Giovanni Bellini

Italian Early Renaissance Painter and Musician

1430 - 1516

The Annunciation: 1464 68

Giovanni Bellini was an Italian Renaissance painter, probably the best known of the Bellini family of Venetian painters. His father was Jacopo Bellini, his brother was Gentile Bellini, and his brother-in-law was Andrea Mantegna. He is considered to have revolutionized Venetian painting, moving it towards a more sensuous and coloristic style. Through the use of clear, slow-drying oil paints, Giovanni created deep, rich tints and detailed shadings. His sumptuous coloring and fluent, atmospheric landscapes had a great effect on the Venetian painting school, especially on his pupils Giorgione and Titian.

Naked Young Woman in Front of the Mirror: 1515

'Naked Young Woman in Front of the Mirror', Bellini's first female nude, painted when he was about 85 years old.

The painting is signed and dated: " Joannes Bellinus / faciebat M.D.X.V."

We witness in this late canvas the incredible openness that the almost ninety year-old artist succeeded in advancing in his affirmation of a new profane sensibility.

Giovanni Bellini was probably born in Venice. He was brought up in his father's house, and always lived and worked in the closest fraternal relation with his brother Gentile. Up until the age of nearly thirty we find in his work a depth of religious feeling and human pathos which is his own. His paintings from the early period are all executed in the old tempera method; the scene is softened by a new and beautiful effect of romantic sunrise color (see for example, the Saint Jerome).

Saint Jerome in the Desert: ca 1450

Bellini's 'Saint Jerome in the Desert' is generally recognized as his earliest surviving work, probably dating from about 1450. It shows a landscape with subtle lighting effects.

The painting is signed on cartellino: IHOVANES BELINUS.

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 Dead Christ pictures, in these days one of the master's most frequent themes, (For example the Pietà: Dead Christ Supported by the Virgin and St. John). Giovanni's early works have often been linked both compositionally and stylistically to those of his brother-in-law, Andrea Mantegna.

Dead Christ Supported by the Madonna and Saint John
(Pieta): 1460

One of the artist's most complete and programmatically figurative works. On the parapet on which Christ is held by the Madonna and Saint John is the inscription: HAEC FERE QUUM GEMITUS TURGENTIA LUMINA PROMANT: BELLINI POTERAT FLERE IOANNIS OPUS (When these swelling eyes evoke groans, this work of Giovanni Bellini could shed tears). This is a fragment of a hymn from the first book of Propertius's "Elegies", whose presence at the base of the painting affirms the artist's religious education.

The Pietà is rightly considered one of the most moving paintings in the history of art. Deep feeling is expressed throughout, from the landscape that recalls Flemish antecedents to the lucid architectonic composition of the group and the abstract geometry of their movements, deriving from Piero della Francesca. A passionate feeling that is not so much religious as human and psychological pervades the actors in the drama. The rendering of grief has here its most universal expression and, at the same time, its most private and conscious dimension. The mother's pathetic gesture is reflected in Saint John's turning away. The construction of the work shows careful thought. The figures, borrowed from popular imagery, are grouped in the foreground against an infinite horizon. The pentagonal arm of Christ ending in a closed fist is that of a fallen but unvanquished athlete. The barely glimpsed landscape, with its road wandering up a height and its torrent coursing below, pulsates with earthly life.

The figures stand out against a leaden dreamlike sky. The painting retains a strong Paduan element that is evident in the contours, adjusting gestures and figures to the strong expressive requirements of the drama. The silent exchange of emotions in the faces is reflected in the masterly play of the hands. The landscape behind them, empty and metallic in the cold, shining grays of the painful dawn of rebirth, accentuates the sense of the scene's anguish. Both the Donatello of the altar of Saint Anthony of Padua and, once again, Mantegna and the Flemish masters are the influences which spurred Bellini along the path of a sad and bitter pathos.

