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  • 10/6/2004

Giovanni Bellini

Italy, Early Renaissance
born 1430 - died 1516

GIOVANNI BELLINI (1430-1516) is generally assumed to have been the second son of Jacopo by his wife Anna; though the fact that she does net mention him in her will with her other sons has thrown some slight doubt upon the matter. At any rate he was brought up in his father’s house, and always lived and worked in the closest fraternal relation with Gentile. Up till the age of nearly thirty we find documentary evidence of the two sons having served as their fathers assistants in works both atVenice and Padua. In Giovanni's earliest independent works we find him more strongly influenced by the harsh and searching manner of the Paduan school, and especially of his own brother-in-law Mantegna, than by the more graceful and facile style of Jacopo. This influence seems to have lasted at full strength until after the departure of his brother-in-law Mantegna for the court of Mantua, in 1460. The earliest of Giovanni's independent works no doubt date from before this period. Three of these exist at the Correr museum in Venice: aCrucifixion, aTransfiguration, and aDead Christ supported by Angels. Two Madonnas of the same or even earlier date are in private collections in America, a third in that of Signor Frizzoni atMilan; while two beautiful works in the National Gallery of London seem to bring the period to a close. One of these is of a rare subject, theBlood of the Redeemer; the other is the fine picture of Christ's Agony in the Garden, formerly in theNorthbrook collection.
The last-named piece was evidently executed in friendly rivalry with Mantegna, whose version of the subject hangs near by; the main idea of the composition in both cases being taken from a drawing by Jacopo Bellini in theBritish Museum sketch-book.

In all these pictures Giovanni combines with the Paduan severity of drawing and complex rigidity of drapery a depth of religious feeling and human pathos which is his own. They are all executed in the old tempera method; and in the last named the tragedy of the scene is softened by a new and beautiful effect of romantic sunrise color. In a somewhat changed and more personal manner, with less harshness of contour and a broader treatment of forms and draperies, but not less force of religious feeling, are the two pictures of theDead Christ supported by Angels, in these days one of the masters most frequent themes, at Rimini and at Berlin. Chronologically to be placed with these are two Madonnas, one at the church of the

Madonna del Orto at Venice and one in the Lochis collection at Bergamo; devout intensity of feeling and rich solemnity of color being in the case of all these early Madonnas combined with a singularly direct rendering of the natural movements and attitudes of children.

The above-named works, all still executed in tempera, are no doubt earlier than the date of Giovann's first appointment to work along with his brother and other artists in the Scuola di San Marco, where among other subjects he was commissioned in 1470 to paint aDeluge with Noa'sArk. None of the master’s works of this kind, whether painted for the various schools or confraternities or for the ducal palace, have survived. To the decade following 1470 must probably be assigned aTransfiguration now in the Naples museum, repeating with greatly ripened powers and in a much screner spirit the subject of his early effort at Venice; and also the great altar-piece of theCoronation of the Virgin at Pesaro, which would seem to be his earliest effort in a form of art previously almost monopolized in Venice by the rival school of the Vivarini.
Probably not much later was the still more famous altar-piece painted in tempera for a chapel in the church ofS. Giovanni e Paolo, where it perished along with Titian's Peter Martyr and Tintoretto's Crucifixion in the disastrous fire of 1867.

 After 1479-1480 very much of Giovanni's time and energy must have been taken up by his duties as conservator of the paintings in the great hall of the ducal palace, in payment for which he was awarded, first the reversion of a broker's place in the

Fondaco dei Tedeschi, and afterwards, as a substitute, a fixed annual pension of eighty ducats. Besides repairing and renewing the works of his predecessors he was commissioned to paint a number of new subjects, six or seven in all, in further illustration of the part played byVenice in the wars of Barbarossa and the pope. These works, executed with much interruption and delay, were the object of universal admiration while they lasted, but not a trace of them survived the fire of 1577; neither have any other examples of his historical and processional compositions come down, enabling us to compare his manner in such subjects with that of his brother Gentile. Of the other, the religious class of his work, including both altar-pieces with many figures and simple Madonnas, a considerable number have fortunately been preserved. They show him gradually throwing off the last restraints of the 15th-century manner; gradually acquiring a complete mastery of the new oil medium introduced in Venice byAntonello da Messina about 1473, and mastering with its help all, or nearly all, the secrets of the perfect fusion of colors and atmospheric gradation of tones. The old intensity of pathetic and devout feeling gradually fades away and gives place to a noble, if more worldly, serenity and charm. The enthroned Virgin and Child become tranquil and commanding in their sweetness; the personages of the attendant saints gain in power, presence and individuality; enchanting groups of singing and viol-playing angels symbolize and complete the harmony of the scene. The full splendour of Venetian color invests alike the figures, their architectural framework, the landscape and the sky. The altar-piece of the Fran at Venice, the altar-piece of San Giobbe, now at the academy, the Virgin between SS. Paul and George, also at the academy, and the altarpiece with the kneeling doge Barbarigo at Murano, are a~nong the most conspicuous examples.
Simple Madonnas of the same period (about 1485-1490) are in the Venice academy, in the National Gallery, at Turin and at Bergamo.

