IT was more than six hundred years ago that a little
peasant baby was born in the small village of
Vespignano, not far from the beautiful city of Florence,
in Italy. The baby's father, an honest, hard-working
countryman, was called Bondone, and the name
he gave to his little son was Giotto.
Life was rough and hard in that country home,
but the peasant baby grew into a strong, hardy boy,
learning early what cold and hunger meant. The
hills which surrounded the village were grey and
bare, save where the silver of the olive-trees shone
in the sunlight, or the tender green of the shooting
corn made the valley beautiful in early spring. In
summer there was little shade from the blazing sun
as it rode high in the blue sky, and the grass which
grew among the grey rocks was often burnt and
brown. But, nevertheless, it was here that the
sheep of the village would be turned out to find
what food they could, tended and watched by one
of the village boys.
So it happened that when Giotto was ten years
old his father sent him to take care of the sheep
upon the hillside. Country boys had then no
schools to go to or lessons to learn, and Giotto spent
long happy days, in sunshine and rain, as he followed
 the sheep from place to place, wherever they could
find grass enough to feed on. But Giotto did something
else besides watching his sheep. Indeed, he
sometimes forgot all about them, and many a search
he had to gather them all together again. For
there was one thing he loved doing better than
all beside, and that was to try to draw pictures of
all the things he saw around him.
It was no easy matter for the little shepherd lad.
He had no pencils or paper, and he had never, perhaps,
seen a picture in all his life. But all this
mattered little to him. Out there, under the blue
sky, his eyes made pictures for him out of the fleecy
white clouds as they slowly changed from one form
to another. He learned to know exactly the shape
of every flower and how it grew; he noticed how
the olive-trees laid their silver leaves against the
blue background of the sky that peeped in between,
and how his sheep looked as they stooped to eat, or
lay down in the shadow of a rock.
Nothing escaped his keen, watchful eyes, and then
with eager hands he would sharpen a piece of stone,
choose out the smoothest rock, and try to draw on
its flat surface all those wonderful shapes which had
filled his eyes with their beauty. Olive-trees, flowers,
birds and beasts were there, but especially his sheep,
for they were his friends and companions who were
always near him, and he could draw them in a
different way each time they moved.
Now it fell out that one day a great master painter
from Florence came riding through the valley and
over the hills where Giotto was feeding his sheep.
 The name of the great master was Cimabue, and he
was the most wonderful artist in the world, so men
said. He had painted a picture which had made all
Florence rejoice. The Florentines had never seen
anything like it before, and yet it was but a strange-
looking portrait of the Madonna and Child, scarcely
like a real woman or a real baby at all. Still, it
seemed to them a perfect wonder, and Cimabue was
honoured as one of the city's greatest men.
The road was lonely as it wound along. There
was nothing to be seen but waves of grey hills on
every side, so the stranger rode on, scarcely lifting
his eyes as he went. Then suddenly he came upon
a flock of sheep nibbling the scanty sunburnt grass,
and a little brown-faced shepherd-boy gave him a
cheerful 'Good-day, master.'
There was something so bright and merry in the
boy's smile that the great man stopped and began to
talk to him. Then his eye fell upon the smooth flat
rock over which the boy had been bending, and he
started with surprise.
'Who did that?' he asked quickly, and he pointed
to the outline of a sheep scratched upon the stone.
'It is the picture of one of my sheep there,'
answered the boy, hanging his head with a shame-
faced look. 'I drew it with this,' and he held out
towards the stranger the sharp stone he had been
'Who taught you to do this?' asked the master
as he looked more carefully at the lines drawn on
The boy opened his eyes wide with astonishment
 'Nobody taught me, master,' he said. 'I only try
to draw the things that my eyes see.'
'How would you like to come with me to Florence
and learn to be a painter?' asked Cimabue, for he
saw that the boy had a wonderful power in his little
Giotto's cheeks flushed, and his eyes shone with
'Indeed, master, I would come most willingly,'
he cried, 'if only my father will allow it.'
So back they went together to the village, but not
before Giotto had carefully put his sheep into the
fold, for he was never one to leave his work half
Bondone was amazed to see his boy in company
with such a grand stranger, but he was still more
surprised when he heard of the stranger's offer. It
seemed a golden chance, and he gladly gave his
Why, of course, the boy should go to Florence if
the gracious master would take him and teach him
to become a painter. The home would be lonely
without the boy who was so full of fun and as bright
as a sunbeam. But such chances were not to be met
with every day, and he was more than willing to let
So the master set out, and the boy Giotto went
with him to Florence to begin his training.
The studio where Cimabue worked was not at
all like those artists' rooms which we now call
studios. It was much more like a workshop, and
the boys who went there to learn how to draw and
 paint were taught first how to grind and prepare
the colours and then to mix them. They were not
allowed to touch a brush or pencil for a long time,
but only to watch their master at work, and learn
all that they could from what they saw him do.
So there the boy Giotto worked and watched, but
when his turn came to use the brush, to the amazement
of all, his pictures were quite unlike anything
which had ever been painted before in the workshop.