In 1470 Giovanni's received his first appointment to work along with his brother and other artists in the Scuola di San Marco, where among other subjects he was commissioned to paint a Deluge with Noah's Ark. 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 the Transfiguration now in the Naples museum, repeating with greatly ripened powers and in a much serener spirit the subject of his early effort at Venice.

Transfiguration of Christ: ca 1487

This is the second and final version of the subject by Bellini. The first version was executed in ca. 1455. This version differs from the earlier rendering. The event is no longer supernatural, and Mount Tabor is reduced to a slight rise. The afternoon is well advanced: at the left a farmer leads an ox and goat past a monastery on a crag that is already darkening in the evening shadows. Christ stands in the centre of this chilly landscape, his hands and head silhouetted against the shining white clouds. The flanking figures of Moses and Elijah have all the majesty of the Old Testament. Before this group the three apostles have fallen to the ground. A sapling fence moves diagonally across the foreground, and immediately behind it opens a rocky chasm, creating an explicit separation between the observer and the holy event.

Also the great altar-piece of the Coronation 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.

Pesaro Altarpiece

The Pesaro Altarpiece was executed for the church of San Francesco in Pesaro. 'Coronation of the Virgin' remained in the church at the time of its dissolution in 1797, then became the property of the Commune, and after various vicissitudes ended up at the Musei Civici in Pesaro, where it is now. The 'Pietà', which according to customary canons of the time crowned it, at the time of the church's dissolution, went to Paris; it was recovered and brought to Rome by Canova in 1815; it finally came to the Vatican Pinacoteca.

The altarpiece celebrates the profession of Franciscan faith (an Order linked to the Sforza Family, then Lords of Pesaro, by strong bonds of devotion and protection) through the presence, at the sides of the throne and in the left and right-hand pilasters, of saints whose cult was particularly venerated and fostered by the friars in Pesaro.

Pesaro Altarpiece: 1471-74

The Pesaro Altarpiece, depicting the 'Coronation of the Virgin', is one of the artist's masterpieces and a pivotal work of his mature years. The painting does lack a precise chronological reference, and about this, and the closely linked and equally unresolved question of its commissioning, critics are particularly intransigent, arriving at controversial and far from conclusive results.

The altarpiece certainly has a politico-religious value which is impressed in and in some way determines the composition. On the one hand it celebrates the profession of Franciscan faith (an Order linked to the Sforza family, then lords of Pesaro, by strong bonds of devotion and protection) through the presence, at the sides of the throne and in the left and right-hand pilasters, of saints whose cult was particularly venerated and fostered by the friars in Pesaro and in the territory of the signoria. But, on the other hand, they are particularly significant by virtue of a symbolic meaning attributed to their presence: George, the knightly saint so dear to the noble courts, and Terence, saint of Pesaro represented as an ancient "miles", occupy the compartments at the base of the pilasters, where heraldic insignia were usually placed, and thus represent the civil and military power of the Sforza. Behind Terence, on the left, a Roman memorial tablet with a bust and an inscription extolling the emperor Augustus completes the celebratory reference to the 'potestas' of the ducal family.

The occasion for the execution of the altarpiece is also a matter of uncertainty and controversy. It might have been ordered to celebrate the taking of Gradara, the Riminese fortress conquered by Pesaro in 1463: the many-towered and fortified landscape in the background of the Coronation would in this case refer to the representation of Gradara. Alternatively, we might consider the marriage between the lord of Pesaro and Camilla of Aragon in 1474.

Stylistically, the Pesaro Altarpiece marks the achievement of a new balance. The lesson of Mantegna appears to have been sublimated in the light of that of Piero della Francesca, thus opening the way to yet another issue: where and when, in other words, had Bellini been able to contemplate and become so well acquainted with the art of Piero della Francesca. Probably the Pesaro Altarpiece itself constituted for him the occasion of a journey from Venice to the Marches, which was among other things his mother's birthplace, and therefore the possibility of a direct appreciation of the works of Piero della Francesca.

