” IN a village of Etruria,” writes Lorenzo Ghiberti, the oldest historian of the Florentine Renaissance, “Painting took her rise.” In other words, Giotto di Bondone was born in the year 1276, at Colle, in the Commune of Vespignano, a village of the Val Mugello fourteen miles from Florence. There the boy, who had been called Angiolo, after his grandfather, and went by the diminutive name of Angiolotto, or Giotto, kept his father’s flocks on the grassy slopes of the Apennines, and was found one day by Cimabue as he rode over the hills, drawing a sheep with a sharp stone upon a rock. Full of surprise at the child’s talent for drawing, the great painter asked him if he would go back with him to Florence, to which both the boy and his father, a poor peasant named Bondone, gladly agreed. Thus, at ten years old, Giotto was taken straight from the sheep-folds and apprenticed to the first painter in Florence. Such is the story told by Ghiberti and confirmed by Leonardo da Vinci, who, writing half a century before Vasari, remarks that Giotto, being born in the mountains, took Nature for his guide, and began by drawing the sheep and goats which he herded on the rocks around him.
Another version of the incident is given by an early commentator of Dante, who wrote towards the end of the fourteenth century, a few years before Ghiberti. According to him Giotto was apprenticed to a wool-merchant of Florence, but, instead of going to work, spent his time in watching the artists in Cimabue’s shop ; upon which Bondone applied to the great master, who consented to teach the boy painting. The natural vivacity and intelligence of the young student soon made him as great a favourite in Cimabue’s workshop as in his native village, while his extraordinary aptitude for drawing became every day more apparent. The legends of his marvellous skill, the stories of the fly that Cimabue vainly tried to brush off his picture, of the round O which he drew before the Pope’s envoy with one sweep of his pencil, are proofs of the wonder and admiration which Giotto’s first attempts to follow nature more closely excited among his contemporaries. No doubt the boldness and originality of his genius soon led him to abandon the purely conventional style of art theta in use, and to seek after a more natural and lifelike form of expression. And early in his career he was probably influenced by the example of the sculptor Giovanni Pisano, whose fiery energy and strong dramatic sense were tending in the same direction, and who was actively engaged on his great works in Tuscany and Umbria at this time.
The earliest examples of Giotto’s style that remain to us are some small panels at Munich, in which the Last Judgment, St. Francis receiving the Stigmata, and several scenes from the Passion are represented, as well as a Crucifixion and Madonna in which we see his first attempts at rendering natural gesture and expression. We find the qualities in a still higher degree in another charming little panel, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, which has long been in England, and is now in Dr. Richter’s possession. A larger and better known work is the Madonna and Angels, in the Academy at Florence, which, although decidedly archaic in type and proportion, has a vigour and reality, a human life and warmth, that is wholly wanting in Cimabue’s Madonna in the same room. The two pictures, hanging as they do side by side, afford a living proof of the truth of Dante’s famous lines : ” Credette Cimabue nella pintura, Tener lo campo, ed ora ha Giotto il grido.” But it is to Assisi that we must turn for a fuller record of the great master’s training and development.
Here, in the old Umbrian city where St. Francis had lived and died, was the great double church which the alms of Christendom had raised above his burial-place. In 1228, two years only after the beloved teacher’s death, the work was begun ; first the Lower Church, with the massive pillars, low round arches and heavy vaulting that told the mediaeval Christian of his pilgrimage through this vale of tears ; then, a few years later, the Upper Church, with lofty Gothic arches, slender shafts and jewelled windows, radiant and luminous like some vision of the New Jerusalem. The architect of this noble building, in which Tuscan, Romanesque and Tuscan-Gothic are so happily combined, is now known to have been a Lombard friar, Fra Filippo di Campello, and so speedily was his work done, that by 1239 the lofty Campanile was finished and the bells were hung. Even before the consecration of the Upper Church, Tuscan painters were employed to decorate the walls of the Lower Church with frescoes, and thus the shrine of St. Francis became the cradle of early Italian art. All the different currents of thought from East and West, all the varied elements that were to influence the art of Giotto Greek and Roman, Gothic and Byzantine seem to meet in this sacred spot, this fortunate Assisi of which Dante sang as blessed above all the other cities in Italy. Here, among the ruined paintings which still adorn the walls of the Upper Church, we find traces of the works of those Greek artists, whom Vasari mentions, side by side with frescoes which plainly reveal their Roman origin. Many of the Old Testament subjects along the upper course of the nave bear a marked likeness to the contemporary mosaics executed in S. Maria Maggiore of Rome, and justify Crowe and Cavalcaselle’s suggestion, that one of the artists employed at Assisi may have been the same Filippo Rusutti whose signature appears on some of these frescoes. Unfortunately the records of the Franciscan convent are silent as to the painters of the frescoes which cover the walls of the great church, and while we are told the names of the carpenters and masons who were employed, and the exact date of the year and month when the leading of the windows or plaster of the walls was repaired, neither Cimabue nor Giotto are once mentioned. But Ghiberti, Vasari and the later Franciscan historian, Petrus Rudolphus, all agree in saying that Giotto came to Assisi with his master Cimabue, and there painted the lower course of frescoes in the nave of the Upper Church. Here for the first time we have twenty-eight scenes from the story of St. Francis, the glorioso poverell’ di Dio, as described in the life of the Saint by Bonaventura. That story belonged to no remote past, but to the painter’s own age and land. The life of Francis had been lived in this very city of Assisi, in the valley of Tiber. The man of God had walked up and down these white, dusty streets, and had gone in and out among the people, sharing their daily joys and cares, feeding the hungry and nursing the sick. The different actors in the story, the angry father who turned his son out into the street, the thirsty peasant for whom water gushed from the rock, Brother Leo and Brother Elias, Chiara and her sisters, had not so long ago been living men and women, filled with the hopes and fears, the passions and emotions of other human beings. Here then, ready to the artist’s hand, was a whole cycle of legend which had not yet been stamped with the seal of tradition, but was free to be shaped according to his own fancy -a series full of picturesque incident and dramatic situations, that lent itself admirably to artistic representation. The opportunity was a splendid one, and the right man was not long wanting. At this fortunate hour the young Giotto came to Assisi, and a new day dawned for the art of Italy,
