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The History

that comes prior to the Renaissance

Giotto formed the foundation upon which other painters of the Renaissance built and is generally regarded as the founder of modern painting. To better understand why so many artists said that Giotto was their true ancestor, you have to learn a bit about the social surroundings at those times.

Fresco from the 13th century - The foolish and the clever virgin (not by Giotto) The style of painting was dramatically changing at that time. What events led up to the changes in these styles can be traced back to a man who lived before Giotto di Bondone's time, dying a half century before his birth. Just at that time the world was awakening from the dark and oppressive era of Gothic "feudalism".

Several major influences were responsible for this awakening,
- the growing trade with the far East
- the technological developments which made this trade possible
- and a new philosophy that did not have its center within the Church.

Profitable trade required innovation, and innovation relies upon education (such as advanced mathematics, astronomy for more accurate map-making or fundamental chemistry). This growing created a large and wealthy merchant class which distracted the attention of the people away from the "mysteries" of orthodoxy towards consumerism. Kindled by this, there were other branches growing equally:
- the banking trade with the Medici family of Florence at the forefront
- the shipbuilding industry because ships were the primary means of transportation & communication .

At the same time the Church was known for its decadence and corruption, arrogance and pretense and its never ending internal intrigue. But the real great challenge for the Church's authority and its doctrinal policies came when a well educated son of Barbarossa, Frederick the Second, became Emperor in 1220. Virgin of Annunciation by Giotto He was a very modern orientated man, founded the University of Naples and a zoological garden, enlarged the medical school at Salerno and made the first successful issuance of "paper" money (stamped parchment) imprinted with his promise to pay in gold.
Among other things he for example allowed Christian students to be exposed to Jewish and Islamic philosophy and they were taught the Arabic numeral system (with the zero).

So Frederick the Second had initiated the "time of questioning" the Church's authority, power and property. Also at that time another event created a sensation and a large following to be noticed by the Church: Franz of Assisi's deliberate changing of his life from wealth to poverty which was unheard before. He taught that the Divine nature lives within all people and that humanity itself was sacred and of a divine nature. This opened up a whole can of worms for the Church. But now that it was open, everyone was getting exposed to this new philosophy and there was no turning back. Church's imagery were that of an icon type all centuries before but now that changed. The mystical figures that only were an abstraction of a human form were transforming into realistic figures with human expressions.

Giotto di Bondone

Giotto was born probably in a town near Florence, where his father worked as a farmer. There are several stories how he came into contact with art. One telling that he was drawing scetches from his father's sheep on a flat stone and Cimabue (a great painter of that time) came by, recognized his talent and took him as his pupil.

Giotto became famous because of his colorful and realistic frescoes. At those times painters were considered to be mere craftsmen, working on behalf of others, and being greatly influenced by the Church's instructions, that mostly led to paintings of religious nature. These paintings helped to guide the worshipers and strengthen their beliefs. But they were very formal and showed scenes in an unrealistic way. Giotto changed this in painting religious figures in everyday life scenes, giving their faces emotions and last not least arranging those people in meaningful relationships instead of just putting them side by side. Through placing the people in the scenes on different heigths and in using light and shadow, he created depth on a two dimensional surface.

The common folk recognized themselves in the paintings and so Giotto was able to make a connection with his audience. It also helped that he put his figures at eye-level instead of high up in the paintings.

When Giotto died, he left a wife and six children who were able to live from what he had accounted in his life time. The sudden demand for altarpieces combined with the rise of a large and prosperous merchant class created a big demand for paintings. Giotto was in the right place at the right time and was one of the first painters to achieve the status of "renaissance man", to reap respect and high pay for his work. Unfortunately none of the surviving paintings are documented as being by him but several are universally agreed as being painted by him.

Giotto's dramatic power to give passion and imagination to his scenes can be felt in his

frescoes on the life of St. Francis in the Church of Assisi
or in the scene of the Life and Passion of Christ (to be seen in the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy)
Virgin of Annunciation (see above on the right side)

Here you can look at one of his paintings, which is called:

Presentation of the Virgin

Presentation of the Virgin by Giotto

Treasure the moments when you feel the touch of the universe, in watching an everyday scene in your life.
Because you are blessed with a fortune greater than money:
with happiness and harmony

(That is what comes to my mind, when I think about the innnovations Giotto made.)

If this page has made you curious and you want to know more about Giotto, go to the Web Gallery of Art.

If you want to look at some of Giotto's pictures go to Mark Hardens Site.
If you want to go back to the Index of all available periods of art, please click here.

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