This section is from "The American Cyclopaedia", by George Ripley And Charles A. Dana. Also available from Amazon: The New American Cyclopędia. 16 volumes complete..
Giotto, called also Giotto di Bondone from his father, and by some Ambrogiotto, the regenerator of Italian art, born at Vespignano, near Florence, in 1270, died in the latter place about 1337. Tradition relates that the painter Cima-bue discovered him, a shepherd boy in the valley of Vespignano, in the act of drawing upon a smooth piece of slate the figure of a sheep grazing near him, and was so struck with the genius which the work evinced that he took him into his own house in Florence and taught him his art. Giotto speedily excelled his master, who undoubtedly at the close of his life conformed his style to that of his pupil. Art was then feebly struggling to free itself from the trammels of the Byzantine style. Cimabue and Duccio di Siena had indeed attempted to improve on existing models, but Giotto rejected them altogether. The symbolic representation of a subject, according to conventional rules, had hitherto been the highest aim of the artist. Giotto first gave life to art by making his works truly reflect nature.
From the remoteness of the epoch in which he painted, it is not surprising that many of his works have perished; but from the specimens that remain and the traditions of those that are lost it is easy to account for his influence over central Italy, from Padua to Naples. Social and political revolutions, the quality of the materials used, the effects of climate, and the vandalism of his own and of later times, have destroyed or hopelessly injured his choicest works. Some of them have been whitewashed over, among them his portraits of Dante and other eminent citizens of Florence, one of his earliest works painted on the walls of the chapel of the Po-desta, now the Bargello or prison in Florence, which Mr. Richard II. Wilde and Mr. Bezzi brought to light in 1840. These are said by Vasari to be the first successful attempts at portraiture. The record of Giotto's life is not very clear, but it is certain that before the death of Cimabue his reputation was such that Pope Boniface VIII. summoned him to Rome, where he designed his famous mosaic of the Navicella, representing the disciples at sea in a tempest and Christ raising Peter from the waves. It is now in St. Peter's, but frequent restorations have left little of the original work besides the composition.
We next hear of him at Padua, where about 1306 he executed in the chapel of the Madonna dell' Arena his 42 paintings representing the life of the Virgin. He here met his friend Dante, then exiled from Florence, to whose influence the allegorical tendency which these and many of his subsequent works exhibit is justly ascribed. An instance of this is afforded in the majestic figures of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience, representing the three vows of the order of St. Francis, over whose tomb they are painted in the famous abbey church of the Franciscan order at Assisi, the repository of so many curious specimens of old Italian art. Robert of Naples entertained him honorably at his court, where he painted the sacraments for the Incoronata; and he is even said to have followed Clement V. to Avignon, and to have painted there and elsewhere in France. The wonder and enthusiasm which his works excited are perhaps without a parallel in the history of Italian art. A contemporary writer naively illustrates the feeling of the time by expressing his surprise that in Giotto's pictures the personages who are in grief look melancholy, and those who are joyous look gay." Boccaccio says that through Giotto that art was restored to light which had been for many centuries buried.'1 Giotto excelled also in sculpture and architecture.
The famous Campanile of Florence, erected in 1334, was from his designs. His school flourished for upward of a century after his death.