Instead of copying the stiff, unreal figures,
he drew real people, real animals, and all the
things which he had learned to know so well on
the grey hillside, when he watched his father's
sheep. Other artists had painted the Madonna and
Infant Christ, but Giotto painted a mother and a
And before long this worked such a wonderful
change that it seemed indeed as if the art of making
pictures had been born again. To us his work still
looks stiff and strange, but in it was the beginning
of all the beautiful pictures that belong to us now.
Giotto did not only paint pictures, he worked in
marble as well. To-day, if you walk through
Florence, the City of Flowers, you will still see its
fairest flower of all, the tall white campanile or bell-
tower, 'Giotto's tower' as it is called. There it
stands in all its grace and loveliness like a tall white
lily against the blue sky, pointing ever upward, in
the grand old faith of the shepherd-boy. Day after
day it calls to prayer and to good works, as it has
done all these hundreds of years since Giotto
designed and helped to build it.
 Some people call his pictures stiff and ugly, for
not every one has wise eyes to see their beauty, but
the loveliness of this tower can easily be seen by all.
'There the white doves circle round and round, and
rest in the sheltering niches of the delicately carved
arches; there at the call of its bell the black-robed
Brothers of Pity hurry past to their works of mercy.
There too the little children play, and sometimes
stop to stare at the marble pictures, set in the first
story of the tower, low enough to be seen from
the street. Their special favourite is perhaps the
picture of the shepherd sitting under his tent, with
the sheep in front, and with the funniest little dog
keeping watch at the side.
Giotto always had a great love for animals, and
whenever it was possible he would squeeze one into
a corner of his pictures. He was sixty years old
when he designed this wonderful tower and cut
some of the marble pictures with his own hand,
but you can see that the memory of those old days
when he ran barefoot about the hills and tended his
sheep was with him still. Just such another little
puppy must have often played with him in those
long-ago days before he became a great painter and
was still only a merry, brown-faced boy, making
pictures with a sharp stone upon the smooth rocks.
RELIEF IN MARBLE BY GIOTTO
Up and down the narrow streets of Florence now,
the great painter would walk and watch the faces
of the people as they passed. And his eyes would
still make pictures of them and their busy life, just
as they used to do with the olive-trees, the sheep,
and the clouds.
 In those days nobody cared to have pictures in
their houses, and only the walls of the churches
were painted. So the pictures, or frescoes, as they
were called, were of course all about sacred subjects,
either stories out of the Bible or of the lives of the
saints. And as there were few books, and the poor
people did not know how to read, these frescoed
walls were the only story-books they had.
What a joy those pictures of Giotto's must have
been, then, to those poor folk! They looked at the
little Baby Jesus sitting on His mother's knee,
wrapped in swaddling bands, just like one of their
own little ones, and it made Him seem a very real
baby. The wise men who talked together and
pointed to the shining star overhead looked just
like any of the great nobles of Florence. And
there at the back were the two horses looking on
with wise interested eyes, just as any of their own
horses might have done.
THE VISIT OF THE MAGI. BY GIOTTO
It seemed to make the story of Christmas a thing
which had really happened, instead of a far-away
tale which had little meaning for them. Heaven
and the Madonna were not so far off after all. And
it comforted them to think that the Madonna had
been a real woman like themselves, and that the
Jesu Bambino would stoop to bless them still, just
as He leaned forward to bless the wise men in the
How real too would seem the old story of the
meeting of Anna and Joachim at the Golden Gate,
when they could gaze upon the two homely figures
under the narrow gateway. No visionary saints
 these, but just a simple husband and wife, meeting
each other with joy after a sad separation, and yet
with the touch of heavenly meaning shown by the
angel who hovers above and places a hand upon
THE MEETING OF ANNA AND JOACHIM. BY GIOTTO
It was not only in Florence that Giotto did his
work. His fame spread far and wide, and he went
from town to town eagerly welcomed by all. We
can trace his footsteps as he went, by those
wonderful old pictures which he spread with loving care
over the bare walls of the churches, lifting, as it
were, the curtain that hides Heaven from our view
and bringing some of its joys to earth.
Then, at Assisi, he covered the walls and ceiling
of the church with the wonderful frescoes of the
life of St. Francis; and the little round commonplace
Arena Chapel of Padua is made exquisite
inside by his pictures of the life of our Lord.
In the days when Giotto lived the towns of Italy
were continually quarrelling with one another, and
there was always fighting going on somewhere.
The cities were built with a wall all round them,
and the gates were shut each night to keep out
their enemies. But often the fighting was between
different families inside the city, and the grim old
palaces in the narrow streets were built tall and
strong that they might be the more easily defended.
In the midst of all this war and quarrelling Giotto
lived his quiet, peaceful life, the friend of every one
and the enemy of none. Rival towns sent for him
to paint their churches with his heavenly pictures,
and the people who hated Florence forgot that he
 was a Florentine. He was just Giotto, and he
belonged to them all. His brush was the white flag of
truce which made men forget their strife and angry
passions, and turned their thoughts to holier things.
