Monks, Artists and Madmen
The city of Padua is the expression of a culture of well-being with a history and tradition that are unique in the world. This is where the Renaissance was born, well before it reached Florence, and it all started in a chapel which was being decorated by the humble genius: Giotto di Bandone.
Georgio Vasari tells a story of how Cimabue, a well-known Florentine painter, saw the 12-year-old Giotto sketching sheep on a flat rock and was so impressed with his talent that he took him to study painting at his workshop. The boy quickly surpassed his master and went on to create first a series of frescoes on the life of St. Francis of Assisi, then the masterpiece at Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.
In the 13th century, people's minds and lives were just being freed from the shackles of medieval restraint. Giotto may have lacked the technical knowledge of anatomy and perspective that later painters learned, but he had a grasp of human emotion and understood what was significant in life. In focusing on these, he created compelling pictures of people under stress, people caught up in crisis, or soul-searching. He portrayed a moral weight rather than divine splendor, and no artist has surpassed his ability to go straight to the heart of a story, expressing its essence with gestures and expressions of unerring conviction.
Vasari tells another story of how Pope Boniface VIII sent a messenger to Giotto with a request for samples of his work. Giotto dipped his brush in red and with one continuous stroke painted a perfect circle. He then assured the messenger that the worth of this sample would be recognized. When the pope saw it, he "instantly perceived that Giotto surpassed all other painters of his time."
Giotto is regarded as the founder of the central tradition in Western painting because his work broke free from the stylizations of Byzantine art, introduced new ideals of naturalism and created a sense of pictorial space. He was recognized by his contemporaries; Dante praised him in a famous passage of The Divine Comedy, and in 1400 Cennini wrote that "Giotto translated the art of painting from Greek to Latin." Modern artists still seek inspiration from Giotto, as they find in him a passionate pursuit of truth that remains valid for every age.