Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Giotto di Bondone

Legend of St Francis: 23. St. Francis Mourned by St. Clare
270 x 230 cm
Upper Church, San Francesco, Assisi, Italy

Giotto was "The most sovereign master of painting in his time, who drew all his figures and their postures according to nature. And he was given a salary by the Comune of Florence in virtue of his talent and excellence." (according to Giotto's contemporary, the banker and chronicler Giovanni Villani)

Giotto made a decisive break with the prevalent Byzantine style and initiated "the great art of painting as we know it today, introducing the technique of drawing accurately from life, which had been neglected for more than two hundred years." (according to late-16th century biographer Giorgio Vasari)

Giotto di Bondone (c.1266-1337), known as Giotto, was the most innovative Italian painter and architect from Florence in the late Middle Ages. He was a citizen of Florence, though he also worked in Assisi, Rome, Padua, Milan and Naples. His art is notable for its clear, grave, simple solutions to the basic problems of the representation of space and of the volume, structure, and solidity of 3-dimensional forms, and above all of the human figure. He is seen as the revolutionary who altered the course of painting in Western Europe, striking out of the Gothic and Byzantine styles towards the Renaissance. His solutions to many of the problems of dramatic narrative were fundamental. They have subsequently been elaborated on in many ways, but they have never been surpassed.

Giotto was a genius at getting to the heart of whatever episode from sacred history he was representing, at cutting it down to its essential, dramatic core, and at finding the compositional means to express its innermost spiritual meaning and its psychological effects in terms of simple areas of paint. He was described by Dante as the foremost painter, displacing the elder Cimabue in fame and fortune. The impact of Giotto’s innovations can be seen in the work of Masaccio a century later and ultimately in the work of Michelangelo himself, who studied and made copies of Giotto’s compositions.

At the age of 10, Giotto was supposedly found by Cimabue (1240-1302), who took him to Florence to study art. His workshop flourished and his art and evident business shrewdness made him sufficiently prosperous. Many facts and episodes of his life were made up by later historians, so very little is actually known. For a time his name was a synonym for the word ‘painter’.