The arts have been ruled by great artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, etc. but the ‘father figure’ they sought began his life as a shepherd boy. He used his brush to bring the Bible to life and made art more natural, more real. His name was Giotto. It is important to note that although Giotto was not a full-fledged Renaissance painter, he is still regarded as the ‘Father of the Renaissance’, because of his undeniable contribution to its origin.

One of Giotto’s greatest masterpieces is the Ognissanti Madonna painted for the Church of Ognissanti (All Saints) in Florence. The painting was commissioned by an obscure religious order called the Humiliati who were known to use art to stimulate devotion. The ten-feet painting was initially placed at the front of the Church as an altarpiece. Today it is on display in the Galleria Degli, Uffizi in Florence.

Now the theme of the canvas is similar to the previous painting by Cimabue. The Ognissanti Madonna represented Mary in Majesty, popularly called the Maestà. Adhering to the Italio-Byzantine traditions, Giotto presents the Blessed Mother against flat gleaming gold. Its shine and splendor solemnly mirror heaven. Retaining the hierarchy of the scale, the artist centralizes the Madonna and the Child and depicts them larger than the surrounding angels and saints. We are clearly in a space beyond time.

Intriguingly Giotto breaks tradition here. He attempts to accord human attributes to divine characters, thus bridging the gap between the temporal and the spiritual and revolutionizing western art forever. Let’s understand this newfound naturalism through the painting.

The Blessed Virgin is seen seated on a Gothic throne representing a Tabernacle. Scripturally the attribute acknowledges the Blessed Virgin as the new Ark of the new Covenant. However, unlike the paper-like, flat Gothic representation, Giotto depicts the Blessed Mother and Christ Child with volume. The drawing seems more sculptural. The Madonna is monumental, solid, and occupies space. Her knees are foreshortened while her drapery is rendered with modeling enhancing the transition of light and shadow as well as the illusion of space.

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