“Oh empty glory of human powers … In painting Cimabue thought to hold the field, and now Giotto has the cry, so that the other’s fame is diminished.”
in 11th canto of Purgatory, Divine Comedy (1310-20) by Dante Alighieri
The Italian painter Giotto di Bondone was born in Vespignano near Florence, where he died. He is often appreciated for his innovations in painting. Painting had got into a rut, and Giotto created a first impetus for the Italian Renaissance becoming a key figure for the whole of Western art. Giotto rivaled his fellow Florentine as well as with contemporary Dante in his richness of emotional expression and radical innovations. His stays in Assisi, Padua, Rimini, Milan, and Naples produced local schools of artists, called the “Giotteschi”. He created his figures with personality and tried to give expression to their faces and bearing. Also he may very well have been the first painter to succeed in creating unified compositions: there is unity between the figures and their surroundings and unity among the figures, interacting as they do through gesture and emotion.
Traditionally, Giotto was Cimabue’s pupil, and his training was said to completed, Dante even proclaims him larger than Cimabue. Critical argument still rages over whether Giotto’s early days as an artist were spent on painting the fresco cycle of the Life of St Francis in Assisi’s Upper Church. However, in 1304 he went to Padua where he undoubtedly painted the famous frescoes in the Arena Chapel.
Giotto’s masterworks cover the frescoes in the Church of San Francesco at Assisi, the frescoes in the Arena Chapel (Cappella Scrovegni) in Padua, the frescoes in the Peruzzi and Bardi chapels of the Santa Croce in Florence, as well as the various panel paintings attributed to Giotto and his workshop. Giotto was also involved in the design of buildings. He collaborates on the Dome of Florence and designs the accompanying bell tower.