The typically Venetian architecture of the altarpiece recalls that of some contemporary funerary monuments, primarily that of the Doge Pasquale Malipiero, erected by Pietro Lombardo in the church of Saint John and Saint Paul. However, the typology of a frame that is integral with the painting, in the interests of an inseparable perspective and spatial continuity, is fundamentally new (even if it drew on various precedents, such as Mantegna's San Zeno Polyptych). The idea of the throne's open back-piece, a veritable painting within a painting, serves precisely to resume and further articulate this new structural and compositional definition. In the great altarpiece that followed, that of San Giobbe (ca. 1487) and in the altarpieces to come this intuition would develop and mature until it reached a total, and also optical, indivisibility of the painting from its frame, which constitutes the only real access to it, the starting point of the vision itself.

Pesaro Altarpiece: 1471-74

The picture shows a photomontage of the Pesaro Altarpiece in the Musei Civici, Pesaro, and the 'Pietà' in the Pinacoteca, Vatican.

Pieta: 1471-74

This painting "crowned" the Pesaro Altarpiece, according to customary canons of the time it was mounted on the top of the frame of the altarpiece (cymatium). In the 18th century it was replaced by a painting of Saint Jerome. According to some critics the painting was not intended by Bellini to be arranged on this altarpiece, and possibly it became its crowning piece only some years later.

The 'Pietà' is a sublime artistic object in itself. It seems to have concentrated a deeply-felt knowledge of the divine sacrifice. The choral silence of the three figures around Christ, their contemplative meditation, and the play of their interlocking hands, render its sacramental sense of sublime communion.

Pesaro Altarpiece (Predella): 1471-74

The picture shows Saint George and the Dragon, one of the seven panels of the predella of the Pesaro Altarpiece (the first from the left).

George, the knightly saint so dear to the noble courts, and Terence, saint of Pesaro represented as an ancient "miles", occupy the compartments at the base of the pilasters, where heraldic insignia were usually placed, and thus represent the civil and military power of the Sforza. Behind Terence, on the left, a Roman memorial tablet with a bust and an inscription extolling the Emperor Augustus completes the celebratory reference to the 'potestas' of the ducal family.

Pesaro Altarpiece (Predella): 1471-74

The picture shows The Conversion of Saint Paul, one of the seven panels of the predella of the Pesaro Altarpiece (the second from the left).

Pesaro Altarpiece (Predella): 1471-74

The picture shows 'Saint Jerome in the Desert', one of the seven panels of the predella of the Pesaro Altarpiece (the third from the right).

Pesaro Altarpiece (Predella): 1471-74

The picture shows Saint Terence, one of the seven panels of the predella of the Pesaro Altarpiece (the first from the right).

George, the Knightly Saint so dear to the noble courts, and Terence, Saint of Pesaro represented as an ancient "miles", occupy the compartments at the base of the pilasters, where heraldic insignia were usually placed, and thus represent the civil and military power of the Sforza. Behind Terence, on the left, a Roman memorial tablet with a bust and an inscription extolling the Emperor Augustus completes the celebratory reference to the 'potestas' of the ducal family. A widely accepted assumption is that the fortress model in the hands of Saint Terence is the Fortezza Costanza, designed by Laurana for Costanzo Sforza, lord of Pesaro.

As is the case with a number of his brother, Gentile's public works of the period, many of Giovanni's great public works are now lost. The still more famous altar-piece painted in tempera for a chapel in the Church of S. Giovanni e Paolo, where it perished along with Titian's Peter Martyr and Tintoretto's Crucifixion in the disastrous fire of 1867.

Too, after 1479-1480 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. The importance of this commission can be measured by the payment Giovanni received: 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 by Venice in the wars of Frederick 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 Quattrocento manner; gradually acquiring a complete mastery of the new oil medium introduced in Venice by Antonello 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 splendor of Venetian color invests alike the figures, their architectural framework, the landscape and the sky.