These frescoes of the life of St. Francis which the young Florentine painted along the nave of the Upper Church, supplied the type for all future representations, and were repeated with little variation by Tuscan artists during the next two centuries. They reveal in a wonderful way the vigour of his youthful genius, his strong dramatic sense and sympathy with every form of human life. Each separate scene is realised in the same vivid manner : the parting from the angry father, at whose feet Francis lays down his clothes, while the Bishop casts his cloak over him, and the bystanders look on with evident compassion on their faces ; the solemn moment in which Francis and his poor companions kneel before the great Pope Innocent III. and receive his per-mission to preach ; or the ordeal before the Soldan, when the bare-footed friar boldly enters the flames, while the magicians shrink back in terror at the sight. The sudden death of the Lord of Celano, while he is in the act of entertaining the Saint, is represented in the most striking manner, and the different phases of grief and horror are vividly painted on the faces of the women and attendants who crowd round the dying man, and in the gesture of Francis himself as he rises from the hospitable board. But finest of all is the touching scene in which the funeral procession passes before the convent of S. Damiano, and Chiara bends in an agony of love and grief over the lifeless form of her beloved master, while her companions kiss the stigmatized hand, and the people gaze with reverent awe and sorrow on the face of the dead Saint in his last sleep. Already in these youthful works we see traces of the shrewd sense of humour, the genial sympathy with the lighter side of things, that was so marked a characteristic of the great Florentine. It must have needed some courage to introduce on church walls such incidents as the children throwing stones at the rejected Saint, or the friar climbing into a tree to enjoy a better view of the procession. Very interesting are the details and accessories of the separate subjects, irreparably ruined and re-painted as they are. The figures stand out in solid relief against the background, the gestures of the different actors are natural and animated, and the draperies fall in single, easy folds. Ignorant as Giotto was alike of the laws of anatomy and perspective, his instinctive feeling for form and accurate observation enabled him to give an appearance of reality both to his figures and buildings ; while his genius for architecture is seen in the noble Gothic façades and towers which he introduces in several pictures. The classical forms which he combines with these Gothic motives and the inlaid marble decorations and mosaics which adorn porticoes and loggias are evidently borrowed from the artists of the Cosmati school, and prove how much he had learnt from the Roman painters whom he met at Assisi. The general conception and design of these frescoes is probably wholly owing to Giotto, but it is plain that several hands were employed upon the work, and the last three subjects, representing the miracles wrought by St. Francis after death, were evidently the work of some clever assistant, who was employed by the Friars to complete the series after the Florentine master had been called away.
In 1298, Giotto was invited to Rome by Cardinal Stefaneschi, the Pope’s nephew, who had, no doubt, heard of Cimabue’s able scholar from Rusutti, or some other Roman artist working at Assisi. Another member of this prelate’s family had already employed Roman masters to execute the mosaics in S. Maria Trastevere, and now at his bidding Giotto designed the famous mosaic of the Navicella, or ship of the Church, which hangs in the vestibule of St. Peter’s. Little trace of the original work now remains, but the portrait of the Cardinal is introduced in the corner ; and in the fisherman angling in the lake we see a characteristic touch of Giotto’s invention. Far more worthy of study is the altar-piece which Giotto painted for the Cardinal, and which is still preserved in the Canons’ Sacristy. This fine tempera-painting has fortunately escaped restoration, and deserves the high praise bestowed upon it by Vasari. In the central panel Christ, robed in a richly embroidered mantle, is seen seated on a throne, surrounded by angels, and worshipped by the kneeling Cardinal, a man of fifty years, clad in blue draperies and red cape. On either side are the Martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul, and on the reverse of the panels Stefaneschi appears again, led by his patron, St. George, kneeling at the feet of St. Peter enthroned between St. Andrew and St. John, and attended by angels and glorified saints. The colour is fine, the design rich and im posing, and the attitude and expression of the Cardinal, clasping the bar of the throne, are full of reverent devotion. The presence of the donor in the courts of heaven was in itself an innovation which no artist before Giotto had attempted, and the human and individual character of the Cardinal’s head contrasts finely with the more conventional types of the celestial beings. Giotto’s original genius is still more evident in the varied groups around the cross upon which St. Peter hangs. Soldiers on foot and horseback stand on either side, a young woman and her child look on with deep compassion, and a youth flinging his arms back in a manner plainly borrowed from some antique bas-relief, recalls similar types in Giotto’s frescoes at Assisi and Padua. Certain figures among the spectators in quaint Mongolian costumes remind us that the Franciscan friars, following their founder’s example, had penetrated far into Central Asia on their missions, and suggest that these strangers may have belonged to the immense concourse of pilgrims who thronged the streets of Rome in the year of Jubilee. A frenzy of religious ardour had seized upon the whole of Christendom, and marvellous are the tales told of the multitudes who crowded the churches, and of the piles of gold and silver that were raised up night and day before the altars. Among the fragments of the predella formerly attached to this altar-piece is a Madonna, whose fine proportions and gracious tenderness show a distinct advance on Giotto’s earlier pictures, while the Babe in her arms is sucking his thumb in the most natural manner.
Pope Boniface, we are told by Vasari, was deeply impressed by Giotto’s merits, and loaded him with honours and rewards; but the colossal Angel above the organ, and the other frescoes which the artist was employed to paint in the old basilica of St. Peter’s, all perished long ago, and the only other work of his now remaining in Rome is the damaged fresco of the Pope proclaiming the Jubilee, on a pillar of the Lateran Church. This last painting proves that Giotto was in Rome during this famous year 1300, when both his fellow-citizens Dante and the historian Giovanni Villani were present in the Eternal City. The divine poet, who places his great vision of heaven and hell in that memorable year, was an intimate friend of the painter coetaneo e amico grandissimo, says Vasari and, after his return to Florence, Giotto introduced Dante’s portrait, robed in red and holding his book in his hand, in an altar-piece of Paradise which he painted for the chapel of the Podestà palace. But since this chapel was burnt down in 1332, and only rebuilt after Giotto’s death, the fresco of Dante on the walls of the present building, which was discovered some years ago, must have been copied by one of his followers from the original painting.
