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Giotto

Italian Proto-Renaissance Painter

Giotto Photo
Movement: Early Renaissance

Born: c.1267 - Florence, Italy

Died: 1337 - Florence, Italy

There was nothing in nature that Giotto "could not depict with his stylus, pen or brush so close to the original that it had the appearance, not of a reproduction, but of the thing itself, often causing people's eyes to be deceived and to mistake the picture for the real thing."

Boccaccio in Decameron

Summary of Giotto

Giotto is one of the most important artists in the development of Western art. Pre-empting by a century many of the preoccupations and concerns of the Italian High Renaissance, his paintings ushered in a new era in painting that brought together religious antiquity and humanism. Indeed, his influence on European art was such that many historians believe it was not matched until Michelangelo took over his mantle some two centuries on.

Giotto is best known for the way he explored the possibilities of perspective and pictorial space, and in so doing, he brought a new sense of realism to his religious parables. His interest in humanism saw him explore the tension between biblical iconography and the everyday existence of lay worshippers; bringing them closer to God by making art more relevant to their lived experience. His figures were thus infused with an emotional quality not seen before in high art, while his architectural settings were rendered according to the optical laws of proportion and perspective.

Key Ideas

Revered as one of the first of the great Italian masters, Giotto brought a new sense of humanity and style to the traditions of medieval art. Following his intervention, "flat" Christian paintings came to be seen by progressive painters as inanimate and lacking in human feeling.
Giotto's "new realism" emphasized its humanity through his attention to fine detail. His figures were rendered, in three-dimensional space, through motions and gestures and on fine costume and furnishings details. Though they were devoted to Christ, his human figures form the centre of his narratives.
Giotto was widely celebrated in his own lifetime. This was due largely to the famous Italian poet Dante who proclaimed him the most important Italian artist, placing him above even Cimabue (originally Giotto's master) who was till then considered the great genius of 14th century Italian painting.
Giotto was an admired architect. He worked in Florence as master builder for Opera del Duomo, erecting the first part of the Gothic (designed as much for decoration as function) Bell Tower which was duly named in his honor - Giotto's Bell Tower. The tower is widely considered to be the most beautiful campanile in Italy.
Giotto Life and Legacy

Very little is known about the biographical details of Giotto di Bondone's life. He is thought to have been the son of a peasant, born in the Mugello, a mountainous area to the north of Florence, which was also the home country of the Medici family who would later rise to power in the city. Giotto's birthplace has been attributed to a house in the small village of Vicchio and the date of his birth given as 1277 by the writer and artist Giorgio Vasari in his influential 1550 text The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. However, other sources suggest he was born in 1267, which seems more likely judging by the maturity of some of his early works.

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