 An interval of some years, no doubt chieHy occupied with work in the Hall of the Great Council, seems to separate the last-named altar-pieces from that of the church of San Zaccaria at Venice, which is perhaps the most beautiful and imposing of all, and is dated 1505, the year following that of Giorgione's Madonna at Castelfranco. Another great altar-piece with saints, that of the church of San Francesco de la Vigna at Venice, belongs to 1507; that of La Corona at Vicenza, aBaptism of Christ in a landscape, to 1510; to 1513 that of San Giovanni Crisostomo at Venice, where the aged saint Jerome, seated on a hill, is raised high against a resplendent sunset background, with SS. Christopher and Augustine standing facing each other below him, in front. Of Giovanni's activity in the interval between the altar-pieces of San Giobbe and of Murano and that of San Zaccania, there are a few minor evidences left, though the great mass of its results perished with the fire of the ducal palace in 1577. The examples that remain consist of one very interesting and beautiful allegorical picture in the

Uffizi at Florence, the subject of which had remained a riddle until it was recently identified as an illustration of a French medieval allegory, the Pèlerinage de la Vie Humaine by Guillaume de Guilleville; with a set of five other allegories or moral emblems, on a smaller scale and very romantically treated, in the academy at Venice. To these should probably be added, as painted towards the year 1505, the portrait of the doge Loredano in the National Gallery, the only portrait by the master which has been preserved, and in its own manner one of the most masterly in the whole range of painting.

The last ten or twelve years of the masters life saw him besieged with more commissions than he could well complete. Already in the years 1501-1504 the marchioness Isabella Gonzaga of Mantua had had great difficulty in obtaining delivery from him of a picture of the Madonna and Saints (now lost) for which part payment had been made in advance. In 1505 she endeavoured through Cardinal Bembo to obtain from him another picture, this time of a secular or mythological character. What the subject of this piece was, or whether it was actually delivered, we do not know.Albrecht Dürer, visitingVenice for a second time in 1506, reports of Giovanni Bellini as still the best painter in the city, and as full of all courtesy and generosity towards foreign brethren of the brush. In 5507 Gentile Bellini died, and Giovanni completed the picture of the Preaching of St Mark which he had left unfinished; a task on the fulfilment of which the bequest by the elder brother to the younger of their father's sketch-book had been made conditional.
In 1513 Giovanni's position as sole master (since the death of his brother and of Alvise Vivarini) in charge of the paintings in the Hall of the Great Council was threatened by an application on the part of his own former pupil, Titian, for a joint-share in the same undertaking, to be paid for on the same terms.

 Titian's application was first granted, then after a year rescinded, and then after another year or two granted again; and the aged master must no doubt have undergone some annoyance from his sometime pupil"s proceedings. In 1514 Giovanni undertook to paint aBacchanal for the duke Alfonso of Ferrara, but died in 1516, leaving it to be finished by his pupils; this picture is now at Alnwick.

Both in the artistic and in the worldly sense, the career of Giovanni Bellini was upon the whole the most serenely and unbrokenly prosperous, from youth to extreme old age, which fell to the lot of any artist of the early Renaissance. He lived to see his own school far outshine that of his rivals, the Vivarini of Murano; he embodied, with ever growing and maturing power, all the devotional gravity and much also of the worldly splendour of the Venice of his time; and he saw his influence propagated by a host of pupils, two of whom at least, Giorgione and Titian, surpassed their master. Giorgione he outlived by five years; Titian, as we have seen, challenged an equal place beside his teacher. Among the best known of his other pupils were, in his earlier time,Andrea Previtali,Cima da Conegliano,Marco Basaiti,Niccolo Rondinalli, Piermaria Pennacchi,Martino da Udine,Girolamo Mocetto; in later time,Pierfrancesco Bissolo,Vincenzo Catena,Lorenzo Lotto and Sebastian del Piombo.