It was probably on his journey back to Florence, or on some other visit to Assisi during the next few years, that Giotto painted his frescoes in the Lower Church. Chief among these are the four great allegories on the vaulted roof immediately above the high altar, under which the ashes of the Saint were laid. Here, in the Holy of Holies, the young Florentine master was employed by the Franciscans of Assisi to illustrate the meaning of the three monastic virtues, Obedience, Chastity, and Poverty, whom, according to the legend of the Fioretti, the Saint met walking on the road to Siena in the form of three fair maidens, and whom he held up to his followers as the sum of evangelical perfection. Nowhere is Giotto’s creative power more finely displayed than in these subjects, where he has succeeded in animating the frigid conceits of medieval allegory with human life and warmth. Nowhere is his colouring so lovely, so full of actual charm and delicate gradation of tint. And when, towards sunset, the evening light streams through the narrow windows in the massive walls of the apse and illumines the ancient church, it is almost impossible to believe that these frescoes, glowing with pure and radiant hues, were really painted six hundred years ago. Most fortunately, these priceless works have been preserved from damp by the floor of the Upper Church above, and have never been ruined by re-painting, as the frescoes of the Arena Chapel and Santa Croce. So that here we can form some idea of Giotto’s gifts as a colourist, and can understand the amazement with which his contemporaries saw the wonders wrought by his brush.
From the first, Giotto adopted a clear pale tone of colouring, which forms a marked contrast to the dark and heavy tints in use among Byzantine artists, and produces the effect of water-colour, while that of the older painters more nearly resembles oils. The technique which he used, both for tempera and fresco-painting, and which remained in use among Florentine artists for the next hundred-and-fifty years, was in reality founded on the old Greek method which had been practised during many centuries, although the improvements which he introduced were sufficient to justify the Giottesque artist Cennino Cennini in saying, that Giotto changed painting from the Greek to the Latin manner and brought in modern art. Yet more striking were the innovations which he introduced in his types, the almond-shaped eyes, long noses and oval countenances with square, heavy jaws which he substituted for the staring eyes and round faces of Byzantine artists. The few and simple lines of his draperies give a majestic effect to his figures, and at the same time sufficiently indicate the structure of the human form beneath ; so that in spite of his ignorance of anatomy and modelling, the result is remarkably good. Above all, he realises in a marvellous manner the full significance of the story which he has to tell, and succeeds in making its meaning clear to the spectator, not-withstanding the limitations of his skill. The types which he selects, and the grouping and gestures of the actors in the scene, all carry out the central idea, and help to complete the picture. These leading characteristics are clearly seen in the allegories on the roof of the Lower Church. They mark a distinct advance on the earlier frescoes of the Upper Church, and stand midway between the Stefaneschi altar-piece on the one hand and the Arena frescoes at Padua. Obedience, the primary monastic virtue, is here represented as a winged figure sitting under a loggia between Prudence and Humility, in the act of laying a yoke on the neck of the friar who kneels before her. On one side a centaur, the symbol of revolt and crime, recoils, blinded by the mirror of Prudence, and on the other side a devout layman and his wife are led by an angel to contemplate the scene. On the roof of the loggia, Francis himself is seen drawn up to Heaven by the knotted cord of his habit, between kneeling angels who wonder and adore. Chastity appears as a maiden, praying within a fortress, guarded by Courage and Purity and attended by angels, who offer her the crown and palm of victory. In the foreground, Francis receives a friar, nun and ‘lay-brother, who as representatives of the three Orders are climbing the hill, with a gracious welcome. On the right, a novice is baptised by angel’s hands, and the penitent is de-fended by warrior maidens ; while Repentance, armed with a scourge, drives out carnal Desire, and Death hurls the naked form of Passion into hell-flames. In the third compartment we have the Marriage of St. Francis with Holy Poverty, the bride of his choice, that memorable scene which, originally described by Bonaventura and the Franciscan poet Jacopone, has been celebrated in a famous passage of Dante’s Paradiso. Giotto himself was no religious enthusiast, and his shrewd worldly sense and genial humour led him to look with little sympathy upon the voluntary poverty which Francis held to be the crown of all virtues. But in this beautiful fresco he has entered fully into the spirit of glowing devotion which animated the Saint, and has left us a representation of the subject worthy to rank with Dante’s immortal lines. The wedding takes place in the courts of Heaven, Love and Hope are the bridesmaids, Christ Himself the priest who speaks the nuptial blessing. The bride’s robe is torn and ragged, the boys throw stones and the little dogs bark at her, but the thorns that tear her bare feet, blossom into roses about her brow, and the face of Francis beams with love and rapture, as he places the ring upon her finger. In the fore-ground we have practical illustrations of the parable. On the left, an angel smiles approval on a young man in the act of giving his cloak to a beggar; on the right, another richly-clad youth with a falcon on his wrist turns scornfully away, and a miser clutches his bags of gold more tightly between his hands. In the air above, angels are seen bearing the gifts of pious donors a mantle, a purse and a convent-church into heaven, where God the Father bends down with outstretched hands to receive them. Finally, in the fourth compartment we have a vision of St. Francis, clad in the deacon’s garb which he retained in his humility to the end of his life, enthroned in glory and attended by choirs of rejoicing angels.
These allegories are not the only works which Giotto executed in the Lower Church of Assisi. Ghiberti’s statement, that the Florentine master painted almost the whole of the Lower Church, is confirmed by Petrus Rudolphus, who expressly mentions the frescoes of the Childhood and Crucifixion in the right transept as being by the hand of Giotto. In their present ruined condition it is not easy to distinguish between the work of the master and that of his assistants ; but the whole series bears the stamp of Giotto’s invention, and in many cases the composition foreshadows that of the Arena frescoes at Padua. The scenes of the Childhood are full of human charm and tenderness the Babe laying his little hand in blessing on the aged king’s head, and the young Mother wrapping the Child in the folds of her mantle, as she rides the ass and Joseph leads the way with pilgrim staff and bottle in his hand, are touches which no one but Giotto would have introduced. Even when, as in the Passion scenes, the old types are more closely followed, a deeper note is sounded. The Pietà resembles that of the Roman master in the Upper Church, but is more dramatic in character ; while in the Crucifixion, the passionate grief of St. John, the overwhelming sorrow of the fainting Virgin, the wild despair of the angels who hover in the air, mark a great advance on Cimabue’s crude realism, and St. Francis himself is introduced among the saints who stand at the foot of the cross.
