would use water-based paint which binds with minerals in the plaster to create a very durable surface. True
fresco painting is done in broad, fast strokes, and the colors are clear and bright. Fresco painting was cheap
and fast—but it also required a sure-handed artist who was confident enough to work boldly before the
plaster dried, knowing that the only way to correct mistakes was to chip out the dried plaster and begin
again. Overpainting once the plaster dried produced poor results, however it was sometimes necessary.
Some areas, like the cloak of the Virgin Mary, had to be painted in ultramarine as a sign of respect.
Ultramarine is a pigment made from ground, semiprecious stones, but it is incompatible with wet plaster.
Thus, it has to be applied a secco on the dry plaster surface, and as a result, flakes off in time.
The most innovative Florentine artist was Giotto di Bondone. Giotto’s style is also indebted to Byzantine
art, but Giotto looked more carefully at natural appearances and tried to capture what he saw. Compared
to other artists of his time, Giotto was a master-storyteller—he set his narrative scenes on a shallow stage,
emphasized gestures and facial expressions, and discovered ways to make the viewers feel as if they were
part of his scenes.
Giotto’s great masterpiece is the decoration of Arena Chapel, which was built just after 1300 for a private
patron in the northern Italian city of Padua. The paintings tell the story of the lives of the Virgin Mary and
Christ, and they unfold in bands that encircle the entire chapel. One scene, the Lamentation, shows most
of the characteristics of Giotto’s style. Giotto’s figures are robust, with a simple, almost conical shape. They
are set close to the edge of the ground plane, which goes back in space; as a result, the figures often overlap
and block our view of the ones behind them. While other artists (like Duccio) tended to stack their figures
so that everyone’s face could be seen, Giotto preferred to record what we actually see—and often we
cannot see every face in a crowd.
The Arena Chapel, completed 1305 Giotto, Lamentation, from the Arena Chapel
Giotto’s figures convey grief through intense expressions and big gestures, and our attention is drawn to
the dead Christ because everything in the composition (even the hillside) points to him. Some figures are
cut off by the border of the painting, and others are seen from the back, as if they are looking into the scene
just like we are. Both of these devices make the space in the painting seem to continue beyond the
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