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Giotto di Bondone was born in 1266 in Colle de Vespignano, near Florence, Italy. His father was a farmer and Giotto was an awkward, conspicuously ugly man who looked more like a farmer than an artist. When he was about ten years old, according to legend, he was sitting in a field tending his father’s sheep and idly drawing with a sharp stone on a flat rock when a passing traveler stopped to look at the sketch. The traveler, who turned out to be Cimabue, one of the finest painters of his time, was so impressed that he took Giotto into his studio as an apprentice. There Giotto’s talents developed spectacularly and his career took him to Rome, Padua, Arezzo, Assisi and Naples.
When Giotto grew up art was a possession of the Church. Painters, deriving their style from the antiquated two-dimensionable Byzantine paintings and mosaics, had been adorning church walls with unreal, rigid, flat-looking images. It was Giotto who cracked the tradition. The people he created lived and suffered, moved by believable emotion. From his paintings bloomed the whole humanistic art of the Renaissance.
Giotto’s example was crucial to the development of later Florentine painting, and his preoccupation with the realities of the human figure and the visible world became the dominant concern of the Florentine Renaissance.
Giotto was a great and famous man in Italy. He was acclaimed not only by princes and poets but also by the plain people who, without books or magazines or movies, relied on paintings to tell them stories. Around 1296, when he was thirty, Giotto painted the life of St. Francis for the Upper Church of St. Francis of Assisi. People crowded into the church to look at the frescoes. After his success at Assisi, Giotto was deluged with commissions to decorate churches, chapels and palaces. He traveled with a swarm of assistants, pupils, his wife and their family of eight children, who were often seen romping around him as he worked.
A good businessman, Giotto was well paid and city rulers competed furiously for his services. He stayed in Florence for the rest of his life, spending his time in designing and building the cathedral bell tower. In 1337 at the age of seventy, rich and respected, Giotto died.
Written and compiled by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.
From the internet, Microsoft Encarta
Life Magazine, date unknown