The next important series which Giotto painted were the frescoes in the Arena Chapel at Padua. In 1303, Enrico Scrovegno, a noble citizen of Padua, son of the wealthy usurer Rinaldo, whom Dante places in his Inferno, spent part of his father’s ill-gotten fortune in building a chapel dedicated to the Annunziata, on the site of a Roman amphitheatre. Two years later Giotto was invited to decorate the interior with frescoes. Benvenuto da Imola, writing in 1376, tells us that when Dante visited Padua, in 1306, he found his friend Giotto living there with his wife, Madonna Ciutà, of the parish of Santa Reparata of Florence, and his young family, and was honourably entertained by the painter in his own house. Giotto, adds the writer, was then still young he must have been exactly thirty years of age and was engaged in painting a chapel on the site of an ancient Arena. Here the poet often watched him at work, with his children, who were ” as ill-favoured as himself,” playing around, and wondered how it was that the creations of his brain were so much fairer than his own off-spring. Giotto’s small stature and insignificant appearance seem to have been constantly the subject of his friends’ good-humoured jests, and Petrarch and Boccaccio both speak of him as an instance of rare genius being concealed under a plain and ungainly exterior. ” Two excellent painters I have known,” writes Petrarch, “who were neither of them handsome Giotto of Florence, whose fame is supreme among modern artists, and Simone Martini.” But in Giotto’s case this unattractive appearance was redeemed by a kindly and joyous nature, a keen sense of humour, and unfailing cheerfulness, which made him the gayest and most pleasant companion. And Giotto, on his part, Vasari tells us, was deeply attached to the exiled poet, and may well have availed himself of Dante’s ideas and suggestions in the great work upon which he was engaged, especially in the allegorical figures of Virtues and Vices, along the lower course of the chapel walls.
” The whole of the Arena Chapel,” says Ghiberti, ” was painted by the hand of Giotto.” This statement has never been disputed, and, with the exception of the frescoes in the choir, which were added by his followers in later years, the decoration of the interior is entirely his work. The shape of the building, with its long, low nave, lighted by six narrow windows, was well adapted to fresco-painting, and even now, in spite of the havoc worked by the restorer’s hand, the whole effect is singularly bright and decorative. The vaulted roof is studded with gold stars on a blue ground, and adorned with medallions of Christ and his Mother, and of the Apostles and Prophets who foretold his coming. A vision of Christ in glory occupies the space above the arch leading into the choir, and on the entrance wall is the Last Judgment, with a portrait of the founder, Enrico Scrovegno, holding a model of the chapel in his hands, welcomed by three fair and gracious angels. There, too, in the left-hand corner, among the hosts of the blessed, is a profile portrait of the painter himself, standing between two companions, in a red cap and vest. Along the side walls are three rows of frescoes, divided by an ornamental framework, painted in imitation of marble mosaics, representing thirty-eight scenes from the life of the Virgin and of Christ. Below these are fourteen allegorical figures, which illustrate the progress of man on the way to heaven and hell, the seven Virtues looking at Christ in glory, on the eastern arch, and the seven Vices on the opposite wall, turning their faces towards the Inferno pictured on the western wall.
The first twelve subjects are taken from the apocryphal gospels known as the Protevangelion, or Gospel of St. Mary. In most cases the traditional composition is retained, but new actors are introduced whose gestures and expression add fresh meaning and reality to the scene, and the whole is brought before us in a new and original manner. Giotto’s familiarity with shepherd-life is evident in the early scenes, in the truth with which the weather-beaten faces and rough clothes of the herdsmen are rendered, in the rams butting each other with their horns, and the faithful sheep-dog who hastens to greet his master, when the childless Joachim returns, plunged in sad thought, after the rejection of his offering. The poor cottage home, where the Angel appears at the window to Anna, is represented with the same accuracy. We see the rude oak chest, the wooden trestles, the striped coverlid and white hanging of the bed, and the maid-servant busy at her spinning in the passage outside. The same homely details are reproduced in the Birth of the Virgin, where the nurse washes the babe with the utmost care, and the mother sits up in bed with outstretched arms to receive it, while the eager women around are intent on their various tasks. The greeting of Joachim and Anna at the Golden Gate is full of solemn tenderness ; and we have another charming group in the aged high priest bending down to welcome the shy little Virgin, who mounts the Temple stairs, supported by her anxious mother. The Marriage of the Virgin follows the traditional lines ; but we see Giotto’s invention in the action of the disappointed suitor breaking his rod across his knee, and the dove which has settled on Joseph’s flowering rod. This is followed by a subject of rare beauty, and one which is seldom seen in Italian art-the Return of the Virgin to her father’s house, escorted by musicians, and followed by a procession of maidens. Giotto himself has not often succeeded in rendering action as naturally as this of the trumpeters and violinists sounding their instruments under the Gothic balcony, decorated with green boughs, and has seldom given us a form as classic in its serene repose, or faces as fair in their youthful loveliness as these of Mary and her seven virgins.
The Annunciation, which, as a type of the Incarnation, that central truth of Christendom, occupies the space on either side of the arch where Christ appears in glory, is remarkable for the severe and stately grace of the Angel and of her whom he calls blessed among women. Both are kneeling, and Gabriel’s uplifted hand and dignified gesture contrast finely with the folded arms and attentive humility with which Mary receives his salutation. In the Nativity we are reminded of the divine nature of the event by the flight of angels who circle in the air above the stable roof. Three seraphs gaze heaven-wards in adoration, while one stoops down to worship the new-born King, and another bears the good tidings of great joy to the shepherds,, who hasten to the chamber where the Virgin-Mother lies. At the same time, the human aspect of the Incarnation is brought out in the action of Mary as she turns round in bed to lay the Babe down, and in the Child’s efforts to escape from the arms of Simeon and get back to his mother, in the Temple scene. Nor has any later artist surpassed the tender expressive sympathy on the face of the aged Elizabeth, as she looks up into Mary’s eyes and sees in her the mother of her Lord.
