Giotto, the enigmatic star of Italian medieval art

Giotto, the enigmatic star of Italian medieval art

With Expo coming to a close, the keyword for October is believe, to believe in the legacy as well as the future of the grand exhibition. To regard something as true we must usually be convinced. Yet, when someone or something is enigmatic we are not only looking for a reason to believe, but also searching for a meaning within the reason. Such is why Giotto is a revered national treasure, not only for his pervasive talent but also for his compelling ambiguity.

Giotto Italia is based on the life and works of the painter, running from September 2nd 2015 – January 10th 2016 at the Palazzo Reale in Milan. The exhibition, with an installation design by Mario Bellini, has a distinct reason for its showcase in the Palazzo Reale: the same structure of the palace is still present today, built by Azzone Visconti where, in the last years of his life, Giotto came to paint two cycles of mural paintings, which are unfortunately lost today. The purpose of the exhibition: To illustrate the developments of Giotto’s career with a series of great masterpieces.

Giotto, the uncontested star of Italian medieval art, was a celebrity in his time. We know a lot about Giotto, but much still remains unknown. He is still being studied in order to distinct history from legend.

The exhibition showcases 14 of Giotto’s works, mainly on panel, as well as five frescoes: a symphony of masterpieces never shown in one exhibition. Each has an established meaning, showing the path of Giotto through the Italy of his day, over some forty years of remarkable achievement.

The viewer can attempt to create an understanding that Giotto’s paintings are in line with the social context in which he worked. Notable pieces included:

  • Madonna and Child, 1285-1290 ca.
    • Tempera and gold on panel, Compagnia del SS. Sacramento
  • God The Father Enthroned, 1303-1305 ca.
    • Tempera and gold on panel, Scrovegni Chapel (Padua)
  • Baroncelli Polyptych, 1330 ca.
    • Tempera and on gold panel, Basilica of Santa Croce (Florence)

The only work of Giotto’s to remain in its original location for over seven centuries. The advanced techniques and vibrant colors draw the eye to the focal point, revealing Giotto’s interest in the world surrounding him. It is the celebration of the Virgin, crowned by her Son in the central panel, whilst angels and saints play and sing her praises. The realism of the figures was astonishing.

  • Bologna Polyptych, 1332-1334 ca.
    • Tempera and gold on panel, The Rocca di Galliera (Bologna)

The Bologna Polyptych is one of the three works signed by Giotto. Belonging to Giotto’s late phase, when the master was sought after by the greatest art patrons of his day, including the pope.

  • Stefaneschi Polyptych, second decade of 14th century
    • Tempera and gold on panel, Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
  • Badia Polyptych, 1295 – 1300 ca.
    • Tempera and gold on panel, Church of Badia (Florence)
  • Santa Reparata Polyptych, 1310 ca.
    • Tempera and gold on panel, Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence)

The ability to understand and depict space was perhaps Giotto’s highest achievement. Giotto showcases space and the solid bodies that inhabit it with comprehension and precision completely unknown before him. Giotto’s concern to represent space was a pervasive technique throughout his career.

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