Giotto di Bondone, mostly known only as Giotto, was an Italian architect and painter from Florence. He was active during the Late Middle Ages, producing artworks of Late Gothic and Proto-Renaissantist style. Giotto became a highly regarded European artist, being hailed as one of the greatest painters of all time by the likes of Dante Alighieri and is still admired to this day for incorporating a three-dimensional perspective in his compositions, which represented one of the great departures from the Early Renaissance concerning Gothic art. It was thanks to Giotto that painting ceased to be considered an artisan practice and was elevated to a humanist discipline.
Giotto di Bondone is mostly known as simply Giotto. The name is diminutive, probably originally referring to Angiolo, the name of his grandfather. The artist was born circa 1266, although the precise date remains unclear. His birthplace was Colle di Vespignano, a small village in the Mugello valley located a few miles north of Florence.
The painter's father was a peasant called Bondone, who was also born at the Mugello. Giotto felt connected to the region until the end of his life, where he acquired land and a house. This was the same area in which the Medici family was originally from - the politics and men of the state that would reign over Florence's golden years.
His proficiency in art was noticed at a young age. The early Renaissance sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti published in his book about Tuscan artists that, as a boy, young Giotto was a shepherd. It is said that once the young artist drew a picture of a sheep on a rock slab, and Cimabue, who was the foremost painter of the period, saw such drawing and promptly took Giotto as his pupil. It is worth noting that this story, which Giorgio Vasari restated, is merely a legend, and there's no actual documentation of it.
The writer Boccaccio, on the other hand, affirmed that Giotto received a good education, even in the field of literary studies, and that he probably attended the school related to Santa Maria Novella. Whatever are the origins of their professional relationship, scholars believe that Giotto came under Cimabue's tutoring by the age of seven. Giotto probably accompanied his teacher to Rome before arriving in Assissi, where Cimabue received a commission to decorate St. Francis's lower Basilica.
Little is known about Cimabue's life, but it's safe to say that he was an example and his instructions faired well with the young Giotto, even if later they would diverge greatly.
Giotto married in 1290 to Ricevuta di Lapo del Pela. Around the same time, Cimabue left Assissi to attend to other commissions, while Giotto was commissioned to finish the higher level of the aforementioned Basilica. The work that the painter did on the Basilica showed a certain familiarity to Roman culture, from which it is possible to assume that by this time, he already went to Rome, and some historians affirm that he lived there for some time.
During the same year, the artist made a crucifix in the sacristy of the Santa Maria Novella, one of the most significant edifications of Renaissance culture. The crucifix is already regarded as the work of a master, and Cimabue's influence can be felt on it.
Soon, Giotto surpassed his teacher Cimabue in both technical prowess and overall fame, being recognized by distinguished contemporaries, such as Dante Alighieri, who even referenced Giotto and Cimabue in his Divine Comedy.
After two significant commissions - for the Basilica of St. Francis and the Santa Maria Novella - the artist made pictorial advancements and reached substantial recognition. These works guaranteed him a series of commissions from religious leaders from other institutions, such as Cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi, in St. Peter's Church in Rome in 1298. The masterpiece is a mosaic and is known today as Navicella.
Following an extensive period in Assisi, the artist began to travel regularly to Italian city-states, a practice that somewhat characterized his career as a whole. Giotto established several studios in many different locations, where his assistants would emulate his style. The painter's workshops also trained artists to developed a unique career of their own.
By the turn of the century, Giotto was commissioned to paint a fresco concerning the 1300 proclamation of the Jubilee by Pope Boniface VIII. The work was concluded at the Lateran Basilica. During the next year, he is mentioned as owning a house in Florence, near Santa Maria Novella. Giotto created some works in Rimini and, from 1304 to 1306, lived in the city of Padua, where he received a commission to decorate the Scrovegni Chapel or Arena Chapel, creating his Lamentation, which would arguably become his most famous artwork.
In 1307, the artist still produced in Padua, probably spending part of the year there. During this time, Giotto dedicated his time to paintings with astrological motifs in the Palazzo Della Ragione, but unfortunately, these works were lost, possibly repainted. By 1311, the Italian artist was well established and became a prosperous landowner in the region of Mugello valley.
Giotto's artwork featured in the Peruzzi Chapel became very well-known and celebrated by distinguished Renaissance painters, such as Michelangelo, who made sketches to study the painter's use of light. Masaccio also took influence from the Florentine painter in the elaboration of his works in the Cappella Brancacci.
Around 1317, Giotto painted frescoes in the Santa Croce church. He painted four of the chapels, but unfortunately, only 2 of them survived. The next ten years were not documented, but in 1327 the painter, along with Taddeo Gaddi and Bernardo Daddi, joined the guild of physicians and apothecaries. This merge was a historical landmark because it placed the artist's profession on the same level as intellectuals.
By 1328, Giotto was summoned by the King of Naples, Robert of Anjou, to his court, probably as a recommendation by the Bardi family, as Giotto recently executed frescoes in the Santa Croce church, the family chapel. The Italian artist became close to Anjou, developing an intimate friendship with the King and eventually becoming a court painter.
Although Giotto lavished in materials and resources made possible by his patronage during this time, something he never experienced before, most of his artworks of this period were lost. His last major work that wasn't lost was as the master architect of the Florence Cathedral.
Giotto di Bondone died on January 8, 1337. He was seventy, and his remains are at the Santa Croce, in a simple tomb marked by a marble plaque.
Even though Giotto's work might seem far from the level of detail and realism that can be found in the works of the biggest names of the Renaissance like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael Sanzio, his way of constructing a spatial notion and the depiction of the urban landscape of his time was a significant departure from the more stylized and abstract tendencies of Byzantine and Gothic art.
Before Giotto, all pictorial spaces were abstract, filled with pure light and color. Giotto was a pioneer in depicting biblical scenes, not in an ethereal way, or dating back to ancient times, but by working with images of the cities of his time. Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Dante all wrote about Giotto's fame and grandeur as a painter.
Prior to becoming a court artist, he created a number of schools, all scattered around the city-states. He conducted workshops and taught other artists, and with his tutoring and indistinctive work, many were able to emulate his frescoes.
Giotto was portrayed by writers of his time as a sturdy character, sometimes even rude, but full of wit. His initiation in the art world is full of stories that aspire to create a mythos, an ideal painter, someone with an innate sense of pictorial talent. Even though these are probably made up stories to give an epic quality to the artist's life, they all sprung from the impact of his work. Masaccio, as cited before, and Donatello were both greatly influenced by his work.
Giorno, as did Dante, arrived at universal principles. In the Italian region, divided by city-states and torn by political turmoil, they embodied the sense of Italian identity, which strived for humanist principles. This sense of balance and harmony, the emphasis of the human form, depicted in a less idealized way, were all values and philosophical notions that were expanded upon during the Medici years.