From the mid-13th to 14th century the interaction of the Gothic, Byzantine, and antique Roman art, in the work of many outstanding individuals , created a recognizably national culture in Italy (Barasch 14). In his frescoes and panel paintings, Giotto di Bondone revolutionized Italian art, developing a naturalism and drama that marks the first signs of the Renaissance (Marx). Though many artists were influenced by Giotto, such as Bernardo Daddi, his advances were not fully developed for a century. At the same time, during the first half of the century, Simone Martini was able to revolutionize the style of Siena, which was a blend of Byzantine and International Gothic (Paccagnini 8). After the Black Death of the mid-14th century, which brought about a deepening of religious feeling, it was the International Gothic style of Siena and Lombardy that gained ascendancy over the more monumental, Giotto-inspired, styles of Tuscany like the work of Orcagna (Norman 12).
Outstanding as a painter, sculptor, and architect, Giotto was recognized as the first genius of art in the Italian Renaissance. Giotto di Bondone was born about 1266 in the village of Vespignano, near Florence. His father was a small landed farmer (Marx).
Cimabue, a well-known Florentine painter, discovered Giotto's talents. Cimabue 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 (Barter26). Modern critics also see the influence of the Roman school exemplified by Pietro Cavallini and of the sculptors Nicola and Giovanni Pisano (Marx). 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 (Eimerl 9).
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 (Tintori 10). Scenes from the Life of Christ, Legend of St. Francis, and Isaac and Esau have all been credited to Giotto (Tintori 44). About 1300 he was in Rome, where he executed the mosaic of the Navicella now in St. Peter's (Eimerl 102-103). He also worked on frescos in the Lateran Basilica, which have been lost (Eimerl 25).
About 1304 he began to design the series of 38 frescoes in the Scrovegni Arena Chapel in Padua (Eimrl 117). These frescos 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 (Eimerl 118), Giotto also seems to have painted a fresco of the Crucifixion in the Church of Saint Antonio, and may have designed the astrological motifs for the Palazzo della Ragione (Eimer 64-65).
Returning to Florence, he decorated two chapels in the Church of Santa Croce; in the Peruzzi Chapel he painted frescos 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 (Tintion 45) .
In 1334 the city of Florence honored Giotto with the title of Magnus Magister (Great Master) and appointed him city architect and superintendent of public works. In this capacity he designed the famous campanile (bell tower). He died in 1337, before the work was finished (Marx).
Compared with the Byzantine forms, Giotto's figures are monumental and bulky (Eimerl 9). His reforms in painting were carried throughout Italy by his many pupils and followers. 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. Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, Sacchetti, and Villani attest Giotto's popularity as a great Florentine and artist in their literature.
Following in Giotto's footsteps Bernardo Daddi believed that a painting should...
Bibliography: Barasch, Moshe. Gestures of despair in medieval and early Renaissance art New York.: New York University Press, 1976.
Barter, James. A Renaissance Painter 's Studio. Farmington Hills, MI.: Lucent Books, 2003
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Eimerl, Sarel. The World of Giotto. New York, NY.: Time Life Books, 1967
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Stephens, John N. The Italian renaissance : the origins of intellectual and artistic change before the Reformation. London ; New York.: Longman, 1990.
Tintori, Leonetto. Giotto. New York, NY.: Harry N. Abrams, Inc, 1965.
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