Art Quiz: The Answer is Giotto di Bondone

I couldn’t resist writing out this artist’s full name, although he’s known simply as “Giotto.” Today was the first time I remember ever seeing his full name, so, of course, I wanted to share it.

Giotto di Bondone (c. 1267 – 1337), known simply as Giotto, was a Florentine painter and architect. He is now considered the first great master of the Italian Renaissance and the founder of modern European painting. Giotto’s natural and realistic style broke away from the symbolism of Byzantine art and was the catalyst that marked the start of the Renaissance. — Father of European Painting

It was said — by one of his friends — that “there was no uglier man in the city of Florence”.  This statement has led to a bit of controversy over Giotto’s remains. It’s an interesting story.

He died in January 1337, and sources tell us he was buried in Santa Maria del Fiore, the Cathedral of Florence. The spot — to the left of the entrance — was marked with a white marble plaque. Yet other sources say he was actually buried in the Church of Santa Reparata. The confusion stems from the fact that the remains of Santa Reparata are directly beneath the Cathedral of Florence. Throughout the construction of the Cathedral, the church of Santa Reparata remained in use.

In the 1970s, during an excavation at the site, bones were discovered beneath the paving of Santa Reparata. There was, however, no marker.

Forensic examination of the bones by anthropologist Francesco Mallegni and a team of experts in 2000 brought to light some facts that seemed to confirm that they were those of a painter, particularly the range of chemicals, including arsenic and lead, both commonly found in paint, that the bones had absorbed.

The bones were those of a very short man, of little over four feet tall, who may have suffered from a form of congenital dwarfism. This supports a tradition at the Church of Santa Croce that a dwarf who appears in one of the frescoes is a self portrait of Giotto. On the other hand, a man wearing a white hat who appears in the Last Judgement at Padua is also said to be a portrait of Giotto. The appearance of this man conflicts with the image in Santa Croce.

Forensic examination and reconstruction of the skeleton at Santa Reparata showed it belonged to a short man with a very large head, a large hooked nose, and one eye more prominent than the other. The neck bones suggested that the man spent considerable time with his head tilted backward.  In addition, the front teeth were worn in a manner that would have been consistent with frequently holding a brush between the teeth. It was estimated that the man was about 70 at the time of his death.

The conclusion of the Italian researchers was that the bones did, indeed, belong to Giotto. He was reburied with honor. Other art historians and researchers, however, have been skeptical. It is all very interesting reading. Here is a photo of the reconstructed head, plus a link to “Giotto’s Bones” at Art – Then and Now.

Giotto’s frescoes at the Scrovegni Chapel — also known as the Arena Chapel — tell the story of The Virgin Mary and Jesus from birth to death. “Smart History” will take you on several video tours of the chapel and provide more information about Giotto and his work: Giotto —  Arena (Scrovegni) Chapel

The “Final Judgment” fresco is extremely large — 1000 cm x 840 cm — and I’ll leave you to do the conversions to US measurements if you want. Trust me. It’s big. Very big. For this reason, it’s difficult to get a good look at the fresco in its entirety. The image below will give you some idea of the overall scope of this work. I highly recommend the “Smart History” videos (linked above) for more details on the figures represented in this fresco.

But quickly going back to the controversy regarding Giotto’s appearance, here is an enlarged image showing the “man in the white hat” which was said to be a self-portrait of Giotto.

As always, once I began reading about the life of this artist, I was quickly drawn in. There is so much more to know about Giotto! I can’t share it all here, but I urge you to follow a few of the links presented or do your own online search to learn more.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s “Art Quiz” feature.



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