While according all due honour, and probably more, to Cimabue as the originator of modern painting, it is to his pupil, Giotto, that we are accustomed to look for the first developments of its possibilities. Had Cimabue's successors been as conservative as his instructors, we might still be not very much better off than if he had never lived. For much as there is to admire in Cimabue's painting, it is only the first flush of the dawn which it heralded, and though containing the germ of the future development of the art, is yet without any of the glory which in the fulness of time was to result from it.

To Giotto, Vasari considers, "is due the gratitude which the masters in painting owe to Nature, seeing that he alone succeeded in resuscitating art and restoring her to a path that may be called the true one; and that the art of design, of which his contemporaries had little if any knowledge, was by his means effectually recalled to life." This seems to detract in some degree from his eulogies of Cimabue; but it is to the last sentence that our attention should be directed, which implies that in profiting by the master's example he succeeded in extending the possibilities of the new art beyond its first limits. Cimabue, we may believe, drew his Virgins and Saints from living models, whereas his predecessors had merely repeated formulas laid down for them by long tradition. Giotto went further, and extended his scope to the world at large. For the plain gold background he substituted the landscape, thus breaking down, as it were, a great wall, and seeing beyond it. Nor was this innovation merely a technical one—it was the man's nature that effected it and made his art a living thing.

Giotto, who was born in 1276, was the son of a simple husbandman, who lived at Vespignano, about fourteen miles from Florence. Cimabue chanced upon the boy when he was only about ten years old, tending his father's sheep, and was astonished to find that he was occupied in making a drawing of one of them upon a smooth piece of rock with a sharp stone. He was so pleased with this that he asked to be allowed to take him back to Florence, and the boy proved so apt a pupil that before very long he was regularly employed in painting.

His influence was not confined to Florence, or even to Tuscany, but the whole of Italy was indebted to him for a new impulse in art, and he is said to have followed Pope Clement V. to Avignon and executed many pictures there. Giotto was not only a painter, but his name is also famous in the history of architecture: the wonderful Campanile adjoining the Duomo in Florence was designed by him, and the foundations laid and the building erected under his instructions. On sculpture too he exercised a considerable influence, as may be seen in the panels and statues which adorn the lower part of the tower, suggested if not actually designed by Giotto, and carved by Andrea Pisano.

Chief of the earlier works of Giotto are his frescoes in the under church at Assisi, and in these may be seen the remarkable fertility of invention with which he endowed his successors. Instead of the conventional Madonna and Child, and groups of saints and angels, we have here whole legends represented in a series of pictures of almost dramatic character. In the four triangular compartments of the groined vaulting are the three vows of the Franciscan Order, namely, Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, and in the fourth the glorification of the saint. In the first, the Vow of Poverty, it is significant to find that he has taken his subject from Dante. Poverty appears as a woman whom Christ gives in marriage to S. Francis: she stands among thorns; in the foreground are two youths mocking her, and on either side a group of angels as witnesses of the holy union. On the left is a youth, attended by an angel, giving his cloak to a poor man; on the right are the rich and great, who are invited by an angel to approach, but turn scornfully away. The other designs appear to be Giotto's own invention. Chastity, as a young woman, sits in a fortress surrounded by walls, and angels pay her devotion. On one side are laymen and churchmen led forward by S. Francis, and on the other Penance, habited as a hermit, driving away earthly love and impurity. S. Francis in glory is more conventional, as might be expected from the nature of the subject.

In the ancient Basilica of S. Peter in Rome Giotto made the celebrated mosaic of the Navicella, which is now in the vestibule of S. Peter's. It represents a ship, in which are the disciples, on a stormy sea. According to the early Christian symbolisation the ship denoted the Church. In the foreground on the right the Saviour, walking on the waves, rescues Peter. Opposite sits a fisherman in tranquil expectation, typifying the confident hope of the simple believer. This mosaic has frequently been moved, and has undergone so much restoration that only the composition can be attributed to Giotto.

