Giotto di Bondone was born in 1267 in the village of Vespignano, Italy near Florence. Growing up he showed great wit and was a practical joker. He later married and had six children. Throughout his life, he saved his money and was regarded as a rich man. He was on friendly terms with the Pope as well as King Robert of Naples.
There are two stories of how Giotto was discovered as an artist. Giorgio Vasari, one of Giotto's first biographers, explains how Giotto was discovered in the following story. When Giotto was 12 years old, Cimabue, a well-known Florentine painter, discovered Giotto's talents while he was sketching one of his father's sheep on a flat rock. Cimabue was so impressed with Giotto's talent that he persuaded the father to let him become his pupil. Another story was that, while Giotto was an apprentice to a wool merchant in Florence, he visited Cimabue's studio so much that he was finally allowed to study painting. .
Giotto was an extraordinary painter, sculptor, and architect. He introduced new ideals of naturalism and created a sense of pictorial space. Other famous artists in Giotto's time expressed their pleasure and excitement over Giotto's work. Dante praised him in a famous passage of "The Divine Comedy" when he said he had surpassed his master, Cimabue. Also, in about 1400, Cennino Cennini wrote, "Giotto translated the art of painting from Greek to Latin.".
Because of his great fame as a painter, Giotto was honored with the title of Magnus Magister, which means "Great Master", by the city of Florence in 1334. He was appointed city architect, superintendent of public works, and was appointed architect of the Florence Cathedral. He began work on the Florence Cathedral but died in 1337. His design was altered after his death. .
Despite his fame and the demand for his services, no surviving painting was documented as being by him. Several panel paintings have Giotto's signature, but most historians believe that the signature is a trademark showing that the paintings came from his shop rather than being his personal work.