O NE day a traveler was walking through a part of Italy where a great many sheep were pasturing. Near the top of a hill he saw a little shepherd boy who was lying on the ground while a flock of sheep and lambs were grazing around him.
As he came nearer he saw that the boy held a charred stick in his hand, with which he was drawing something on a flat rock. The lad was so much interested in his work that he did not see the stranger.
The stranger bent over him and looked at the picture he had made on the rock. It was the picture of a sheep, and it was drawn so well that the stranger was filled with astonishment.
"What is your name, my boy?" he said.
The lad was startled. He jumped to his feet and looked up at the kind gentleman.
"My name is Giotto," he answered.
"What is your father's name?"
"And whose sheep are these?"
"They belong to the rich man who lives in the big white house there among the trees. My father works in the field, and I take care of the sheep."
"How would you like to live with me, Giotto? I would teach you how to draw pictures of sheep and horses, and even of men," said the stranger.
The boy's face beamed with delight. "I should like to learn to do that—oh, ever so much!" he answered. "But I must do as father says."
"Let us go and ask him," said the stranger.
The stranger's name was Cimabue. He was the most famous painter of the time. His pictures were known and admired in every city of Italy.
Bondone was surprised when Cimabue offered to take his little boy to Florence and teach him to be a great painter.
"I know that the lad can draw pictures wonderfully well," he said. "He does not like to do anything else. Perhaps he will do well with you. Yes, you may take him."
In the city of Florence little Giotto saw some of the finest pictures in the world. He learned so fast that he could soon paint as well as Cimabue himself.
One day Cimabue was painting the picture of a man's face. Night came on before he had finished it. "I will leave it till morning," he said; "then the light will be better."
In the morning, when he looked at the picture, he saw a fly on the man's nose. He tried to brush it off, but it remained there. It was only a painted fly.
"Who has done this?" he cried. He was angry, and yet he was pleased.
Little Giotto came out from a corner, trembling and ashamed. "I did it, master," he said. "It was a good place for a fly, and I never thought of spoiling your picture."
He expected to be punished. But Cimabue only praised him for his great skill. "There are few men who can draw so good a picture of a fly," he said.
This happened six hundred years ago, in the city of Florence in Italy. The shepherd boy became a very famous painter and the friend of many famous men.