Only two incidents from the ministry of Christ find a place on these chapel walls, but these two the Marriage in Cana and the Raising of Lazarus are treated with especial attention, and are among the finest of the whole series. The marriage-feast takes place in a hall decorated with marble mosaic, and a row of classic amphora stand in front of the table, where a fat man tosses off a cup of wine with evident enjoyment, and the uplifted finger of the Virgin bears witness to the power of a heavenly presence at the festive board. The Raising of Lazarus shows a marked improvement on Giotto’s former version of the subject at Assisi. The form of Christ as he pronounces the solemn words, ” Lazarus, come forth,” is singularly imposing, while Mary and Martha kneel in lowly adoration, and the bystanders gaze in awe and wonder at the dead man, bound in grave-clothes, staggering to his feet. The painter’s gain in dramatic power, and his mastery of the laws of composition, are still more evident in the closing scenes of Christ’s life upon earth. All the grief and sorrow of the world seem gathered up in this great Pietà, where the Virgin bends over her Son in a last embrace, and St. John throws back his arms in despair, while angels hide their eyes and rend the air with their wailing voices. In the Resurrection Giotto has combined two subjects. On one side we have the white-robed Angels seated on the red porphyry tomb, with the soldiers, sunk in deep slumber, at their feet. On the other, the risen Lord, bearing the flag of victory in his hand, is in the act of uttering the words Noli me tangere” to the Magdalen, who, wrapt in her crimson mantle, falls at his feet, exclaiming, ” Rabboni !” Master. No artist before Giotto had ever tried to represent this touching incident, and no master of later times ever painted so touching and beautiful a Magdalen as this one with the yearning eyes and the passion of love and rapture in her outstretched arms. And while the trees behind the sepulchre are bare and withered, here the fig and olive of the garden have burst into leaf, and the little birds carol on the grassy slopes. ” The winter is past, the rain over and gone ; the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come.” The Ascension is more formal in arrangement ; two choirs of seraphs in the sky correspond with two groups of disciples kneeling on the ground, while between them are two white-robed angels, pointing upwards as they repeat the heavenly message. But Giotto’s power of expression is nobly seen in the upturned face of the Virgin-Mother, who, strong in faith and love, follows her Son with straining eyes ; and there is a wonderful sense of movement in the form of the Ascending Lord, borne upwards by some unseen might into the heavens, which open to receive him.
When we look back on the whole series, perhaps what strikes us most is the simplicity and directness with which the story is told. Not a single superfluous actor is introduced. Each has his part to play in the development of the situation. Each line is charged with purpose, each gesture and attitude is significant. Especially noteworthy is the action of the hands, which are as expressive and characteristic in Giotto’s works as in those of another great Florentine of a later age, Leonardo da Vinci. The setting of the picture is of the simplest description. The gold background of Byzantine masters has given place to blue sky now, alas ! coarsely repainted and both landscape and architecture are slight and summary in treatment. The hill country of Bethlehem is indicated by a few green slopes and trees, and the dramatic effect of the Baptism and Entombment is heightened by the bare and desolate rocks of the landscape. A house is represented by a wooden roof resting on a couple of slender pillars, and an open loggia with pointed arches. A ciborium, with a flight of steps and marble screen, does duty for the temple. Here and there, as in the Annunciation or Expulsion from the Temple, the architectural details are more elaborate, and, as at Assisi, Gothic and classical motives are frequently introduced in the same building. The animals are, for the most part, curiously ill-drawn and out of proportion, and were probably the work of an assistant. Flat tints are employed throughout, and there is little attempt at modelling ; but the broad masses of light and shade, and the large sweep of the draperies, produce a striking unity of effect, and all serve to heighten the impression of monumental grandeur and repose which these frescoes leave upon us.
Fortunately, the chiaroscuro frieze of Vices and Virtues, beneath the historical subjects, have mostly escaped restoration, and there at least it is still possible to find some remains of Giotto’s brushwork. These allegorical figures are of singular charm and interest. Whether the painter adopts the traditional type or invents a new parable, the idea is carefully thought out in every particular, and the details and accessories all help to carry out his intention. Each Virtue is contrasted with its opposite Vice. Charity, wreathed in flowers, and holding a basket of fruit in one hand, offers a burning torch to her Lord, while she tramples money-bags under her feet. Envy, on the opposite wall, grasps a purse in her claws, and is bitten by a serpent issuing out of her own mouth. Faith, a crowned and majestic form, clings to the Cross with one hand, and holds the roll of the Creed in the other, careless of the astrologer’s books lying on the floor. Unbelief, turning a deaf ear to heavenly voices, is led by the idol to which she is chained along the broad way of destruction. Temperance is a beautiful figure robed in classic draperies, with a bridle on her lips and her sword bound to the scabbard ; while Anger, an ugly old hag, tears open her vest in impotent rage. Justice, another royal form, sits throned under a Gothic canopy, holding a pair of scales which contain, the one a statuette of an angel reaching out a crown of righteousness to the just, the other, an executioner in the act of slaying the criminal, and the pediment of her throne is adorned with a frieze of happy children dancing and of huntsmen returning from the chase, symbolic of the peace and prosperity which flourish under her rule. Injustice is a hideous fiend seated in a robber’s stronghold, with a sword in one hand and a grappling-hook in the other, to catch the innocent traveller as he journeys on his way, while figures of thieves and murderers are carved on the rocks at her feet. Fortitude appears in the guise of an armed woman, wearing a lion’s skin knotted round her neck, and bearing a massive shield embossed with a lion and deeply indented with broken heads of javelins. Inconstancy is a maiden wearing a veil, blown to and fro by the wind, and vainly trying to support herself against a rolling globe on a slippery marble floor. Prudence is a grave matron with the double face of Janus, sitting at a desk and holding a mirror in her hand. Folly, wearing a cap of feathers and a bird’s tail fastened to his skirts, looks up with a grin on his face at the club with which he is about to strike the air at random. Last of all, Hope, fairest and best of all the Virtues, stands on the threshold of Paradise, and springs forward to reach a crown held out by unseen hands, while Despair, the blackest of crimes, is dragged by devils down to hell-fires. Thus, in the same age, these two great Florentines, Giotto and Dante, gave utterance to their thoughts, the one in poetry, the other in painting, and clothed their conceptions in the favourite language of medieval times.
