Giotto di Bondone
"It is said that when Giotto was only a boy with Cimabue, he once painted a fly on the nose of a face that Cimabue had drawn, so naturally that the master returning to his work tried more than once to drive it away with his hand, thinking it was real."
(Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists. 1550.)
Time often turns history into legend, and so much about Giotto di Bondone (known as Giotto) can be called legendary. His birth and death, and many other important facts in between are uncertain and contradictory, except for the fact that he changed history - art history - with his contribution in the late 1200s to what would one day be the Italian Renaissance. Before Giotti came along, artists and their works were stagnant for almost two hundred years, mired in the Byzantine style of painting.
The Italian Renaissance began with Giotto di Bondone and the single most important series of paintings in the history of western art is his work in the Scrovegni Chapel around the year 1305. The Chapel is in Padua and is now better known as the Arena Chapel. His panels that depict the life of the Virgin Mary and the life of Christ were painted in a much more realistic manner than anyone had seen since the Classical era of the ancients, with each panel telling a different biblical story.
There are few records that can give insight to Giotto’s life, such as a written document by Giovanni Villani, in which Vallani wrote about Giotto, he was “the most sovereign master of painting in his time, who drew all his figures and their postures according to nature. And he was given a salary by the Comune of Florence in virtue of his talent and excellence.” In 1334, according to factual documents, Giotto was chosen by the Comune again, this time to plan out the new bell tower on the Cathedral in Florence. Another public record which survived time shows that his father was a blacksmith named Boldone in Florence, which gives credence to the possibility of Giotto being born in Florence.
Many of the published details of Giotto’s life comes from Giorgio Vasari, who was a late 16th century biographer; his information also cannot be counted as completely valid, due to the span of almost 300 years between himself and Giotto. Even Giotto’s true name is subject to debate, as it may actually have been Ambrogio or Angelo, as both of these have nicknames that end in -giotto and -gelotto. There is a house, since 1850, that stands 35 kilometers from Florence which claims to be the house that Giotto was born in, and it bears a placard saying just that. But was it, really? In addition, a poem was written about Giotto’s death, to honor him, and it was written by Anthony Pucci, the Florentine town crier of that time. The poem states that Giotto was seventy at the time that he died, but it is possible that the number “seventy” was just an easier number to rhyme with than Giotto’s actual age. Without further proof to claim or disclaim that information, Giotto’s birth and death year remain based on Pucci’s poem.
Other stories have less basis and more imagination, such as Giotto being chosen by Cimabue as an apprentice when Cimabue saw young Giotto making a life-like and incredibly realistic drawing of a flock of sheep. Cimabue, who was Florentine, and being one of the greatest artists of his time, was easily drawn on as a connection to Giotto, but then so were the other greats of that era and area: Pietro Cavallini, Arnolfo di Cambio and Sienese artist Duccio di Buoninsegna. Giotto’s fresco training has the influences of late13th century Roman art, so his teacher would have had to have been to Rome at some time in order to pass on their knowledge of Roman art. Cimabue and the other artists have been known to have visited Rome, so it could have been any of them.
Who he was, and the history of his life, is important, but more importantly now is the legacy of what Giotto accomplished during his lifetime. Depicting emotionally real people, his bright colors swept the old world away. Even during his own lifetime, his work was considered the most innovative thing to ever happen in the world of art. Giotto threw out all of the old methods, bringing humanity back into painting. The people loved him and from then on, the history of who painted what, became the history of the great artists.
 Bartlett, Kenneth R. (1992). The Civilization of the Italian Renaissance. Toronto: D.C. Heath and Company. ISBN 0-669-20900-7 (Paperback). Page 37.