Friday, May 3, 2013

Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337)

Giotto was the first significant painter of the Renaissance--the rebirth of classical culture which began in Latinia (see "Map of Olympia" above). He depicted humans more realistically than painters had for a thousand years.

He apparently was the son of a blacksmith and born around 1267 in a village near Florence. Little is known of his childhood and youth.

His first major work may have been 28 frescoes (paintings in wet plaster) in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. We can’t know for certain that these frescoes are his because Napoleon’s soldiers destroyed the necessary documents when they used the basilica to stable their horses. Each of the frescoes depicts an event in the life of Francis taken from his biography (1266) by Bonaventure (1221-1274).

Around 1305 Giotto began his most significant and undisputed work: painting the interior of Scrovegni Chapel in Padua (about 25 miles [40 mi] west of Venice). Because the chapel was built on the site of an old Roman arena, it is commonly referred to as the Arena Chapel. Like the Chora Church in Istanbul hiding fantastic mosaics and the Chapel of St. Anthony in Madrid hiding Goya's inspired frescoes, the small plain exterior of the Arena Chapel gives no indication of the artistic treasures waiting inside.

Inside the Arena Chapel, Giotto created 37 paintings. One set of 18 depicts scenes from the life of Jesus, another shows scenes from the life of his mother Mary, and one painting, covering the entire western wall, depicts the Last Judgment.

In The Kiss of Judas, Judas stares with malice into the eyes of Jesus, Peter slices off the ear of another man, while dozens clamor for an arrest. In The Lamentation, even the angels cannot contain their grief as they mourn the death of Jesus with his human friends.

In these frescoes Giotto demonstrated his unprecedented creativity. He made the subjects of his paintings fully three-dimensional, gave them clothing that fit naturally, endowed them with postures that differed according to their personality and mood, allowed their faces to express a great range of emotion, and showed them clearly interacting with one another.

Back in Florence, Giotto did important work in the Basilica of Santa Croce (Holy Cross). There he again painted scenes from the life of St. Francis as well as others. These were later studied by Michelangelo who was also buried there.

Giotto was friends with both Dante and Boccaccio. Dante regarded Giotto as the most important artist of their age and mentions this in his Divine Comedy. Giotto painted a portrait of Dante as a bystander in a biblical scene on a wall of a chapel in the Bargello palace in Florence.

Giotto died in January 1337 and was buried in the Basilica de Santa Maria del Fiore (St. Mary of the Flower).

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
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