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Legends about Giotto

We don’t really know a lot about Giotto, but we do know that he lived to be about 70 years old and was a very successful painter who was much in demand all over the Italian peninsula. Giotto lived and worked in Florence and also traveled to Padua, Verona, Milan, Assisi, Rome, and Naples to paint frescoes, and most of his work has not survived because frescoes are fragile and so often short-lived. I have a book, “The Complete Works of Giotto”, and it’s not very long at all...pretty incredible to think about all that lost art.

While not a lot is known about him, there are some cool legends. The best is that Giotto was a poor shepherd boy, and Cimabue (the greatest Tuscan painter of that time) discovered the boy in a field drawing his sheep on a rock. Cimabue recognized his talent, and took him as an apprentice. Another story is that the boy apprentice painted a housefly on one of Cimabue's paintings and the fly was so life-like, Cimabue tried to shoo it away.

There's a legend that claims that Giotto was a horribly ugly and disfigured dwarf. This one is contradicted by another story that says that Giotto included a self-portrait in his frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel. See the fellow in the yellow cap, in the bottom row, second from the right. That's supposed to be him. This crowd scene is part of the “Last Judgment," and Giotto is part of the crowd on the “happy” side of the judgment. He looks like an artist to me.


There's a funny story that he had eight children, all of whom were very homely, and that Dante rather rudely asked Giotto how a man who could create such beautiful paintings could create such ugly children, and Giotto quipped, “I made the children in the dark.” :)

Wikipedia has some info about a tomb that was opened in Florence in the 1970's that might have contained Giotto's body (and it WAS the body of a dwarf) but there doesn't seem to be any consensus about whether or not it was him. In fact, no one seems quite certain which church in Florence he's buried in (but everyone agrees that the city-state buried him with great honor at the time of his death).

I like the guy in the yellow cap. :)

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Comments (9)

Annie, I'll be out of town until Monday - I am behind on your blog right now but I will catch up after I get back! Have a great weekend!


Great post ,Annie. It is funny because in the book The Monster Of Florence, by Douglas Preston, he at some point refers to the fields where Giotto as a shepered boy drew on the sand.

Chiocciola, you have a great weekend too!

Candi, that's interesting! I haven't read that book yet.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, I really enjoyed this post and learning more about Giotto. I really didn't know much about him until I started reading your blog entries on him and seeing his work. I love it! I will have to see if I can find that book because I would love to learn more about him. I thought his come back to Dante, was brilliant! He definitely had a good sense of humor.

Thank you for this wonderful read Annie. Have a great weekend!


Fascinating, Annie -- I wasn't aware that there were so many legends around Giotto....I guess it makes sense, given his fame!

I always like the idea he was a shepherd boy discovered by Cimabue. And if he's the fellow in the yellow hat, he doesn't look too bad!

Interesting legends. I wonder who the person was in that tomb?

I didn't know about these legends, very cool! The joke with Dante is very funny!

Murray McLeod:

Ms., I am trying to track down a story about Giotto tying a man to a crucifix so as to draw realistically and, when that didn't satisfy him, Giotto stabbed the man to death. Do you have any information? Thank you.

Hi Murray, I've never heard that story. I have a hard time believing it's true!

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