Of the paintings of scriptural history attributed to Giotto very few remain, and the greater part of those have in recent times been pronounced to be the work of his followers. Foremost, however, among the undoubted examples are paintings in the Chapel of the Madonna dell'Arena at Padua, which was erected in 1303. In thirty-eight pictures, extending in three rows along the wall, is contained the life of the Virgin. The ground of the vaulting is blue studded with gold stars, among which appear the heads of Christ and the prophets, while above the arch of the choir is the Saviour in a glory of angels. Combined with these sacred scenes and personages are introduced fitting allusions to the moral state of man, the lower part of the side walls containing, in medallions painted in monochrome, allegorical figures of the virtues and vices—the former feminine and ideal, the latter masculine and individual—while the entrance wall is covered with the wonderful Last Judgment.

Here, as in his allegorical pieces, Giotto appears as a great innovator, a number of situations suggested by the Scriptures being now either represented for the first time or seen in a totally new form. Well-known subjects are enriched with numerous subordinate figures, making the picture more truthful and more intelligible; as in the Flight into Egypt, where the Holy Family is accompanied by a servant, and three other figures are introduced to complete the composition. In the Raising of Lazarus, too, the disciples behind the Saviour on the one side and the astonished multitude on the other form two choruses, an arrangement which is followed, but with considerable modification, in Ouwater's unique picture of the same subject now in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum at Berlin. This approach to dramatic reality sometimes assumes a character which, as Kugler puts it, oversteps the strict limits of the higher ecclesiastical style. It is worth noting, however, that the early Netherlandish school—as we shall see in a later chapter—developed this characteristic to a far greater extent, continuing the tradition handed down, quite independently of Giotto, through illuminated manuscripts, and with less of that expression of the highest religious or moral feeling which is so evident in Giotto.

The few existing altar-pieces of Giotto are less important than his frescoes, inasmuch as they do not admit of the exhibition of his higher and most original gifts. Two signed examples are a Coronation of the Virgin in Santa Croce at Florence, and a Madonna, with saints and angels on the side panels, originally in S. Maria degli Angeli at Bologna, and now in the Brera at Milan. The latter, however, is not now recognised as his. The earliest authentic example is the so-called Stefaneschi altar-piece, painted in 1298 for the same patron who commissioned the Navicella. Giotto's highest merit consists especially in the number of new subjects which he introduced, in the life-like and spiritual expression with which he heightened all familiar occurrences and scenes, and in the choice of the moment of representation. In all these no earlier Christian painter can be compared with him. Another and scarcely less important quality he possessed is in the power of conveying truth of character. The faces introduced into some of his compositions bear an inward guarantee of their lively resemblance to some living model, and this characteristic seems to have been eagerly seized upon by his immediate followers for emulation, as is noticeable in two of the principal works—in the Bargello at Florence, and in the church of the Incoronata at Naples—formerly attributed to him but now relegated to his pupils. The portrait of Dante in a fresco on the wall of the Bargello shows a deep and penetrating mind, and in the Sacraments at Naples we find heads copied from life with obvious fidelity and such a natural conception of particular scenes as brings them to the mind of the spectator with extraordinary distinctness.

Of Giotto's numerous followers in the fourteenth century it is impossible in the present work to give any particular account, but of his influence at large on the practice as on the treatment and conception of painting at this stage of its development, one or two examples may be cited as typical of the progress he urged, such as the frescoes in the Campo Santo at Pisa. This wonderful cloister, which measures four hundred feet in length and over a hundred in width—traditionally the dimensions of Noah's ark—was founded by the Archbishop Ubaldo, before 1200, on his return from Palestine bringing fifty-three ships laden with earth from the Holy Land. On this soil it was erected, and surrounded by high walls in 1278. The whole of these walls were afterwards adorned with paintings, in two tiers.