An interval of some years, no doubt chiefly occupied with work in the Hall of the Great Council, seems to separate the San Giobbe Altarpiece, and that of the church of San Zaccaria at Venice. Formally, the works are very similar, so a comparison between serves to illustrate the shift in Bellini's work over the last decade of the Quattrocento. Both pictures are of the Sacra conversazione (sacred conversation between the Madonna and Saints) type. Both show the Madonna seated on a throne (thought to allude to the throne of Solomon), between classicizing columns. Both place the holy figures beneath a golden mosaic half dome that recalls the Byzantine architecture in the church of San Marco.

San Giobbe Altarpiece

This altarpiece representing the Madonna with the Child, Saints and Angels was executed for the church of San Giobbe in Venice, originally over the second altar on the right of the church, completing, in an illusory way, with its own spatiality, the Lombardian architectural plan. When it appeared, it immediately became one of Bellini's most celebrated works. The dating is uncertain, however, it is assumed that this was the first altarpiece by Bellini painted with the new oil technique introduced by Antonello da Messina in Venice in 1475-76.

San Giobbe Altarpiece: ca 1487

The altarpiece is one of the cornerstones of the artist's mature years. A coffered vault is a perspective introduction to the composition, which is supported at the sides by pillars similar to the real sculpted ones of the altar. The pillars flank a deep niche, which with its shady penumbra amplifies the space behind the holy group. Bellini conceived the painting as a coherent prolongation of the real space.

In it, the figures are arranged with monumentality and human warmth; the modeling is softened by the redefined blending of colors, which reflects dim crepuscular lights from the apsidal basin, depicted like a gold mosaic according to a visual and chromatic tradition associated with the basilica mosaics of San Marco.

San Zaccaria Altarpiece

This altarpiece was executed by the seventy-five-years-old Bellini for the church of San Zaccaria in Venice. The altarpiece, commissioned in memory of Pietro Cappello, was already in its own time "considered one of the most beautiful and refined works of the master" (Ridolfi, 1648). The compositional and architectural structure of the canvas is not fundamentally very different from the San Giobbe Altarpiece: a niche-like apse surrounding the group of the enthroned Madonna and the saints who are positioned at her sides. However, many Madonnas with saints have been painted before and after, in Italy and elsewhere, but few were ever conceived with such dignity and repose.

The composition of the altarpiece is governed by a rigorous symmetry that highlights connections and contrasts in meaning: Saint Peter has his usual attributes, the keys of power and the closed book of acquired wisdom; Saint Jerome is deep in an open book, endless study still before him; Catherine and Lucy, sister like, are two demure, wise virgins, each with the same palm and the specific emblems of her martyrdom, a section of wheel in Catherine's case and Lucy's small bowl with her eyes. All the figures are arranged around the direct revelation of the mystery: the incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. The story begins with angelic music, reaches its climax in the exhibition of the Child in the arms of Mary, seated on the throne of Solomon, and is recapitulated in the mosaic, which features the early Christian symbols of the evergreen acanthus and the eagle of glory.

San Zaccaria Altarpiece: 1505

Bellini's last phase is heralded with the 'Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints Peter, Catherine, Lucia and Jerome' of the church of San Zaccaria in Venice, dated 1505. Bellini was now an old man of about seventy-five. Yet his astounding ability to change, arising from a conscious understanding of the evolution of art, does not appear to have dimmed for a moment. Confronted by the first achievements of Giorgione, he assimilated and adapted them to his own artistic expressivity with total coherence. The compositional and architectural structure of the canvas is not fundamentally very different from the San Giobbe Altarpiece: a niche-like apse surrounding the group of the enthroned Madonna and the saints who are positioned at her sides. Here too, from a spatial point of view, the painting becomes a continuation of the altar on which it is placed. But at the same time the landscape appearing from the sides, according to an idea taken from Alvise Vivarini who had experimented it in the Battuti Altarpiece at Belluno (now destroyed), pour forth into the air a light that softens the forms. The tonal color gains the upper hand, creating a new harmony of broad planes, softened forms, and a warm sense of the air. In his turn Giorgione must have contemplated this elaboration the old Bellini was making of his inventions, and kept it in mind in the frescoes of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi of some years later.

