The greatest of early Italian painters. He transformed painting from the moribund iconographic craft of the Byzantines to a high art of the budding Renaissance.

Giotto di Bondone was born in 1267 at Vespignano, near Florence. The story is that he was a 10-year-old shepherd boy when the master Cimabuè discovered him drawing on rocks. He learned from Cimabuè and they worked on the great basilica of St Francis at Assisi (seriously damaged by an earthquake in 1997), together with Duccio, but Giotto quickly eclipsed his master, and was rewarded with commissions from all over Italy. Between 1330 and 1333 he worked for King Robert of Naples and transformed art there: and in 1334 he was made master of works in Florence, and designed statues and the campanile for the cathedral. He died in 1337.

Compared to what had gone before, his works were vigorously naturalistic, three-dimensional, flesh-toned, and dramatic. He represented the biggest revolution in European art since Greek antiquity.

Another story says of him that Pope Benedict XI* sent an envoy, who requested an example of his art. Giotto picked up a brush and drew a perfect circle with only his hand, keeping his arm stiff.

See examples of his work, freshly restored, at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, at:

* The story is sometimes told with the King of France or Pope Boniface VIII but Vasari in his Lives of the Artists says Pope Benedict.

One of Giotto's works depicts a comet. His name was chosen for the European Space Agency's probe to Halley's Comet. It met it on 13 March 1986, coming within 600 km of it. It produced good evidence for the nature of the cometary nucleus.

Giotto was switched off and left to float until needed again: on 10 July 1992, having been successfully reactivated, it came within 200 km of Comet Grigg-Skjellerup. It was put back into hibernation after that, but is still, as far as I'm aware, out there ready and waiting.