Giotto di Bondone (1270 – 1337), known mononymously as Giotto and latinised as Giottus, was an Italian painter and architect from Florence during the Late Middle Ages. He worked during the "Gothic or Proto-Renaissance" period.
Giotto's contemporary, the banker and chronicler Giovanni Villani, wrote that Giotto was "the most sovereign master of painting in his time, who drew all his figures and their postures according to nature" and of his publicly recognized "talent and excellence".
In his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Giorgio Vasari described Giotto as making a decisive break with the prevalent Byzantine style and as initiating "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".
Giotto's masterwork is the decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel, in Padua, also known as the Arena Chapel, which was completed around 1305. The fresco cycle depicts the Life of the Virgin and the Life of Christ. It is regarded as one of the supreme masterpieces of the Early Renaissance.
That Giotto painted the Arena Chapel and that he was chosen by the Commune of Florence in 1334 to design the new campanile (bell tower) of the Florence Cathedral are among the few certainties about his life. Almost every other aspect of it is subject to controversy: his birth date, his birth place, his appearance, his apprenticeship, the order in which he created his works, whether or not he painted the famous frescoes in the Upper Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi and his burial place.
Tradition holds that Giotto was born in a farmhouse, perhaps at Colle di Romagnano or Romignano. Since 1850, a tower house in nearby Colle Vespignano has borne a plaque claiming the honor of his birthplace, an assertion that is commercially publicized. However, recent research has suggested that he was actually born in Florence, the son of a blacksmith. His father's name was Bondone, and he is described in surviving public records as "a person of good standing". Most authors accept that Giotto was his real name, but it is likely to have been an abbreviation of Ambrogio (Ambrogiotto) or Angelo (Angelotto).
The year of his birth is calculated from the fact that Antonio Pucci, the town crier of Florence, wrote a poem in Giotto's honour in which it is stated that he was 70 at the time of his death. However, the word "seventy" fits into the rhyme of the poem better than any longer and more complex age so it is possible that Pucci used artistic license.
Vasari states that Giotto was a shepherd boy, a merry and intelligent child who was loved by all who knew him. The great Florentine painter Cimabuediscovered Giotto drawing pictures of his sheep on a rock. They were so lifelike that Cimabue approached Giotto and asked if he could take him on as an apprentice. Cimabue was one of the two most highly renowned painters of Tuscany, the other being Duccio, who worked mainly in Siena.
Vasari recounts a number of such stories about Giotto's skill as a young artist. He tells of one occasion when Cimabue was absent from the workshop, and Giotto painted a remarkably-lifelike fly on a face in a painting of Cimabue. When Cimabue returned, he tried several times to brush the fly off.
Vasari also relates that when the Pope sent a messenger to Giotto, asking him to send a drawing to demonstrate his skill, Giotto drew a red circle so perfect that it seemed as though it was drawn using a pair of compasses and instructed the messenger to send it to the Pope. The messenger departed ill pleased, believing that he had been made a fool of. The messenger brought other artists' drawings back to the Pope in addition to Giotto's. When the messenger related how he had made the circle without moving his arm and without the aid of compasses the Pope and his courtiers were amazed at how Giotto's skill greatly surpassed all of his contemporaries.
Many scholars today are uncertain about Giotto's training and consider Vasari's account that he was Cimabue's pupil as legend; they cite earlier sources that suggest that Giotto was not Cimabue's pupil.
About 1290, Giotto married Ciuta (Ricevuta), the daughter of Lapo del Pela of Florence. The marriage produced four daughters and four sons, one of whom became a painter. By 1301, Giotto owned a house in Florence, and when he was not traveling, he would return there and live in comfort with his family.