On this day in history: Renaissance artist Giotto dies

Culture History of Italy

The 14th century painter Giotto di Bondone, known simply as Giotto, died on 8th January, 1337 in Florence. He was one of the greatest artists of the early Renaissance period.

Giotto was born around 1267 in Florence. His works were a crucial turning point in the history of art. He painted lifelike figures and added fascinating background details to his works.

Many say he is the first artist to make the decisive break from Byzantine-style painting, drawing figures accurately. His style was copied by other painters in the 14th century, and it is said he was paid by the commune of Florence because of his excellence.

Works of Giotto

A number of Giotto’s works are in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. They include his altarpiece, The Ognissanti Madonna, painted in 1310. However, it is the interior of the Scrovegni chapel in Padua that is considered his highlight.

Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Giotto’s frescoes decorate the Scrovegni chapel. They were painted between 1303 and 1305 and commissioned by Enrico degli Scrovegni, who was hoping to atone for the sins of usury committed by himself and his dead father.

Scrovegni chapel in Padua with Giotto frescoes.
Scrovegni chapel showing Giotto frescoes

The frescoes narrate events in the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ and cover the side walls of the chapel. On the wall opposite the altar is Giotto’s magnificent Universal Judgment, which tells the story of human salvation. It includes the figure of Enrico degli Scrovegni offering up a model of the chapel to the Virgin Mary in a desperate bid to save his father from hell.

It is the realism of the figures, with their facial expressions and colourful clothes that bring stories from the bible to life in a way never seen before.

In later life, Giotto was made ‘first court painter’ by King Robert of Anjou in Naples. He lived in Naples till 1333; however, sadly, none of his work there has survived.

Giotto's campanile in Florence which stands next to the duomo.
Giotto’s Campanile, Florence

On his return to Florence, Giotto designed the new campanile for the Cathedral in 1334. His last known work was the decoration of a chapel in the Bargello.

Death and burial

It is thought Giotto was about 70 years of age when he died on 8 January 1337. Some sources believe he was buried in the earlier church on the site, Santa Reparata.

In the 1970s, bones were discovered beneath the paving of Santa Reparata and forensic examination confirmed they were those of a painter. The bones were reburied near the grave of Brunelleschi in the church.

Leave a Reply