Presumed self-portrait among the figures
of the elect in the Last Judgement
As with any historical figure of genius, there is something legendary about Giotto. No amount of art historical research or factual documentation can ever quite eliminate this super human dimension. There is the legendary stories that Giotto was a shepherd lad who was discovered making perfect sketches of sheep on flat rocks, and was said to be an extremely successful businessman with a flourishing factory that made pigs' bristle brushes of all sorts. The Arena Chapel is the most effective place to make a study of Giotto; for it is here he shows the full scope of his artistic revolution. Although these frescoes were painted early in his career, they contain his fundamental contribution and already reveal the nature of the mature artist.

He was born in Colle di Vespignano, a village near Florence, in 1267 or 1276, depending on the source. He was most surely a apprentice of Cimabue, the most celebrated painter of the preceding generation. That his works look so different from Cimabue's is due in part to his absorption of other traditions- Roman fresco painting and French Gothic sculpture. His genius yielded a whole new style. An awareness of this must have led Dante to write these famous lines in 'The Purgatorio':

Cimabue thought that in painting
He commanded the field, and now Giotto
has the acclaim...

Giotto was one of the earliest artists to depict the illusions of real life, in terms of emotion and space; on a flat surface. With Cimabue Giotto is often regarded as the founder on modern painting, as he broke away from the static stereotyped conventions of his day.

In 1334 he was appointed surveyor to the Florence Cathedral and architect to the city. This was a tribute to his great fame as a painter not to having great architectural knowledge. Giotto died in 1337 and was buried with great honors in Santa Reparata under the auspices of the Commune.

Chronology | Preamble