Sunday, August 21, 2016

Giotto di Bondone: Renaissance Man

Ahhh, Giotto. I've heard his name, but I've never actually seen his work before. He is known as the first great painter of the Renaissance. His figures were renown for their life.  In his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Giorgio Vasari told the story of Giotto as a mischievous apprentice painter who took advantage of his master's absence to paint a fly onto one of the master's paintings. The story claims that when his master returned and saw the fly, it was so life-like that he tried to brush it away.

For two hundred years before Giotto, images in Western art had been flat and stylized. His life-like figures were something new and exciting. Beyond just making his people look "real," he also infuses personality and emotion into them. I love the words of the art critic, John Ruskin. "He painted the Madonna and St. Joseph and the Christ, yes, by all means... but essentially Mamma, Papa and Baby."

Nativity from the Scrovegni Chapel, c. 1305
Isn't this fresco breathtaking? The way that Mary is looking at her new son... do you remember what those first glimpses of your babies felt like? He painted it so tenderly.

Although he was a painter, sculptor, and architect, Giotto is best-known for his frescoes. Perhaps his most famous work is on the Scrovegni Chapel. This small, unassuming, pink-brick building houses a glorious riot of color. 37 separate scenes chronicle the life of Mary, the life and death of Jesus, and personifications of Vices and Virtues. They culminate a wall-spanning image of the Last Judgement and are linked by a ceiling of stars. Just looking at photographs of the interior is stunning. I cannot imagine what it would be like to stand in the middle of it. Someday...

Giotto is scheduled during our second term. Normally I would take a break from the official fine arts schedule so that we could focus on Christmas in December. However, the scheduled images fit right into that theme. I found a beautiful book called The Glorious Impossible, written by Madeline L'Engle (yes, the same L'Engle who wrote the Wrinkle in Time series) and illustrated with frescoes from the Scrovegni Chapel. L'Engle's text tells the gospel story while the frescoes are reproduced on large, glossy, full-color pages. My own plan is to read through the book during our morning time and to study our prints as they match up to the story. I included a link to the book we're using, but proceed at your own risk. I have only flipped through the book—the images are gorgeous, but I haven't read the text yet, so I can't speak for the quality of the storytelling.

As always, we will follow the art recommendations from AmblesideOnline. Although our focus will be on the book, The Glorious Impossible, we will still post our regular prints in the dining room and the kids will still get their own art cards to add to their Books of Masterpieces.

Click here to download 8x10" prints
Click here to download 4x6" art cards

Normally I would include an image of the artist as part of our print set, but Giotto is a little different. With more than seven centuries between his life and ours, and no confirmed self-portraits, we don't exactly know what he looked like. We do, however, have some clues. One modern artist has tackled the mystery, and he has been kind enough to give me permission to share his work with you. Stay tuned...


  1. I have this book. I enjoy it each Christmas. This year I know my girls with join me.

  2. Once again, thank you so much for sharing these prints! We used your Cassatt prints and they turned out lovely and now i am printing these as we set to begin Term 2! I am curious to check out the L'engle book...i don't love everything she has written, but what i read of her in high school encouraged me more than almost anything else to explore classical musical! *namely The Austins series of books* I thought it was SO COOL the mother in that story cleaned her house to classical music! She has a very special place in my literary heart.

  3. Thank you so much for offering these - the 4x6 art cards are exactly what I've been looking for!

    FYI, the file for Giotto includes two images of Jesus Washing the Disciples' Feet and is missing the Resurrection of Lazurus. But I am so excited to have the right format to include these in my kids' Book of Masterpieces!