worked at a time when people's minds and talents were first being freed from the shackles of medieval restraint. He dealt largely in the traditional religious subjects, but he gave these subjects an earthly, full-blooded life and force.
The artist's full name was Giotto di Bondone. He was born about 1266 in the village of Vespignano, near Florence. His father was a small landed farmer. Giorgio Vasari, one of Giotto's first biographers, tells how Cimabue, a well-known Florentine painter, discovered Giotto's talents. Cimabue supposedly saw the 12-year-old boy sketching one of his father's sheep on a flat rock and was so impressed with his talent that he persuaded the father to let Giotto become his pupil. Another story is that Giotto, while apprenticed to a wool merchant in Florence, frequented Cimabue's studio so much that he was finally allowed to study painting.
The other major fresco cycle associated with Giotto's name is that on the Life of St Francis in the Upper Church of S. Francesco at Assisi. Whether Giotto painted this is not only the central problem facing scholars of his work, but also one of the most controversial issues in the history of art. The St Francis frescos are clearly the work of an artist of great stature (their intimate and humane portrayals have done much to determine posterity's mental image of the saint), but the stylistic differences between these works and the Arena Chapel frescos seem to many critics so pronounced that they cannot accept a common authorship. Attempts to attribute other frescos at Assisi to Giotto have met with no less controversy.
Among the panels attributed to him, the finest is the Crucifix in Sta Maria Novella, Florence. On account of his great fame as a painter, Giotto was appointed architect to Florence Cathedral in 1334; he began the celebrated campanile, but his design was altered after his death.
In the generation after his death he had an overwhelming influence on Florentine painting; it declined with the growth of International Gothic, but his work was later an inspiration to Masaccio, and even to Michelangelo. These two giants were his true spiritual heirs.