 Vasari, ed. Milanesi, vol. iii.; Ridolfi,Le Maraviglie, &c., vol. i.; Francesco Sansovino,Venezia Descritta; Morelli, Notizia, &c., di un Anonimo; Zanetti,Pittura Veneziana; F. Aglietti,Elogio Storico di Jacopo e Giovanni Bellini; G. Bernasconi,Genni intorno Ia vita e fe opere di Jacopo Bellini; Moschini, Giovanni Bellini e pittori contemporanei; E. Galichon inGazette des Beaux-Arts (i866); Crowe and

Cavalcaselle,History of Painting in North Italy, vol. i.; Hubert Janitschek,Giovanni Bellini in Dohmes Kunst und Künstler; Julius Meyer in Meyers Allgemeines Künstler-Lexileon, vol. iii. (1885); Pompco Molmenti,I pittori Bellini in Studi e ricerche di Storia d'Arte; P. Paoletti,Raccolta di documenti inedsti, fasc. i.; Vasari,Vile di Gentile da Fabriano e Vittor Pisanello, ed. Venturi; Corrado Ricci inRassegna d'Arte (1901, 903), andRivista d'Arte (1906); Roger Fry, Giovanni Bellini inThe Artists Library; Everard Meyncil, Giovanni Bellini in Newness Art Library (useful for a nearly complete set of reproductions of the known paintings); Corrado Ricci,Jacopo Bellini e i suoi Libri di Disegni; Victor Goloubeff,Les Dessins de Jacopo Bellini (the two works last cited reproduce in full, that of M. Goioubeff by far the most skilfully, the contents of both the Paris and the London sketch-books). (S.C.)




Oil on canvas

174.80 x 122.83 inches / 444 x 312 cm
Gallerie dell"Accademia,Venice, Italy

San Zaccaria Altarpiece


Oil on canvas transferred from wood
158.27 x 107.48 inches / 402 x 273 cm
Church ofSan Zaccaria, Venice, Italy

Baptism of Christ
(1500 – 1502)
Oil on canvas
157.48 x 103.54 inches / 400 x 263 cm
Santa Corona,Vicenza, Italy

Barbarigo Altarpiece
Oil on canvas
78.74 x 125.98 inches / 200 x 320 cm
San Pietro Martire,Murano, Italy

San Giobbe Altarpiece


Oil on panel
185.43 x 101.57 inches / 471 x 258 cm
Gallerie dell"Accademia, Venice, Italy

Resurrection of Christ
(1475 – 1479)
Oil on panel
58.27 x 50.39 inches / 148 x 128 cm
Staatliche Museen,Berlin, Germany

Portrait of Fra Theodoro da Urbino
Tempera on panel
24.80 x 19.49 inches / 63 x 49.5 cm
National Gallery,London, England

The Crucification
(1501 – 1503)
Oil on panel
31.89 x 19.29 inches / 81 x 49 cm
Prato, Albert Gallery, Italy

Madonna delgi Alberetti
Oil on canvas
29.13 x 22.83 inches / 74 x 58 cm
Gallerie dell"Accademia,Venice, Italy

Sultan Mehmet II
Oil on canvas
27.56 x 20.47 inches / 70 x 52 cm
National Gallery,London, England

Agony in the Garden
Tempera on wood
31.89 x 50.00 inches / 81 x 127 cm
National Gallery, London, England

The Dead Christ Supported by Two Angels
Oil on canvas
Private collection

Virgin and Child [detail]
Oil on canvas
Private collection

Sts Christopher,Jerome and Ludwig of Toulouse
Oil on panel
118.11 x 72.83 inches / 300 x 185 cm
San Giovanni Crisostomo,Venice, Italy

Madonna and Child with St.John the Baptist and a Saint
(1500 – 1504)
Oil on panel
21.26 x 29.92 inches / 54 x 76 cm
Gallerie dell"Accademia,Venice, Italy

Fari Triptych [detail]
Oil on panel
72.44 x 31.10 inches / 184 x 79 cm
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice, Italy

St. Jerome Reading in the Countryside
(1480 – 1485)
Oil on wood
18.50 x 13.39 inches / 47 x 34 cm
National Gallery,London, England

Madonna and Child


Oil on wood
19.69 x 16.14 inches / 50 x 41 cm
Galleria Borghese,Rome, Italy

Dead Christ Supported by the Madonna andSt. John

Alternative title: Pietà

Oil on panel
33.86 x 42.13 inches / 86 x 107 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera,Milan, Italy

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