Giotto di Bondone was born in 1267 in or around Florence. His early years were spent as an apprentice to Cimabue, the Florentine painter and designer of mosaics. Giotto was recognised, in his own lifetime, as being a revolutionary who evolved the earlier, flat, decorative Byzantine-style into three-dimensional realism.
Cimabue is said to have discovered the young artist drawing lifelike pictures of sheep on a rock. Cimabue was so impressed that he took the boy as an apprentice in his own workshop. Another legendary story is that when his master had left the workshop the young artist painted a fly on a picture that Cimabue was working on. The fly was said to be so lifelike that on his return Cimabue tried to brush it off. These two stories originate from the art historian Giorgio Vasari's The Lives of the Artists (Oxford World's Classics) and they have become part of the artist's legend. At the age of 20 he married Ricevuta di Lapo del Pella and had many children, some say six, but eight is a possibility.
Remembered as a great wit and personality, and for his ugly appearance, (there is some suggestion that he may also have been a dwarf) Giotto is the Superstar of the early Renaissance period known as the Proto-Renaissance. Giotto, a giant of Italian Renaissance History, counted Dante as a friend and he was a contemporary of Duccio (1255/60-1318/9) and of Simone Martini (1284-1344) both from Siena. His lifelike drawings astounded his contemporaries, and his skill was legendary.
He travelled with his master Cimabue to Rome in or around 1280, and then on to Assisi, where Cimabue had been commissioned to paint frescoes. It is thought that the fresco cycle, The life of St Francis, is Giotto's work, but this is disputed by some historians because of the differences between them and the frescoes in the Arena Chapel in Padua.