GIOTTO


"Credette Cimabue nella pittura
tener lo campo, e ora ha Giotto il grido,
sì che la fama di colui oscura." (Dante)

"Once Cimabue thought to hold the field
as painter; Giotto now is all the rage,
dimming the lustre of the other's fame".



WHO WAS GIOTTO? WHERE AND WHEN WAS HE BORN?
Giotto di Bondone (Giotto son of Bondone), one of the greatest exponents in the History of Painting, of which he could be declared Father founder in modern times, was born at Colle di Vespignano, a village near Vicchio di Mugello and not far from Florence in Tuscany, in 1267. His birthdate is taken from the testimony of Antonio Pucci who, in 1373, wrote that Giotto died in 1337 at the age of seventy. Vasari declared his birthdate as 1276, but this however seems unlikely.

IN WHICH HISTORICAL PERIOD DID GIOTTO LIVE?
In the darkest decades that followed the Fall of the Roman Empire, there was a force that ensured, in Europe, a cultural homogeneity through the Middle Ages. The Church of Rome, head of Christianity, with its virtual monopoly of scholarship and its Latin speech, provided the medieval world with its essential unity. It imposed a general and common standard of culture and learning, deriving mostly from the classical past.

States, and their social organization, as we know them today, were still not formed. The Christian world of the IXth and Xth centuries had been attacked and surrounded by enemies on the East, North and South. Europe seemed on the defence and was isolated from the outside world.

In the XIth and XIIth centuries the situation turned upside down. A particular kind of social organization, based on a system of warriors and priests over an enormous mass of peasants, changed the perspectives for the various European microcosms which, finding faith in themselves, were sproned to finding places and possibilities for their own outward development.

  


The Crusades were the first stage of this outward movement by the restless races of the new Europe whose exuberant energy was accelerated by a demographic boom.

But, in those same times, there was another force at work - Trade - which was inimical to this feudal world. Trade was the main force that drew people together in the dark years, trade allowed movement and exchange, trade allowed the persistance of life in town. This force was working like yeast and, at the beginning of the XIIIth century, it impressed a violent acceleration on everything concerned with man : political order, social structure, way of life and thinking, approach to nature and the territory, not to mention the structure of trade itself, the way it was carried out, the possibilities of financing it and, with its proceeds, finance other enterprises, the way of protecting the same. In a few words, it was a real, outstanding revolution that changed the western world, a revolution as dramatic as the one (nearest in time and therefore better known to us) that changed the face of Britain in the late eighteenth century. This commercial capitalism, still struggling in the framework of feudalism, learned ( and through Italy spread quickly throughout the rest of Europe) not only how to express itself in all such different ways, but also how to give man a different place in the world.

No wonder, then, if a man of culture born in the fast-pulsing heart of this revolution, the town of Florence, leading center for trade as well as for new enterprises and cultural life, was to represent the spirit of adventure, the rationality and the efficiency of this world and of its mercantile class in particular. Trade, as newly intended, moved that kind of revolution that acts slowly, day after day, rather than in an outburst of forces and changes, but, in doing so, it modifies more deeply man and his world. Giotto's impact on painting had the same depth and character.

  


It must be said in advance that, for what concerns the psychological and connoscitive aspect, the man of the Middle Ages lived in quite a different world from how we imagine, know or live it today. He lived in a world in which the visible was only a trace of the invisible, in which there was no line of demarcation between the day to day natural life and the "supernatural". He lived in a world stained to the core by religion. Nature appeared to him as a terrifying forest from which to draw back and which was impossible to know. His whole world was permeated by a symbolic structure, the whole reality, the phenomena, things themselves were symbols to decipher. The same mental form of the medieval man was therefore deeply moulded by this symbolic dimension. Immersed in this context, the artist of the time did not even consider giving faithful representation of reality, questioning forms and structure and to know it materialistically, but he adhered, mind and hand, to the "dogma", to the iconographic tradition which was, in fact, of closely symbolic nature. The representations to which he could be destined ( he was still far from the figure of artist-individual, arteficer of his own fortune and expression of his own will) concerned, in the great majority, religious themes to which could sometimes be added themes in th7e order of warriors or courtesans.

Giotto is the first artist whose thought and new vision of the world helped to launch, through an ideal relay, that movement, the Humanism, that offered liberation from the oppressive dogmatism of the Middle Ages, restoring to man a central place in the Universe and giving him a sense of mastery over his own destiny. He was a precursor, but his break was sharp and vivid and propelled the birth, in the next two centuries, of generations of artists that, they themselves , would make this period one of the great epochs of human achievement. As testified by the introductory quotation, taken from Dante's Divine Comedy, Giotto was recognized as a great man and painter by his own contemporaries as well as by artists and men of culture, such as Ghiberti, Boccaccio, Vasari, Leonardo, of the following Renaissance period. Again, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Goethe, in his essay on Dante, proposed that "in those times, figurative art rose again to its natural force with Giotto". It is no wonder therefore that tradition too has delivered to us the figure of Giotto just like that of the hero of a naturalistic revolution that broke all links with the Middle Ages and laid down the foundations of modern painting. We worship him in the same way.

CHRONOLOGICAL TABLE OF GIOTTO

HISTORICAL EVENTS YEAR EVENTS
In Florence, the "Guelfi" take over political control of the city. 1267 Birth of Giotto, not far from Florence
The last Crusade departs. 1270  
Marco Polo leaves Venice with destination China. 1271  
In England Edward I goes to the throne.  1272  
Rudolph I of Absburg goes to the throne.He is the first monarch of this house that,in times to follow, will hold the throne of Germany for nearly four centuries in succession. 1273  
In Florence the historian Giovanni Villani is born. Birth of Pietro Lorenzetti 1280  
In Venice the Ducat is coined. Birth of Simone Martini. 1284  
In France,Philip IV "le bel" goes to the throne. Birth of Ambrogio Lorenzetti 1285  
Birth of Paolo Veneziano 1280  
The territories of Uri,Unterwalden and Schwytz join to form the first cell of the Swiss Confederation. 1291  
  1296 Giotto is working in Assisi in the church of St. Francis.
In Venice,closure of the "Maggior Consiglio" 1297  
Pope Boniface VIII announces the first Jubilee. 1300  
Death of Giovanni Cimabue 1302  
  1303 Giotto is in Padua where he Begins his most important work, the decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel (60 images).
  1305 He finishes the cycle of frescoes in Padua.
The Papacy in Avignone. 1309 First documented news that names Giotto.
Death of Giovanni Pisano 1315  
Death of Duccio 1318  
Birth of Giovanni Dondi. Birth of Giusto de Menabuoi 1320 On this date he results as Member of the guild "Medici e Speziali".
Death of Dante 1321  
In Mantua, the Gonzaga family. 1328 Giotto is in Naples, working takes over political control. For the court of Carlo d'Angiò. None of this work remains.
Birth of Altichiero da Zevio 1330  
  1334 In Florence,Giotto is appointed master-builder of the "Opera of St. Reparata" ( The belfry of Giotto ). 
  1335 According to the historian Villani he works in Milan for Azzone Visconti. None of this work remains.
The Hundred Years war begins 1337 Death of Giotto on 8th January according to Villani 
Note : Events relating to the artistic context, painting in particular, have been printed in Italics.

Links
Introduction to the works
The Works of Giotto