The fame which Giotto already enjoyed beyond the walls of Florence was greatly increased by these works. Before he left Padua he was employed to decorate the palace of Francesco di Carrara, and to paint scenes from the life of St. Francis and St. Anthony in the Chapter-house of the newly-built church of ” II Santo,” which bade fair to rival S. Francesco of Assisi in splendour and popularity. From Padua, Vasari tells us, the Florentine master went on to the neighbouring city of Verona, where he painted the portrait of Dante’s noble friend and protector, Can Grande della Scala, as well as other works in the Franciscan church, and then proceeded to Ferrara and Ravenna at the invitation of the Este and Polenta princes. His visit to the court of the Malatesta at Rimini must also have been paid about this time, since the Ferrarese chronicler Riccobaldi, who died in 1313, speaks of the works painted ” by that admirable Florentine master, Giotto, in the churches of the Brothers Minor at Assisi, Rimini and Padua.” All of these works in the cities of North Italy have perished, and it is to Florence that we must turn for the third and last remaining cycle of his frescoes. The great Franciscan church of Santa Croce had been raised from Arnolfo’s designs in the last years of the thirteenth century, and the proudest Florentine families hastened to build chapels at their own expense, as a mark of their devotion to the popular Saint. Four of these chapels were decorated with frescoes by Giotto’s hand, but were all whitewashed in 1714, when Santa Croce underwent a thorough restoration. The frescoes of the lives of the Apostles, and the story of the Virgin, which he painted in the Giugni and Spinelli chapels, and which Vasari praises as miracles of art, have been entirely destroyed ; but within the last fifty years the whitewash has been successfully removed from the walls of the Bardi and Peruzzi chapels, and the finest of Giotto’s works that remain to us have been brought to light. Here, in a series painted when his genius had reached its full development, we are enabled to judge of his progress and realise the great advance which his art had made since the early days at Assisi. In dramatic power, in truth and energy of action, in beauty of form and variety of expression, these frescoes in Santa Croce surpass all Giotto’s other works. The figures are larger and better drawn, the draperies are treated with greater breadth and freedom, the architecture is more elaborate and the perspective singularly correct. Where the restorer’s hand has not entirely destroyed its surface, the colouring is more varied and harmonious, finer effects of light and shade and deeper gradations of tint are visible. Above all, it is here that Giotto’s unrivalled powers as a great epic painter are revealed, and that we realise his intimate knowledge of human nature, and his profound sympathy with every form of life.
The Peruzzi chapel contains three scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist. In the first, the aged Zacharias stands on the temple steps swinging a censer in his hand, and starts back in surprise at the sight of the angel who has suddenly appeared under the arch over the altar. In the background, Elizabeth and a younger companion at her side behold the apparition with wondering eyes, and two lute players and a piper blowing with all his might are also present. In the next composition we have the Birth of the Baptist. Elizabeth, whose reclining attitude is admirably given, lies on the bed, attended by her maidens, and in the next room Zacharias is seated with crossed legs, writing the child’s name upon the tablet on his knees, and gazing at the laughing babe held up before him by the women, who look eagerly at the word which he has written. In the third scene, Herod and his guests are seated at table under a stately portico adorned with antique statues, watching Salome, who with a lyre in her hand has been dancing before them to the strains of violin music. But suddenly she pauses in her dance, and the women who have been watching her steps turn away in horror at the sight of the Baptist’s head which a soldier, wearing a Roman helmet, is in the act of presenting to Herod. Through an open door Salome appears again, kneeling before her mother with the charger, and in the distance we see the barred window of the tower where the Baptist has been imprisoned. The central picture, with its classic architecture and ornamental details, and the graceful figures of Salome and the youth in his striped tunic playing the violin, is full of charm.
On the opposite wall we have three subjects from the life of St. John the Evangelist. First of all, the aged Saint is seen slumbering on the rock of Patmos, while the vision of the Son of Man appears in the clouds, attended by an angel bearing a sickle, and the woman with the mystic Child in the cradle. This fresco is too badly damaged to give any idea of Giotto’s powers, but happily a considerable portion of the two others have escaped restoration, and are among the finest of the series. One is the Raising of Drusiana, who is here seen sitting up on the bier at the bidding of the Evangelist a noble figure with uplifted arm before the mourners. Both the heads of Drusiana and of St. John are admirably modelled, the towers and walls in the background are in excellent perspective, and there for the first time we see a really successful attempt at chiaroscuro. The other is the Ascension of St. John, who is represented soaring up into the heavens, where Christ bends down to welcome him, while his disciples stand round the empty grave, lost in wonder and perplexity.