In the later work he depicts the Virgin surrounded by: St. Peter holding his keys and the Book of Wisdom; the virginal St. Catherine and St. Lucy closest to the Virgin, each holding a martyr's palm and her implement of torture St. Jerome, who translated the Greek Bible into the first Latin edition (the Vulgate).

Stylistically, the lighting in the San Zaccaria piece has become so soft and diffuse that it makes that in the San Giobbe appear almost raking in contrast. Giovanni's use of the oil medium had matured, and the holy figures seem to be swathed in a still, rarefied air. The San Zaccaria is considered perhaps the most beautiful and imposing of all Giovanni's altarpieces, and is dated 1505, the year following that of Giorgione's Madonna of Castelfranco.

Other late altar-piece with saints includes that of the church of San Francesco della Vigna at Venice, 1507; that of La Corona at Vicenza, a Baptism of Christ in a landscape, 1510; and that of San Giovanni Crisostomo at Venice of 1513.

Of Giovanni's activity in the interval between the altar-pieces of San Giobbe and San Zaccaria, there are a few minor works left, though the great mass of his output perished with the fire of the Doge's Palace in 1577. The last ten or twelve years of the master's 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 endeavored 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, visiting Venice for a second time in 1506, describes 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 1507 Bellini's brother Gentile died and Giovanni completed the picture of the Preaching of Saint Mark which he had left unfinished; a task on the fulfillment 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 one of his former pupils. Young Titian desired a share of the same undertaking, to be paid for on the same terms. Titian's application was 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 The Feast of the Gods for the duke Alfonso I of Ferrara, but died in 1516.

Both in the artistic and in the worldly sense, the career of Giovanni Bellini was, on the whole, very prosperous. His long career began with Quattrocento styles but matured into the progressive post-Giorgione Renaissance styles. He lived to see his own school far outshine that of his rivals, the Vivarini of Murano; he embodied, with growing and maturing power, all the devotional gravity and much also of the worldly splendor 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, equaled or even surpassed their master. Giorgione he out lived by five years; Titian, as we have seen, challenged him, claiming an equal place beside his teacher. Other pupils of the Bellini studio included Girolamo da Santacroce, Vittore Belliniano, Rocco Marconi, Andrea Previtali and possibly Bernardino Licinio.

In the historical perspective, Bellini was essential to the development of the Italian Renaissance for his incorporation of aesthetics from Northern Europe. Significantly influenced by Antonello da Messina, who had spent time in Flanders, Bellini made prevalent both the use of oil painting, different from the tempera painting being used at the time by most Italian Renaissance painters, and the use of disguised symbolism integral to the Northern Renaissance. As demonstrated in such works as Saint Francis in Ecstasy and the San Giobbe Altarpiece, Bellini makes use of religious symbolism through natural elements, such as grapevines and rocks. Yet his most important contribution to art lies in his experimentation with the use of color and atmosphere in oil painting.

Polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri

The polyptych of St Vincent Ferrer, executed for the altar dedicated to the saint in the Venetian basilica of Saint John and Saint Paul, is Bellini's first public assignment. It comprises nine panels arranged in three parts: above the Pietà with the Virgin and the Angel of the Annunciation at the side; in the center the titular saint with Saint Christopher and Saint Sebastian at the sides; in the predella five miracles of the Saint. Formerly the painting was crowned by a lunette which is lost.

Polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri: 1464-68

The polyptych of Saint Vincent Ferrer, executed for the altar dedicated to the saint in the Venetian basilica of Saint John and Saint Paul, is Bellini's first public assignment. It comprises nine panels arranged in three parts: above the Pietà with the Virgin and the Angel of the Annunciation at the side; in the centre the titular saint with Saint Christopher and Saint Sebastian at the sides; in the predella five miracles of the saint. Formerly the painting was crowned by a lunette which is lost.

Champion of the Dominican Order, ardent and threatening preacher and controversialist, early confessor and later bitter adversary of Benedict XIII, the Spanish Saint had been sanctified in 1455 and immediately the Order had committed itself to a vast campaign of propaganda and assertion of the cult.

The looming figures of the central register, furrowed by the lines of their bodies and drapery, are emphasized by a brilliant light shining from below. The measure of their perspective is expressed by one or two basic elements: the arrows of Saint Sebastian, the stout staff of Saint Christopher in the foreground. Above, the Christ in Pietà (which, as always, faithfully follows a Byzantine iconographical model) is enclosed between an announcing angel and a Madonna with extremely limpid colors. In the angel, especially, the colors are blended with an almost glassy quality, and their pallid and alabaster splendor contrasts with the sudden blaze of red curtain behind the Virgin. The space is suggested by small details in an almost unnoticed and yet essential way: the deep dark folds of the curtain, and the sharp cold corner of the marmoreal pillar.

Polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri: 1464-68

The polyptich of Saint Vincent Ferrer, executed for the altar dedicated to the saint in the Venetian basilica of Saint John and Saint Paul, is Bellini's first public assignment. It comprises nine panels arranged in three parts: above the 'Pietà with the Virgin and the Angel of the Annunciation' at the side; in the centre the titular saint with Saint Christopher and Saint Sebastian at the sides; in the predella five miracles of the saint. Formerly the painting was crowned by a lunette which is lost.

Polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri (Detail): 1464-68

The picture shows the upper register of the altarpiece.

Polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri (Detail): 1464-68

The picture shows the lower register of the altarpiece.

Polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri (Detail): 1464-68

The picture shows the predella of the altarpiece.

Polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri (Central Panel): 1464-68

The picture shows the central panel of the altarpiece representing St Vincent Ferrer. Champion of the Dominican Order, ardent and threatening preacher and controversialist, early confessor and later bitter adversary of Benedict XIII, the Spanish saint had been sanctified in 1455.

Polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri (Detail): 1464-68

The picture shows the upper left compartment of the polyptych: Announcing Angel.

Polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri (Left Panel): 1464-68

The picture shows the left panel of the altarpiece representing Saint Christopher.

Polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri (Right Panel): 1464-68

The picture shows the right panel of the altarpiece representing Saint Sebastian.

Polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri (Predella): 1464-68

The predella of the Polyptych of Saint Vincent Ferrer contains five miracles of the Saint: Saint Vincent saves a drowned woman and brings back to life those buried under the ruins; Saint Vincent consumes the flesh of a man and a woman guilty of a crime with the fire of the Word and saves their souls; Saint Vincent brings a child back to life and frees the prisoners.

The picture shows the left predella representing Saint Vincent saves a drowned woman and brings back to life those buried under the ruins.

Polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri (Predella): 1464-68

The picture shows the central predella representing Saint Vincent consumes the flesh of a man and a woman guilty of a crime with the fire of the Word and saves their souls.

Polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri (Predella): 1464-68

The picture shows the right predella representing Saint Vincent brings a child back to life and frees the prisoners.

Polyptych of San Vincenzo Ferreri (Predella): 1464-68

The picture shows a detail of the left predella: Saint Vincent brings back to life those buried under the ruins.

Frari Triptych

The signed and dated triptych with the 'Virgin and Child Enthroned with Two Musician Angels and Saints Nicholas, Peter, Mark, and Benedict' is in the Pesaro chapel of the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. In this chapel lie the mortal remains of Frenceschina Tron, wife of Pietro Pesaro, and was commissioned by the couple's sons, Nicolò, Marco, and Benedetto. The work thus portrays the eponymous saints of the entire family. The paintings wooden frame is probably designed by Bellini himself in perfect spatial harmony with the painting.