Even the great poet Dante did not scorn to be a
friend of the peasant painter, and we still have the
portrait which Giotto painted of him in an old fresco
at Florence. Later on, when the great poet was a
poor unhappy exile, Giotto met him again at Padua
and helped to cheer some of those sad grey days,
made so bitter by strife and injustice.
Now when Giotto was beginning to grow famous,
it happened that the Pope was anxious to have the
walls of the great Cathedral of St. Peter at Rome
decorated. So he sent messengers all over Italy to
find out who were the best painters, that he might
invite them to come and do the work.
The messengers went from town to town and
asked every artist for a specimen of his painting.
This was gladly given, for it was counted a great
honour to help to make St. Peter's beautiful.
By and by the messengers came to Giotto and
told him their errand. The Pope, they said, wished
to see one of his drawings to judge if he was fit for
the great work. Giotto, who was always most
courteous, 'took a sheet of paper and a pencil
dipped in a red colour, then, resting his elbow on
his side, with one turn of the hand, he drew a circle
so perfect and exact that it was a marvel to behold.'
'Here is your drawing,' he said to the messenger,
with a smile, handing him the drawing.
'Am I to have nothing more than this?' asked
 the man, staring at the red circle in astonishment
'That is enough and to spare,' answered Giotto.
'Send it with the rest.'
The messengers thought this must all be a joke.
'How foolish we shall look if we take only a
round O to show his Holiness,' they said.
But they could get nothing else from Giotto, so
they were obliged to be content and to send it with
the other drawings, taking care to explain just how
it was done.
The Pope and his advisers looked carefully over
all the drawings, and, when they came to that round
O, they knew that only a master-hand could have
made such a perfect circle without the help of a
compass. Without a moment's hesitation they
decided that Giotto was the man they wanted, and
they at once invited him to come to Rome to
decorate the cathedral walls. So when the story
was known the people became prouder than ever of
their great painter, and the round O of Giotto has
become a proverb to this day in Tuscany.
'Round as the O of Giotto, d' ye see;
Which means as well done as a thing can be.'
Later on, when Giotto was at Naples, he was
painting in the palace chapel one very hot day, when the
king came in to watch him at his work. It really
was almost too hot to move, and yet Giotto painted
'Giotto,' said the king, 'if I were in thy place I
would give up painting for a while and take my
rest, now that it is so hot.'
 'And, indeed, so I would most certainly do,'
answered Giotto, 'if I were in your place, your
It was these quick answers and his merry smile
that charmed every one, and made the painter a
favourite with rich and poor alike.
There are a great many stories told of him, and they
all show what a sunny-tempered, kindly man he was.
It is said that one day he was standing in one of
the narrow streets of Florence talking very earnestly
to a friend, when a pig came running down the road
in a great hurry. It did not stop to look where it
was going, but ran right between the painter's legs
and knocked him flat on his back, putting an end to
his learned talk.
Giotto scrambled to his feet with a rueful smile,
and shook his finger at the pig which was fast
disappearing in the distance.
'Ah, well!' he said, 'I suppose thou hadst as
much right to the road as I had. Besides, how
many gold pieces I have earned by the help of thy
bristles, and never have I given any of thy family
even a drop of soup in payment.'
Another time he went riding with a very learned
lawyer into the country to look after his property.
For when Bondone died, he left all his fields and his
farm to his painter son. Very soon a storm came on,
and the rain poured down as if it never meant to stop.
'Let us seek shelter in this farmhouse and borrow
a cloak,' suggested Giotto.
So they went in and borrowed two old cloaks
from the farmer, and wrapped themselves up from
 head to foot. Then they mounted their horses and
rode back together to Florence.
Presently the lawyer turned to look at Giotto, and
immediately burst into a loud laugh. The rain was
running from the painter's cap, he was splashed with
mud, and the old cloak made him look like a very
'Dost think if any one met thee now, they would
believe that thou art the best painter in the
world?' laughed the lawyer.
Giotto's eyes twinkled as he looked at the funny
figure riding beside him, for the lawyer was very
small, and had a crooked back, and rolled up in the
old cloak he looked like a bundle of rags.
'Yes!' he answered quickly, 'any one would
certainly believe I was a great painter, if he could
but first persuade himself that thou dost know
thy A B C.'
In all these stories we catch glimpses of the good-
natured kindly painter, with his love of jokes, and
his own ready answers, and all the time we must
remember that he was filling the world with beauty,
which it still treasures to-day, helping to sow the
seeds of that great tree of Art which was to blossom
so gloriously in later years.
And when he had finished his earthly work it
was in his own cathedral, 'St. Mary of the Flowers,'
that they laid him to rest, while the people mourned
him as a good friend as well as a great painter.
There he lies in the shadow of his lily tower, whose
slender grace and delicate-tinted marbles keep his
memory ever fresh in his beautiful city of Florence.