Giotto: Italian Renaissance Painter

Giotto was one of the greatest Italian Renaissance painters because of his new technique.

Have you ever heard of a painter named Giotto? He was known as one of the greatest painters during the period of the Italian Renaissance. Although little is known about his early life, scholars believe that he was born in the year 1266. It's possible that he could have come from a wealthy family but since his father was a farmer, they were most likely peasants who lived and worked on a nobleman's land. Scholars know that Giotto went to work as a shepherd when he was a young boy, perhaps to help out the family.

According to Vasari, an historian, when Giotto would take his sheep to the pasture to graze he would often sit sketching out pictures on a flat rock with a piece of burnt wood. One day while the young artist was at work a man named Cimabue approached him and stood admiring his artwork. Cimabue asked if Giotto would like to come to Florence with him to serve as his apprentice.

Cimabue was known as the finest painter in Italy and he asked Giotto's father if his son could study under him. Can you imagine how excited young Giotto must have been? He must have felt like David the shepherd when he was approached by the prophet to become Israel's king. Some art historians do not believe that Giotto was approached by the famous artist but whether it is true or not, Giotto went to Florence where he became a famous artist.



He married when still a young man and he and his wife had six children, producing an even number of three boys and three girls. Writers of the Renaissance tell us that Giotto had a keen sense of humor and would go about making jokes. He seems to have been quite wealthy by this time and enjoyed traveling. In between his journeys he lived with his family on their own land.

At that time different styles were being used by artists. He painted paintings on plaster made in watercolors. When the paint flowed into the plaster it gave the watercolors a rough texture. He made mosaics, which were miniature pieces of colored glass and stone pressed into an adhesive material. He was also a sculptor and an architect. Over the years when one of Giotto's pieces would crack, chip or fade, other artist would try to correct them by making repairs over top of the original. That is why some art historians are concerned that many times only small pieces are left that was actually done by Giotto.

His Work:

Giotto worked for many wealthy people and some of his earliest works are believed to be 28 frescoes in the Church of Saint Francis in Assisi. In 1298 Giotto went to Rome and made a mosaic which can still be seen in Saint Peter's Cathedral. During the years of 1303-1306 he painted his fresco of The Virgin Mary. This majestic work was done for the Arena Chapel in the Scrovegni family's home. This chapel stands on the spot where a Roman amphitheater once stood.

As the years went by Giotto became a famous painter not only in Italy but worldwide. He received numerous honors and lived and worked in the court of King Robert of Naples. Here he was well received and had many privileges that historians wrote about and although much of his work was done here no trace of it remains.

Around 1334 Giotto returned to Florence and was appointed chief architect and designed the bell tower of the cathedral there. Before Giotto's works, most paintings looked flat and artificial but Giotto had a way of painting people and scenery with such depth that it made them look real. With his new technique the people in his paintings look solid and the landscapes fall in behind them. His religious paintings show saints and other religious figures doing something or appearing as real people instead of posing in a fixed position. Instead they appear to be real people actually doing something.

In the picture of the Virgin Mary, a real mother is holding her child. Later when many painters had studied perspective, all painting took on a rounded look and much of it had even more depth than Giotto's. Once the young Giotto had been an apprentice but now he had his own workshop where he trained young lads under an apprentice program. His students carried on his artistic style. Some scholars believe that some work done by Giotto's students was actually credited back to him. His work has been quite difficult to study and even today scholars cannot be sure of exactly which part of his paintings and mosaics he worked on and which part he only assisted. In 1336 Giotto was working on the bell tower in Florence when he died. Down through the centuries his work still continues to be admired and studied.

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