The frescoes of the second chapel were ordered by a famous Florentine captain, Ridolfo de’ Bardi, whose son had joined the Franciscan Order, and represent six different scenes from the life of Francis. In these subjects which were to become the model for Tuscan and Umbrian artists during the next two centuries Giotto refines and simplifies the composition of his earlier works at Assisi, and treats his theme in a grander and more heroic manner. The Saint’s encounter with his angry father is more dramatically represented, Francis himself is a youthful and attractive figure, and in the background a stately loggia rises against the blue sky. After this we have the Confirmation of the Rule, by Pope Innocent III., and the Apparition of the Saint in a church at Arles, where St, Anthony is preaching on the Passion. In the last fresco two incidents are combined : the Apparition of Francis at the moment of his death to Bishop Guido at Monte Gargano, and to a dying friar in his cell at Assisi. But the most striking compositions are those of Francis before the Soldan and the Death of the Saint. The imposing form of the Soldan on his throne, under a portico adorned with mosaics and statues, the white turbans and flowing robes of the Moorish priests, the contrast between the ecstatic joy on the face of Francis, as he enters the flames, and the horror and terror, not only of the Magi, but of the poor friar who cowers behind, all help to make up a picturesque and animated scene. We re-member how finely Giotto represented the Saint’s death in his early days at Assisi. Here the touching incident is still more simply brought before us. There is no crowd of curious spectators even Chiara and her nuns are absent. All we have is the great Saint lying dead on his funeral bier, surrounded by weeping friars, who bend over their beloved master and cover his hands and feet with kisses. At the head of the bier a priest reads the funeral rite ; three brothers stand at the foot bearing a cross and banner, and the incredulous Girolamo puts his finger into the stigmatised side, while his companions gaze on the sacred wounds with varying expressions of awe and wonder, and one, the smallest and humblest of the group, suddenly lifts his eyes and sees the soul of Francis borne on angel-wings to Heaven. Even the hard outlines and coarse handling of the restorer’s brush cannot destroy the beauty and pathos of this scene, which still remains without a rival in Florentine art. In later ages more accomplished artists often repeated this composition Benedetto da Majano carved the subject on the pulpit of Santa Croce, and Ghirlandajo painted it on the walls of the Trinità but none ever attained to the simple dignity and pathetic beauty of Giotto’s design.
The exact date of these frescoes remains uncertain, but they were probably painted soon after 1320. Recent research has as yet thrown little light upon the chronology of Giotto’s life, and all we can discover is an occasional notice of the works which he executed, or of the property which he owned in Florence. Vasari’s statement, that he succeeded to Cimabue’s house and shop in the Via del Cocomero, to the north of the Duomo, is borne out by the will of the Florentine citizen Rinuccio, who, dying in 1312, describes the excellent painter Giotto di Bondone as a parishioner of Santa Maria Novella, and bequeaths a sum of ” five pounds of small florins ” to keep a lamp burning night and day before the crucifix painted by the said master, in the Dominican church. Of Giotto’s eight children, the eldest, Francesco, became a painter, and received commissions as early as 1319. When his father was absent from Florence he managed the small property which Giotto had inherited at his old home of Vespignano in Val Mugello, and which he increased by purchases of land and houses. The painter’s family seem to have lived chiefly at this country home, where his daughters Chiara and Lucia married burghers of Vespignano, and one son, a second Francesco, became a parish priest. The eldest sister Caterina became the wife of an artist, Ricco di Lapo, and the youngest, Beatrice, belonged to the Third Order of Dominic, and married soon after her father’s death. Giotto himself was fond of his country home, and contemporary writers give us pleasant glimpses of the great master’s excursions to Val Mugello. Boccaccio tells us how one day, as he and the learned advocate Messer Forese, who, like himself, was short and insignificant in appearance, were riding out to Vespignano, they were caught in a shower of rain, and forced to borrow cloaks and hats from the peasants. ” Well, Giotto,” said the lawyer, as they trotted back to Florence, clad in these old clothes and bespattered with mud from head to foot, “if a stranger were to meet you now, would he ever suppose that you were the first painter in Florence ? ” ” Certainly he would,” was Giotto’s prompt reply, ” if beholding your worship he could imagine for a moment that you had learnt your A.B.C.” And the novelist Sacchetti relates how the great master rode out to San Gallo one Sunday afternoon with a party of friends, after the manner of Florentine citizens, more for pleasure than devotion, and how they fell in with a herd of swine, one of whom ran between Giotto’s legs and threw him down. ” After all, the pigs are quite right,” said the painter, as he scrambled to his feet and shook the dust off his clothes, ” when I think how many thousands of crowns I have earned with their bristles, without ever giving them even a bowl of soup !” The same writer records how on another of these joyous Sunday expeditions Giotto stopped with his friends at the church of the Servi friars, to study the paintings on the walls. One of his companions remarked that St. Joseph was always represented as grave and melancholy, upon which Giotto replied, “Can you wonder, considering his relation-ship to the Child ? ” a repartee which seems to have afforded the company infinite amusement. These tales sound trivial in themselves, but are of interest as showing the deep impression left upon the great painter’s contemporaries, not only by his talents, but by his strong personality ; while the ready wit and practical turn of mind which they reveal are exactly what the study of his works would lead us to expect. A more serious instance of his power of satire is to be found in the song against Voluntary Poverty bearing his name, which Rumohr discovered in the Laurentian library. In these verses Giotto not only denounces the vice and hypocrisy often working beneath the cloak of monastic perfection, but honestly expresses his own aversion to poverty as a thing miscalled a virtue, and enumerates all the evils of the grace which he was so often called to glorify in his paintings. He concludes by declaring that voluntary poverty is nowhere enjoined by our Lord, whose words apply to his own holy life, and who became poor that we might be saved from the curse of avarice, not that we may fall into idle unworthy ways of living. The whole canzone is of great interest, coming as it does from the pen of the chosen painter of the Franciscan Order, and showing the independence of Giotto’s character.
The extraordinary industry of the man is shown by the long list of panel pictures as well as wall-paintings which are mentioned by early writers. These have fared even worse than Giotto’s frescoes. The picture of the Commune crowned and throned and attended by all the virtues, in the great hall of the Podestà which Vasari describes as of very beautiful and ingenious invention, the small tempera painting of the Death of the Virgin, on which Michael Angelo loved to gaze, in the Church of Ognissanti, the Madonna which was sent to Petrarch at Avignon, and which he left as his most precious possession to his noble friend Francesco di Carrara, have all perished. One panel, however, described by Vasari, is still in existence : the altar-piece of St. Francis receiving the Stigmata on the rocky heights of La Vernia, together with the three subjects of the predella Pope Innocent’s Dream of Francis supporting the falling pillars of the Church, the Confirmation of the Rule, and Francis preaching to the swallows. This interesting picture was orginally painted for a church in Pisa, and now hangs in the Louvre. It bears the inscription, Opus Jodi Fiorentini, a signature which confirms Boccaccio’s statement that Giotto always refused to bear the name of Magister. It is worthy of notice that in legal documents regarding the purchase of lands at Vespignano, which are still in existence, the master always employs the signature of Giottus pictor, while the Baroncelli altar-piece and other spurious works bear the forged inscription Opus Magistri Jocti.
