The late Middle Ages are rich with a multitude of beautiful paintings that adorn museums, galleries and especially the churches of great cities and remote towns as well. One of those painters went by the single name of Giotto. He had a second name, whether it was his family’s last name or not is unknown. It is the name Bonadone, which might simply be an appellation meaning ‘Good Gift’ or ‘Gifted Giver’. Either one would be most appropriate.
Giotto was born about the year 1266, in the area around Florence, Italy. Very little is known about his personal life, much of that remains a mystery, in spite of the fact that Giotto left a vast treasury of truly magnificent artwork, much of it adorning the walls of many churches. Painting was his gift, not only a talent but truly a gift. He painted pictures in oil and specialized in painting frescoes many almost life-size.
What we take from this vast treasury of his work is that he wanted to share with all those who would gaze upon his work a means of deepening their faith and enriching their love both of individual saints and scenes from their lives. One of his very famous oil paintings is that of the annunciation of Mary. It’s a painting that many of us have gazed upon even if we didn’t know who the artist was who painted it. Well, now we do and I am sure that many of us have seen this painting more than once.
While he was quite young he accompanied a famous painter of that time name Cimabue. They journeyed to the little town of Assisi. Cimabue was going to do some paintings of St. Francis of Assisi to be placed int he basilica of St. Francis. It happened that Giotto who was assisting Cimabue in that undertaking ended up being the most noted for the vast series of frescoes he painted on the walls of the crypt of the Basilica of St. Francis. Each one is a life size rendering of many of the scenes from the life of St. Francis.
Perhaps some of you have had the opportunity to visit Assisi and see these inspiring scenes from Francis’ life. Among them are the famous scene of St. Francis feeding the birds, another is the scene where Francis is petting a wolf. Yet another is a gathering of some of the friars who are listening to Francis preaching to them. Once you seen these marvelous works you come away feeling closer to St. Francis than you may have imagined beforehand. They are life-like. And finally, another one is the scene of the friars of the monastery gathered around the bed of St. Francis as he was near death.
Even today, centuries after the time of St. Francis and later of Giotto who shared his profound gift as an artist, thousands of people who are traveling to Italy stop and visit in Assisi and spending a lot of time at the monastery where Francis lived for a part of his life and died there. Everyone also spends time kneeling at the altar in the crypt; it is where St. Francis is buried. As for Giotto, he died around the year 1337 and is buried in the Cathedral in Florence called ‘Il Duomo’ translated ‘The Lord’s House’.
Giotto loved his life very quietly, probably absorbed in thought of what more he could share with the world, what gift he could give that would enrich the faith-life of others.