So far as concerns the history of painting, the question of the authorship of these frescoes—which are by several distinct hands—is altogether subordinate to that of the subjects depicted and the manner in which they are treated, and we shall learn more from a general survey of them than by following out the fortunes of particular painters. The earliest are those on the east side, near the chapel, but more important are those on the north, of about the middle of the fourteenth century, which show a decided advance, both in feeling and execution, beyond Giotto. The first is The Triumph of Death, in which the supernatural is tempered with representations of what is mortal to an extent that already shows that painting was not to be confined to religious uses alone. All the pleasures and sorrows of life are here represented, on the earth; it is only in the sky that we see the demons and angels. On one side is a festive company of ladies and cavaliers, with hawks and dogs, seated under orange trees, with rich carpets at their feet, all splendidly dressed. A troubadour and a singing girl amuse them with songs, amorini flutter around them and wave their torches. On the other side is another group, also a hunting party, on splendidly caparisoned horses, and accompanied by a train of attendants. On the mountains in the background are several hermits, who in contrast to the votaries of pleasure have attained in a life of contemplation and abstinence the highest term of human existence. Many of the figures are traditionally supposed to be portraits.

The centre foreground is devoted to the less fortunate on earth, the beggars and cripples, and also corpses of the mighty; and with these we may turn to the allegorical treatment of the subject. To the first group descends the angel of death, swinging a scythe, and to her the unfortunate are stretching out their arms in supplication for an end to their sorrows. The second group, it will be seen, are tracing a path which leads to three open coffins in which lie the bodies of three princes in different stages of decay, while a monk on crutches—intended for S. Macarius—is pointing to them. The air is filled with angels and demons, some of whom receive the souls of the dead.

A second picture is The Last Judgment, and a third Hell, the resemblance between which and the great altar-piece in the Strozzi Chapel in Santa Maria Novella at Florence, painted by Andrea Orcagna in 1357, was formerly considered proof of the same authorship. They are now attributed to an unknown disciple of Pietro Lorenzetti, who was painting in Siena between 1306 and 1348, and is assumed to have been a pupil of Duccio.

The fourth picture, apparently by another hand—possibly that of Lorenzetti himself—is The Life of the Hermits in the wilderness of Thebais, composed of a number of single groups in which the calm life of contemplation is represented in the most varied manner. In front flows the Nile, and a number of hermits are seen on its banks still subjected to earthly occupations; they catch fish, hew wood, carry burdens to the city, etc. Higher up, in the mountains, they are more estranged from the world, but the Tempter follows them in various disguises, sometimes frightful, sometimes seducing. As a whole this composition is constructed in the ancient manner—as in Byzantine art—several series rising one above the other, each of equal size, and without any pretension to perspective: the single groups, at the same time, are executed with much grace and feeling.

Next to this are six pictures of the history of S. Ranieri, and as many of the lives of S. Efeso and S. Potito. The latter are known to have been painted in 1392 by Spinello of Arezzo, or Spinello Aretino as he is called, of whose work we have some fragments in the National Gallery—alas too few! Two of these fragments are from his large fresco The Fall of the Rebellious Angels, painted for the church of S. Maria degli Angeli at Arezzo, which after being whitewashed over were rescued on the conversion of the church to secular uses. Vasari relates that when Spinello had finished this work the devil appeared to him in the night as horrible and deformed as in the picture, and asked him where he had seen him in so frightful a form, and why he had treated him so ignominiously. Spinello awoke from his dream with horror, fell into a state of abstraction, and soon afterwards died.

On the third part of the south wall is represented the history of Job, in a series of paintings which were formerly attributed to Giotto himself, though it is now recognised that they cannot be of an earlier date than about 1370.

The Temptation of Job is by Taddeo Gaddi, and the others, painted in 1372, are probably by Francesco da Volterra—not to be confused with the sixteenth century painter Daniele da Volterra.

The paintings on the west wall are of inferior workmanship, while those on the north were the crowning achievement of Benozzo Gozzoli a century later.