Knights of the Art HTML version

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
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