Although apparently more "archaic" in that it once again follows a polyptychal scheme (possibly on the request of the commissioners), in many respects the painting constitute a further evolution of the San Giobbe Altarpiece, of which it is reminiscent in many ways.

Frari Triptych: 1488

The triptych comprising large sections portraying the Madonna and Child Enthroned (in the centre), Saints Nicholas and Peter (on the left) and Saints Mark and Benedict (on the right) is signed and dated on the central panel. The paintings wooden frame is probably designed by Bellini himself in perfect spatial harmony with the painting. Its pilaster strips illusorily support the ceiling of the open space at sides in which the saints are placed. In the centre, the Virgin, raised aloft by the throne, has a lighted golden apsidiole behind her which recreates the same effect as that in the San Giobbe Altarpiece. On the mosaic that covers it a Latin invocation can be read:


(Secure gateway to Heaven, guide my mind, lead my life, may everything I do be entrusted to your care).

Although apparently more "archaic" in that it once again follows a polyptychal scheme (possibly on the request of the commissioner), in many respects the painting constitute a further evolution of the San Giobbe Altarpiece, of which it is reminiscent in many ways. Extremely similar, for example, is the figure of the enthroned Virgin, immersed in fine golden dust that is contrasted only by the compact blue color of the mantle, which in some way isolates her in space. But mostly it is the study of light that continues, in favor of which the merely plastic elements lose their importance, while the question of space, despite the limit imposed by the shape of the triptych, is ingeniously resolved, not only by rebuilding within the painting the unity interrupted by the frame, but also by suggesting at the sides a vast perspective depth by means of a thin strip of landscape.

Barbarigo Altarpiece

The painting representing the Madonna and Child, Saint Mark, Saint Augustine and the kneeling Agostino Barbarigo, and musician angels is known as the Barbarigo Altarpiece. It is signed and dated in the center of the Virgin's throne:


It was commissioned by Doge Agostino Barbarigo, member of an important family of the Venetian aristocracy, who placed the painting in the most prominent position of the main hall in the family palace. Dying in 1501, Agostino left the canvas to the women's monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli at Murano. However, the canvas was soon moved to San Pietro Martire, Murano, to make space for an Annunciation (now lost) commissioned to Titian.

Barbarigo Altarpiece: 1488

The painting, one of the few chronologically undisputed points in Bellini's career, dates to 1488, the date written after the signature in the centre of the Virgin's throne. The first source concerning the altarpiece is the will of the person who commissioned it, Doge Agostino Barbarigo. Belonging to an important family of the Venetian aristocracy, Agostino, a unique case in the history of the Republic, had succeeded his elder brother Marco to the dogate, although the death of the latter, following a furious public argument between the two brothers over political differences, was seen by many as his responsibility. To demonstrate that he was the heir and loyal continuer of his brother's actions, in the first years of his office especially he had promoted a series of public artistic commissions (the Scala dei Giganti, entrusted to Marco and Pietro Lombardo, the Torre dell'Orologio of Mauro Codussi, the completion of the Ducal Palace with the building of the wing towards the Rio), aimed at a stately and hegemonic image of Venice, consonant with the political ideas which had been Marco's and which he had made his own. At the same time, in a private context, he was engaged in the erection of a grand funerary monument in Santa Maria della Carità for himself and his brother, commissioned Gentile Bellini with the official portrait of Marco for the series in the room of the Maggior Consiglio (a portrait that was executed between 1486 and 1487), and entrusted Giovanni Bellini with the task of painting a "pala granda" (large altarpiece), as a token of expiation for his moral debt, which he placed in the most prominent position of the main hall in the family palace.

