Giotto (1267?-1337), 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, 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. 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.

The Ognissanti Madonna (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. 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. 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.

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