Giottino (ca. 1324-ca. 1365)
Giottino, also known as Giotto di Stefano, was born around 1324 and lived in Florence until his death in the 1360’s, although the exact year of his death is unknown. His father, Maestro Stefano Florentino, was a famous Florentine painter who gained painterly prominence for his naturalistic style, earning him the nickname the “Scimmia della Natura” (“Ape of Nature”). Giottino likely received painting instruction from his father, but looked strongly towards the great Giotto in the formation and development of his style. Much of Giottino’s written biographical history came from the writings of Vasari in his second writings titled Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.
Giottino’s best known works include the 1356 Madonna della Sagra, a fresco painted in a small niche carved into the side of a building in a poor district in Florence. The working-class audience in that neighborhood had complete access to this fresco and, unlike his other paintings, could see this image daily. Giottino’s Pietà, painted for the Church of San Remigo between 1360 and 1365, holds the crown as his best known individual work. The Pietà depicts a scene with twelve people surrounding the dead body of Christ, strewn across a small bedding with his feet on the left side of the image and his head on the right. Seven of the figures kneel around his dead body and offer prayers, while the other five remain standing and look towards Christ. A cross, centered and behind the figures, moves upward through the scene towards the top of the image and emanates to the left and right, adding balance and stillness to the image. Some of the figures in the image have been identified as the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalen, and other Saints, while also depicting two figures in modern attire who were likely the donors for the image. Giottino painted the Pietà in a highly naturalistic style, particularly for the 14th century. He appears to possess a rich understanding of the human body and how to portray it, and utilizes a naturalistic perspective and spacing between his figures. The gold background of Pietà underscores the scene’s holiness, while also serving to show the sanctity of the Church of San Remigo. The Pietà serves as an excellent example of Giottino’s great mastery of naturalism and perspective during his generation, strongly attributed to the influence of his father and Giotto.
Although his work is often overlooked due to the strong artistic innovations and creations during the Renaissance, Giottino was recognized in his own time as a master of his craft. Giottino was not able to live a full life, as he died in his late thirties or early forties from consumption, yet still made an impressive mark on Trecento Florentine art.
Bent, George R. Public Painting and Visual Culture in Early Republican Florence. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Siren, Osvald. Giottino. Leipzig: Klinkhardt and Biermann, 1908.
Vasari, Giorgio, De Vere Gaston Du C., and Philip Joshua Jacks. The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. New York: Modern Library, 2006.