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Giotto di Bondone
(c.1267 - 1337)

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Giotto was the most important Italian painter of the 14th century, whose conception of the human figure in broad, rounded terms -- rather than in the flat, two-dimensional terms of Gothic and Byzantine styles -- indicated a concern for naturalism that was a milestone in the development of Western art. 

He was born Giotto di Bondone in Colle di Vespignano, near Florence. Details of his early life are scarce, but he probably served an apprenticeship in Florence before embarking on a career that took him to Rome, Padua (Padova), Arezzo, Rimini, Assisi, and Naples. 

Giotto's entire output consists of religious works, primarily altarpieces and church frescoes. Few remain in good condition, and most have disappeared entirely or have been almost wholly repainted. Others cannot be securely attributed to him and are more likely to be the work of followers or apprentices. 

One of his earliest and best-known attributable works is the large fresco cycle illustrating the lives of the Virgin and Christ in the Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel in Padua, which may have been completed as early as 1305 or 1306. 

  • Italy 2003. Fresco from the Scrovegni Chapel, Padova. 
  • Italy 1987. Christmas Stamp. Idem. 

Italy 2003. Giotto. Fresco from the Scrovegni Chapel, Padova.

Italy 1987. Giotto. Christmas Stamp. Fresco from the Scrovegni Chapel, Padova.

The decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua (between 1303-1305) has been universally recognized as the most significant and most paradigmatic creation of Giotto and one of the capital events in the history of the European painting. Enrico Scrovegni, the Paduan sponsor of Giotto was a very highly placed personage. Very rich and ambitious, he acquired in 1300 the area of Arena in order to build a palace with a chapel; the dates of construction, decoration and consecration are documented between 1303 and 1305. 

For this aristocratic commission, Giotto had at his disposal the walls of a small church, which was also asymmetric due to the six windows that open only on the right wall. In order to implement his vast iconographic program, the painter took as point of reference the space between two windows, calculating the insertion of two stories, one on top of the other; the frescos are smaller than those in Assisi (200 x 185 cm, compared to 270 x 230 cm). On the back wall, the florentine artist painted a single grandiose scene, the Final Judgement

San Marino 1975. Giotto. The Lamentation of Christ. San Marino 1975. Giotto. Mary and Jesus (Flight into Egypt). San Marino 1975. Giotto. Heads of Four Angels (Flight into Egypt). San Marino 1975. Giotto. Mary Magdalene (Noli me Tangere).

San Marino 1975. Giotto. Angel and the Elect (Last Judgment).

  • San Marino 1975. Fresco details from Cappella Scrovegni, Padova. 

    • The Lamentation of Christ (10 L). 

    • Mary and Jesus (Flight into Egypt) (40 L). 

    • Heads of Four Angels (Flight into Egypt) (50 L). 

    • Mary Magdalene (Noli me tangere) (100 L).

    • Angel and the Elect (Last Judgment) (500 L). 

Giotto's scenes break with rigid medieval stylization to present human figures in rounded sculptural forms that appear to have been based on living models rather than on idealized archetypes. He rejected the bright, jewel-like colors and long, elegant lines of the Byzantine style in favor of a quieter, more realistic presentation. His emphasis is on the human and the real rather than on the divine and the ideal -- a revolutionary development in an age dominated by religion. His settings (here as in all of his works) consist of shallow, boxlike architectural backdrops. These are somewhat more open than the flat planes of Byzantine and Gothic paintings but fall short of the full perspective of the Renaissance. 

USA 1995. Giotto. Christmas Stamp. "Madonna and the Child".

The Ognissanti Madonna (c. 1310, Uffizi, Florence) is roughly contemporary with the Arena frescoes and is Giotto's only attributable panel painting. It shows the influence of the earlier Florentine painter Cimabue in composition and style, but is unique in its humanization of the Madonna's face. 

The stamp shown here is not the artwork mentioned above, but a similar painting by Giotto, that belongs to the National Gallery of Arts, Washington DC, USA. It is shown here to give an idea of the humanization, not idealization, of the Virgin. 

Although the Child is a bit disproportioned in relation to the Madonna, it is still a wonderful and "soft" painting, of a nearly "iconic" type, and typical for Giotto's work. 

  • USA 1995. Christmas stamp. Giotto: "Madonna and the Child", painted c. 1320. Oil on wood. The size is 85,5*62 cm. 
Two fresco cycles in the Church of Santa Croce, Florence -- depicting the life of Saint Francis and the lives of Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist -- are thought to be later works. While they are extensively restored, they represent the most advanced stage of Giotto's style, showing human figures grouped in free, active poses. 

The question of Giotto's authorship of the frescoes in the Upper Church at Assisi is an ongoing discussion among art historians. 

The Vatican 1993. Giotto. Se-tenant set commemmorating Franz of Assisi.

Italy 1987. Giotto. Christmas Stamp. Fresco from the Basilica San Francesco.

Giotto was ahead of his time. Most of his followers painted in a less significant, more overtly decorative style. It remained for Masaccio, a century later, to expand upon Giotto's monumental style. Giotto's example was crucial to the development of later Florentine painting, and his preoccupation with the realities of the human figure and the visible world became the dominant concerns of the Florentine Renaissance. He died in Florence, in 1337. 

There are dozens of Giotto-paintings on the philatelic market, mostly from the Arab states and countries on the African continent. 

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