In 1330, Giotto was invited to Naples by King Robert, whose son Charles, Duke of Calabria, held the post of Captain of the people of Florence during two years, and who had employed Giotto to paint his portrait. This monarch, the friend and patron of Boccaccio and Petrarch, received Giotto with the highest honour, and issued a decree, in the following January, granting this chosen and faithful servant all the privileges enjoyed by members of the royal household. Ghiberti tells us that Giotto painted the hall of King Robert’s palace, and Petrarch alludes in one of his epistles to the frescoes with which he adorned the royal Chapel of the Castello dell’ Uovo. ” Do not fail,” he writes, ” to visit the royal Chapel where my contemporary, Giotto, the greatest painter of his age, has left such splendid monuments of his pencil and genius.” But all these works have been destroyed, and another series of frescoes on the Revelation of St. John, painted, Vasari tells us, col pensiero di Dante, which he executed in the newly-built Franciscan church of Santa Chiara, were white-washed in the last century, by order of a Spanish governor, who complained that they made the church too dark ! King Robert appreciated the painter’s company as much as his talent, and enjoyed the frankness of his speech and his ready jest. ” Well, Giotto,” he said, as he watched the artist at work one summer day, ” if I were you, I would leave off painting while the weather is so hot.” ” So would I, were I King Robert,” was Giotto’s prompt reply. Another time the King asked him to introduce a symbol of his kingdom in a hall containing portraits of illustrious men, upon which Giotto, without a word, painted a donkey wearing a saddle, embroidered with the royal crown and sceptre, pawing and sniffing at another saddle lying on the ground, bearing the same device. ” Such are your subjects,” explained the artist, with a sly allusion to the fickle temper of the Neapolitans. ” Every day they seek a new master.” In 1333, Giotto was still in Naples, and King Robert, it is said, promised to make him the first man in the realm, if he would remain at his court ; but early in the following year he was summoned back to Florence by the Signory, and, on the 12th of April 1334, was appointed Chief Architect of the State and Master of the Cathedral Works. Since the death of Arnolfo, in 1310, the progress of the Duomo had languished, but now the Magistrates declared their intention of erecting a bell-tower which, in height and beauty, should surpass all that the Greeks and Romans had accomplished in the days of their greatest pride. ” For this purpose,” the decree runs, ” we have chosen Giotto di Bondone, painter, our great and dear master, since neither in the city nor in the whole world is there any other to be found as well fitted for this and similar tasks.” Giotto lost no time in preparing designs for the beautiful Campanile which bears his name, and on the 8th of July the foundations of the new Tower were laid with great solemnity. Villani describes the imposing processions that were held, and the immense multitudes which attended the ceremony, and adds that the Superintendent of Works was Maestro Giotto, ” our own citizen, the most sovereign master of painting in his time, and the one who drew figures, and represented action in the most life-like manner.” Giotto received a salary of 100 golden florins from the State “for his excellence and goodness,” and was strictly enjoined not to leave Florence again without the permission of the Signory. The contemporary chronicler Pucci describes the ceremony in verse, and adds that Giotto not only designed the Campanile, but also executed the first tier of bas-reliefs, a statement confirmed by Ghiberti, who says that Giotto, being a skilled sculptor, himself designed and carved the first story of reliefs on his own Tower. There seems to be little doubt that these noble sculptures, forming as they do a grand poem of the life of humanity and the progress of civilization, were originally designed by Giotto, but probably executed by his assistant, Andrea Pisano, to whom the building of the Campanile was entrusted after the death of its founder. For, in 1335, Giotto again left Florence, by order of the Signory, at the urgent request of their ally, Azzo Visconti, Lord of Milan. Here, in the old ducal palace on the Piazza of the Duomo, Giotto painted a series of frescoes, of which no trace remains, and then hurried back to Florence to resume his work on the Campanile. Another invitation reached him from Pope Benedict XII., who had heard of his fame from Petrarch, and offered him a large salary if he would take up his residence at the papal court at Avignon. But it was too late, and, as an old chronicler writes, ” heaven willed that the royal city of Milan should gather the last fruits of this noble plant.” Soon after his return Giotto fell suddenly ill, and died on the 8th of January 1337. He was buried with great honour in the Cathedral, and, by the devout care of his daughter Beatrice, masses were said for the repose of his soul in the parish church of his old home at Vespignano.
More than a hundred years later, when Florence had reached the height of splendour and prosperity under the rule of the Medici, Lorenzo the Magnificent placed a marble bust on Giotto’s tomb, and employed Angelo Poliziano to compose a Latin epitaph which gave proud utterance to the veneration in which the great master was held alike by his contemporaries and by posterity. ” Lo, I am he by whom dead Painting was restored to life, to whose right hand all was possible, by whom Art became one with Nature. No one ever painted more or better. Do you wonder at yon fair Tower which holds the sacred bells? Know that it was I who bade her first rise towards the stars. For I am Giotto what need is there to tell of my work ? Long as verse lives, my name shall endure!”
Florence.Accademia delle belle Arti: I03. Madonna and Child with Angels.
Santa Croce, Peruzzi Chapel: Frescoes
Lives of St. John the Baptist and St.
John the Evangelist. Bardi Chapel:
FrescoesLife of St. Francis. Assisi.Upper Church: FrescoesLife of St.Francis.
Lower Church: Allegories of Obedience,
Charity, Poverty and Glory of St. Francis.
Lower Church, R. Transept: Frescoes
Lives of Christ and the Virgin. Bologna.Accademia delle belle Arti ; tor. Saints and Angels.
Padua.Arena Chapel: FrescoesLives of Christ and the Virgin, Last Judgment, Vices and Virtues.
Rome.St. Peter’s Sacristy: Stefaneschi Altar-piece.
ST. John Lateran: FrescoBoniface VIII.
Proclaiming the Jubilee, 1300.
London.Dr. J. P. Richter: Presentation in Temple.
Munich.Pinacothek 979-983. Small Panels.
Madonna, Passion and Crucifixion, etc.
Paris.Louvre: 1312. St. Francis receiving the Stigmata.