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Giotto di Bondone

[jah'toh] known for painting solid, natural-looking forms

portrait of Giotto

Giotto was born in a village near Florence, Italy, around 1267, the son of a poor shepherd. Little is known about his early life or his beginnings as an artist, but it is known that at some point he became a student of famous Italian painter Giovanni Cimabue. It is also known that he introduced an entirely new style of painting to Italy. Prior to Giotto, Italian painters portrayed subjects in a flat, unrealistic manner. Giotto, on the other hand, painted solid, natural-looking forms. For example, to show how light shines on an object in nature, he illuminated one side of the object while painting the other side of it in shadow.

Giotto produced a great number of works during his lifetime, but very few survive. It is believed, but not proven, that he first participated in the decoration of the Upper Church at Assisi. Scenes from the Life of Christ, Legend of St. Francis, and Isaac and Esau have all been attributed to Giotto, but no conclusive evidence as to the authenticity of the claims exists. The earliest work known to have been created by Giotto was the mosaic of the Navicella, now in St. Peter's at Rome, executed about 1300. He also worked on frescoes in the Lateran Basilica, but those works have been lost.

Giotto was also an architect. In 1334, he became chief architect of the Cathedral of Florence. He designed the campanile that still stands beside the cathedral. He died in 1337.

Some of His Works

Giotto's Madonna Enthroned with Saints shows some of the natural, lifelike qualities he introduced into the art of his time. Giotto painted the throne of the Madonna with open sides, and showed two bearded men looking through the openings. In this way, Giotto increased the feeling that the scene is not just a flat panel but realistically recedes into space. The painting was originally done for the Church of the Ognissanti in Florence, Italy, but is now on display in that city's Uffizi Gallery.

Madonna Enthroned with Saints

Giotto's greatest achievement was a series of 38 frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, begun about 1304. Among the greatest works of Italian art, the series consists of scenes from the Life of the Virgin, Life of Christ, the Last Judgement, and Virtues and Vices. [below] Christ Disputing With the Elders is one of the frescoes still on display in the Scrovegni Chapel. The paintings show Giotto's genius at painting natural and simple compositions that express deep human emotions in a moving but restrained manner.

Christ Disputing with the Elders

Giotto's last great surviving paintings are frescoes in the Church of Santa Croce in Florence. In these works, Giotto used more complicated compositions than he did in the Scrovegni frescoes. One of them, The Epiphany [first below] it is now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The Peruzzi Altarpiece [second below], created for the Peruzzi Family Chapel in the Church of Santa Croce; it is now on display at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

The Epiphany

Peruzzi Altarpiece

Madonna and Child, ca. 1320, was originally the central part of a five-section altarpiece. It is notable for what was at the time an unusual depiction of the Christ child -- notice how the child is shown holding on to his mother's index finger while playfully reaching for the flower she holds in her right hand. The vast majority of such paintings done during Giotto's lifetime showed the Christ child in a much more somber posture.

Madonna and Child

Pentecost, ca. 1306-1312, was originally part of a seven-section altarpiece created for the Franciscan church at either Rimini or Sansepolcro. This section is on display at the National Gallery of London; all six of the other sections also survive, on display in various museums.


Last Supper, painting on wood, ca. 1306. On display at the Alte Pinakohek in Munich, Germany.

Last Supper

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The Robinson Library >> Fine Arts >> Painting >> Italy

This page was last updated on 10/25/2017.