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Giotto: The Forerunner of Renaissance Painting, Part 1 of 2

2021-12-23
Lingua:English
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When we visit museums and churches or read books on Western art, we often experience a sense of awe and a deep appreciation of the glorious works by Renaissance masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, among others. We may wonder how the Byzantine tradition of decorative, two-dimensional art that dominated Western painting in the 13th century transformed into the naturalistic, humanistic art of the Renaissance in the 15th century. Many scholars and historians credit this significant development to a highly influential artist of the time, Giotto di Bondone, commonly known as Giotto.

By employing the skill of drawing he gained from the masters before him, as well as careful observations of human anatomy and emotions, Giotto steered away from the conventions of medieval art and created convincing and vivid images that became learning archetypes for many artists to come.

According to the 16th-century painter and historian, Giorgio Vasari, the Annunciation and Crucifix was Giotto’s earliest work, commissioned for the Dominican monastery church of Santa Maria Novella. The Crucifix is almost six meters high, enormous in size, and was probably painted between 1288 and 1289. In contrast to the traditional Byzantine style, Giotto’s Crucifix brings out Christ’s humanity and physical suffering. His body hangs heavily from the cross with arms agonizingly outstretched, His eyes are closed in enduring His pain, and His head bows down due to diminishing energy. This powerful image of the suffering Christ touches the hearts of viewers and inspires them to contemplate His sacrifice for humankind and love of humanity.

Giotto’s genius culminated in his famous fresco cycle in the Scrovegni Chapel, also known as the Arena Chapel. This fresco cycle, generally dated around 1305, is one of few unanimously accepted as Giotto’s authentic work. It is regarded as a significant watershed in the ever-evolving progress of Western art. The cycle’s relevance also relates to its grand scale and well-preserved state.
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