09-04-2024 Art 92

Giotto di Bondone

Giotto di Bondone and the Dawn of the Renaissance.

Giotto di Bondone was an Italian painter and architect from Florence during the Late Middle Ages. He worked during the Gothic and Proto-Renaissance period. Giotto's contemporary, the banker and chronicler Giovanni Villani, wrote that Giotto was "the most sovereign master of painting in his time, who drew all his figures and their postures according to nature" and of his publicly recognized "talent and excellence".

Giorgio Vasari described Giotto as making a decisive break from the prevalent Byzantine style and as initiating "the great art of painting as we know it today, introducing the technique of drawing accurately from life, which had been neglected for more than two hundred years".

Engraving after a portrait of Dante by GiottoEngraving after a portrait of Dante by Giotto

Giotto's masterwork is the decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel, in Padua, also known as the Arena Chapel, which was completed around 1305. The fresco cycle depicts the Life of the Virgin and the Life of Christ. It is regarded as one of the supreme masterpieces of the Early Renaissance.

The fact that Giotto painted the Arena Chapel and that he was chosen by the Commune of Florence in 1334 to design the new campanile (bell tower) of the Florence Cathedral are among the few certainties about his life. Almost every other aspect of it is subject to controversy: his birth date, his birthplace, his appearance, his apprenticeship, the order in which he created his works, whether he painted the famous frescoes in the Upper Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, and his burial place.

The Crucifixion of RiminiThe Crucifixion of Rimini

Style

Giotto's style drew on the solid and classicizing sculpture of Arnolfo di Cambio. Unlike those by Cimabue and Duccio, Giotto's figures are not stylized or elongated and do not follow Byzantine models. They are solidly three-dimensional, have faces and gestures that are based on close observation, and are clothed, not in swirling formalized drapery, but in garments that hang naturally and have form and weight. He also took bold steps in foreshortening and having characters face inwards, with their backs towards the observer, creating the illusion of space. The figures occupy compressed settings with naturalistic elements, often using forced perspective devices so that they resemble stage sets. This similarity is increased by Giotto's careful arrangement of the figures in such a way that the viewer appears to have a particular place and even an involvement in many of the scenes. That can be seen most markedly in the arrangement of the figures in the Mocking of Christ and Lamentation in which the viewer is bidden by the composition to become mocker in one and mourner in the other.

Kiss of Judas, Scrovegni ChapelKiss of Judas, Scrovegni Chapel

Giotto's depiction of the human face and emotion sets his work apart from that of his contemporaries. When the disgraced Joachim returns sadly to the hillside, the two young shepherds look sideways at each other. The soldier who drags a baby from its screaming mother in the Massacre of the Innocents does so with his head hunched into his shoulders and a look of shame on his face. The people on the road to Egypt gossip about Mary and Joseph as they go. Of Giotto's realism, the 19th-century English critic John Ruskin said, "He painted the Madonna and St. Joseph and the Christ, yes, by all means... but essentially Mamma, Papa and Baby".

Lamentation (The Mourning of Christ), Scrovegni ChapelLamentation (The Mourning of Christ), Scrovegni Chapel

Famous narratives in the series include the Adoration of the Magi, in which a comet-like Star of Bethlehem streaks across the sky. Giotto is thought to have been inspired by the 1301 appearance of Halley's comet, which led to the 1986 space probe Giotto being named after the artist.

Ognissanti Madonna (c. 1310). Tempera on wood, 325 by 204 centimetres (128 by 80 inches) Uffizi, FlorenceOgnissanti Madonna (c. 1310). Tempera on wood, 325 by 204 centimetres (128 by 80 inches) Uffizi, Florence

The Nativity in the Lower Church, AssisiThe Nativity in the Lower Church, Assisi

Giotto, Peruzzi Altarpiece, c.1322, North Carolina Museum of ArtGiotto, Peruzzi Altarpiece, c.1322, North Carolina Museum of Art

Adoration of the MagiAdoration of the Magi


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