Giotto was born in poverty in the countryside near Florence, the son of Bondone, a peasant, and was himself a shepherd. Most authors believe that Giotto was directly his real name, and not an abbreviation of Ambrogio (Ambrogiotto) or Angelo (Angiolotto).
The legend says (as reported by Giorgio Vasari in his biographies, derived from Ghiberti's Commentari) that at the age of 10, while attending the sheep, he used to draw on the rocks with a chalk. Cimabue saw him drawing a sheep, so natural and so perfect that he immediately asked his father if he could bring Giotto with him to let him study art, and Giotto's career would have started in Cimabue's bottega.
He treated the religious themes (quite exclusively used in medieval art) with a new spirit, rendering them with a clear freshness and an unexpected liveliness, and many critics talk about a "human emotion" as the most peculiar feature of his works.
The legend also tells that he was able to paint incredibly perfect circles freehand.
Famous works include:
With evident dedication to the painter, Giotto is also the name of a ESA space mission for the observation of Halley's comet (see Giotto mission), and is also the name for a Linux bootable floppy disk (see Giotto (floppy)).