Giotto di Bondone was the next artist in whom we have an unusual interest. He was born at Del Colle, in the commune of Vespignano, probably about 1266, though the date is usually given ten years later. One of the best reasons for calling Cimabue the “Father of Painting” is that he acted the part of a father to Giotto, who proved to be so great an artist that from his time painting made a rapid advance. The story is that one day when Cimabue rode in the valley of Vespignano he saw a shepherd-boy who was drawing a portrait of one of his sheep on a flat rock, by means of a pointed bit of slate for a pencil. The sketch was so good that Cimabue offered to take the boy to Florence, and teach him to paint. The boy’s father consented, and henceforth the little Giotto lived with Cimabue, who instructed him in painting, and put him to study letters under Brunetto Latini, who was also the teacher of the great poet, Dante.

Fig 29 Fig. 29.—Portrait of Dante,
painted by Giotto.

The picture which we give here is from the earliest work by Giotto of which we have any knowledge. In it were the portraits of Dante, Latini, and several others. This picture was painted on a wall of the Podestà at Florence, and when Dante was exiled from that city his portrait was covered with whitewash; in 1841 it was restored to the light, having been hidden for centuries. It is a precious memento of the friendship between the great artist and the divine poet, who expressed his admiration of Giotto in these lines:—

“In painting Cimabue fain had thought
To lord the field; now Giotto has the cry,
So that the other’s fame in shade is brought.”

Giotto did much work in Florence; he also, about 1300, executed frescoes in the Lower Church at Assisi; from 1303-1306 he painted his beautiful pictures in the Cappella dell’ Arena, at Padua, by which the genius of Giotto is now most fully shown. He worked at Rimini also, and about 1330 was employed by King Robert of Naples, who conferred many honors upon him, and made him a member of his own household. In 1334 Giotto was made the chief master of the cathedral works in Florence, as well as of the city fortifications and all architectural undertakings by the city authorities. He held this high position but three years, as he died on January 8, 1337.

Giotto was also a great architect, as is well known from his tower in Florence, for which he made all the designs and a part of the working models, while some of the sculptures and reliefs upon it prove that he was skilled in modelling and carving. He worked in mosaics also, and the famous “Navicella,” in the vestibule of St. Peter’s at Rome, was originally made by him, but has now been so much restored that it is doubtful if any part of what remains was done by Giotto’s hands.

Fig 30 Fig. 30.—Giotto’s Campanile and the Duomo. Florence.

The works of Giotto are too numerous to be mentioned here, and his merits as an artist too important to be discussed in our limits; but his advance in painting was so great that he deserved the great compliment of Cennino, who said that Giotto “had done or translated the art of painting from Greek into Latin.”

I shall, however, tell you of one excellent thing that he did, which was to make the representation of the crucifix far more refined and Christ-like than it had ever been. Before his time every effort had been made to picture physical agony alone. Giotto gave a gentle face, full of suffering, it is true, but also expressive of tenderness and resignation, and it would not be easy to paint a better crucifix than those of this master.

In person Giotto was so ugly that his admirers made jokes about it; but he was witty and attractive in conversation, and so modest that his friends were always glad to praise him while he lived, and since his death his fame has been cherished by all who have written of him. There are many anecdotes told of Giotto. One is that on a very hot day in Naples, King Robert said to the painter, “Giotto, if I were you, I would leave work, and rest.” Giotto quickly replied, “So would I, sire, if I were you.”

When the same king asked him to paint a picture which would represent his kingdom, Giotto drew an ass bearing a saddle on which were a crown and sceptre, while at the feet of the ass there was a new saddle with a shining new crown and sceptre, at which the ass was eagerly smelling. By this he intended to show that the Neapolitans were so fickle that they were always looking for a new king.