Giotto di Bondone was born in Colle, a village near Florence, in 1266 (1276, given by Vasari, is probably a mistake). While still a boy he was apprenticed to Cimabue, and probably assisted him in his work at Assisi. The Allegories of the Vows of the Franciscan Order in the Lower Church at Assisi are probably his first independent work in fresco. The long series of scenes from the life of St. Francis in the Upper Church show the hand of assistants, and are probably of a later period. In 1298 Giotto visited Rome, executing in mosaic a Navicella ” Peter walking on the sea for the portico of the ancient St. Peter’s. Three panels in tempera painted at this time for his patron, Cardinal Stefaneschi, now in the Sacristy of St. Peter’s, are beautiful examples of his early style. On a pillar of St. John Lateran is still to be seen his fresco of Pope Boniface VIII announcing the Jubilee year of 1300. In 1303 Giotto was called to Padua to decorate the Arena Chapel, his most complete work. It was here, in 1306, that he entertained Dante, an exile from Florence. Records exist of decorations carried out in many cities of Italy, but the work has unfortunately perished, with the exception of the ceiling of a small chapel in S. Giovanni Evangelista, Ravenna. About 1320 Giotto was again in Florence decorating the chapels of S. Croce. A large altarpiece of the Madonna enthroned is now in the Academy in Florence. In 1330 he went to Naples to paint for King Robert, but was recalled in 1334 to be chief architect of the Cathedral. He designed the bell-tower that bears his name, but which he was not to see completed.
Cartwright, 1146. C. and C. (Douglas), II, ch. 25; (Hutton)
I, ch. 811. Kugler, I, 8598. Powers, M. M. A., ch. 4. Symonds, Fine Arts, 189197. Vasari, I, 4980. TOPICS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH.
St. Francis of Assisi. Sabatier, Life of St. Francis; Gordon, Assisi, ch. 2, 3, 8.
Dante as man and poet. Oliphant, Makers of Florence,
197; Symonds, Introduction to the Study of Dante. Fresco Painting. Sturgis, The Artist’s Way of Working,
ch. 5, 20; Vasari on Technique, 221.
The Franciscan Order. Herkless.
NOTES ON THE PICTURES.
No. 52. Campanile del Duomo.
Known as Giotto’s Tower. Begun in 1334 while Giotto was chief architect of the Cathedral, completed in 1387, probably not according to his designs, by which it was to be crowned with a spire or pyramid. It is 276 feet high, decorated with colored marbles. Around the basement story are two courses of bas-reliefs (cf. 397, 398). Above are niches, with statues, several by Donatello (438).
The strong supporting pilasters of the corners and the increasing size and lightness of the beautiful Gothic windows make this one of the most perfect bell-towers in Italy.
No. 53. Interior.
No. 55. Obedience.
No. 56. Poverty.
Lower Church, S. Francesco, Assisi.
These two frescos and one of Chastity, allegories of the three vows of the Franciscan Order, together with the Glorification of St. Francis, occupy the four compartments of the vaulted ceiling over the altar of the lower church. The colors are warm and rich in the darkness of the church.
Obedience is seen seated beneath a canopy, placing a yoke upon the neck of a friar, her finger upon her lips imposing silence. On either side are Prudence, double-faced with mirror and compass, and Humility. The square and hexagonal halos indicate earthly rather than heavenly beings. At the right in front, the centaur, half man and half beast, has his evil uncloaked as he endeavors to enter the holy place. Above, heavenly hands guide the monk, as with a bridle.
Poverty, represented in tattered garments, is espoused to St. Francis by Christ himself, though boys throw stones at the bride. At one side a young man gives his cloak to a beggar, at the other the miser turns away, clutching his money bags.
Study the imagery of these allegories, noting the skill with which the difficult task is accomplished. Study the balanced composition, its fitness for the space, the beauty and dignity of the angels. Compare with the angels by Cimabue.
No. 54. Interior.
No. 57-71. Scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin.
Chapel of the Arena, Padua.
The little chapel of the Madonna dell’ Arena is situated within an oval enclosure marked by the walls of a Roman amphitheatre. It was built in 1303 by Enrico Scrovegno.
The chapel is a simple barrel-vaulted interior. The entire decoration, with the exception of the choir, was completed by Giotto himself, and consists of thirty-eight scenes from the story of the Virgin and the life of Christ, arranged in three courses around the walls. Below, in panels painted in grisaille, are allegorical figures of the seven virtues and their opposite vices.
The Last Judgment fills the entrance wall. Upon the tribune arch is Christ in glory surrounded by angels. The ceiling is blue, set with golden stars, and medallions of Christ, the Virgin, saints, and prophets.
The colors are light and cheerful, with much of blue and light carmine, and not a few white robes. The general view of the chapel as one enters or leaves is of a most beautiful interior.
Study each one of the thirteen pictures chosen from the series with the following considerations. What is the story? What means has Giotto chosen to make it natural and vivid? Notice in this connection action, attitude, gesture, the suggestion of a mountainous and wooded region in the Flight into Egypt, the architecture in other scenes. Consider the skilful use and arrangement of figures, suggesting a crowd without crowding.
Study the figures themselves, noticing what Mr. Berenson calls their ” tactile value ” that is, the sense of corporeal reality which might be grasped, instead of the flat and papery quality of much later, as well as of all earlier, painting. Notice especially the concentration of interest upon the real point of each scene; although these pictures follow one upon the other, with only an ornamental border between, the eye does not wander out of the scene. Study to see why this is. In spite of much awkwardness of drawing, ignorance of the laws of perspective, and small ability in facial expression, one is never left in doubt as to the sentiment intended. The more intently one studies, the more completely does one enter into the spirit of the stories as Giotto understood them.
No. 72. St. Francis before the Sultan.
No. 73. Death of St. Francis.
No. 74. St. Louis of France. St. Clare. Bardi Chapel, S. Croce, Florence.
No. 75. Ascension of St. John Evangelist.
No. 76. Feast of Herod.
Peruzzi Chapel, S. Croce, Florence.
Four chapels in the Franciscan church of S. Croce were decorated by Giotto about 1320. All were white-washed over in 1714, but in 1853 the frescos of the Bardi and Peruzzi Chapels were discovered and the whitewash removed, not without much loss and change from re-painting.
In the Bardi Chapel Giotto tells again the story of St. Francis. Notice the admirable balance of both pictures, the improvement in perspective, the effect of the architectural background. Notice also its studied shallowness, with emphasis on horizontal and upright lines, as in conscious recognition of the wall on which the scene is painted. In 72 the infidel priests rend their garments and wish to hasten away from Francis’ challenge to the trial by fire. Notice the expressive gestures.
In 73 all interest and sentiment are centered upon the body of the saint; only the brother at his head sees that angels are carrying him to heaven. Notice the effect of the long straight lines in the garments of the attend-ants; the greater intimacy of the kneeling figures.
In 75 the followers who look into the empty tomb and those who shade their eyes from the dazzling light help to interpret to us the story.
76 is the only example in Giotto’s work of the repetition of the same figure in a single picture. Note the reality of the two serving women; the figure of the musician.
St. Clare was the spiritual sister of St. Francis, and founded an order for women in Assisi. Louis IX of France was canonized in 1297. He appears in the Little Flowers of St. Francis, ch. 34, as a pilgrim to one of the brothers of the order.
No. 77. Heads of Two Apostles. National Gallery, London.
Fragment from scenes in the life of John the Baptist in the church of the Carmine, Florence, destroyed by fire in 1771. Probably by a follower of Giotto, but illustrating admirably the spirit of his work.