In the painting Saint Mark, with an expression of affectionate protection, presents the kneeling Agostino to the Virgin. According to the words of the Doge himself, both the background landscape and the walled fortress on the right (similar to the one in the Pesaro Altarpiece of some years before) refer semiologically to Mary. The withered tree, on the other hand, a symbol of death and of guilt that must be expiated, refer to the Doge's family disgrace.

Dying in 1501, after a much-debated and variously evaluated dogate, Agostino left the canvas to the women's monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli at Murano "because that figure of our Lady with angels is well suited to being placed above the high altar of her church...". And he added, "... And that neither our sons-in-law nor our daughters (Agostino had had five children, but the only son had died before him), nor our grand-children may put it in our great house, nor in any place other than above the high altar of that very pious monastery". Nonetheless, the canvas was soon moved to make space for an Annunciation commissioned to Titian.

Paintings Until 1459

Madonna with Child: 1450-55

The series of "Madonna and Child" paintings, which constitute one of the most distinctive themes in Bellini's art, was started in his youthful years. Their execution and multiplication in the decades to come was the fruit of a considerable contribution by the busy workshop that would collaborate with the painter and to which some of the Madonnas, signed with the master's name for reasons of prestige, must be at least partially attributed. The incidence of this type of work was not peculiar to Bellini alone. Small and medium-small devotional images destined for private and family ownership were a distinctive feature of late 15th-century Venetian painting.

Bellini's paintings are distinguished however by a strange, subtle tension that always binds the mother and child in a relationship of profound pathos. The models for these Madonnas were the numerous Byzantine and Graeco-Cretan icons which circulated in Venice, and which Bellini occasionally transposed with absolute precision. Yet the static stereotypes of the Eastern images were radically altered and reinterpreted by him with a lyricism and poetic sensibility that unmistakably animates the figures and puts them in intimate contact with the spectator.

The still harsh Madonna and Child of the Museo Civico Malaspina in Pavia must be ascribed to around 1450-55. Originally assigned to Bartolomeo Vivarini, then to Bellini , then attributed to Lazzaro Bastiani, and finally to Bellini, this small panel is very closely related to the less disputed Madonna and Child of the John G. Johnson Collection in Philadelphia. The slender hands and iconic immobility still reveal the influence of Jacopo and the Vivarini family, while the boldy delineated line of the Child's figure and his transparent garment possibly derive from Squarcione, who was undoubtedly an inspiration to the young Bellini.

Madonna with Child: ca 1455

This grave, pensive Madonna is typical of Bellini's early half-length Madonnas. Lifting her hands in prayer, Mary looks sadly down toward the sleeping Christ, whose slumber is meant to remind the observer of his death on the cross. Mary's face is suffused by light from below - sea light of Venice reflected from canals and palaces which Bellini used even for Madonnas set in landscapes.

Dead Christ Supported by the Madonna and Saint John (Pieta): 1455

In addition to the "Madonna and Child", another recurring theme in Bellini's work is the "Pieta". This subject too has the Byzantine origin of the imago pietatis iconographical models used in Venetian art. Venice, furthermore, was responsible for the introduction in the West of the so-called "Passion Portraits", whose function was to establish an empathetic dialogue between the dead Christ with the wounds of the martyr and the faithful contemplating Him. The faithful, besides being moved by the sacrifice of Christ, draws consolation for his own pain through the observation of divine suffering. In Bellini's work, for example, the Pieta of the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo and that of the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan are the prototypes of a series of variants showing the body of the dead Christ over the sarcophagus, with his head bowed and his hands positioned as if for burial. This is an iconography that originated in Constantinople, even if in Italy it was thought to derive from a famous miraculous Roman mosaic-icon, the one of Santa Croce in Jerusalem, which according to legend had appeared during Mass to Pope Gregory the Great.

The Bergamo painting is a harsh work, marked by a dramatic force which, in rather uncustomary fashion, the artist renders with the expressionistic masks of suffering of the Madonna and Saint John. The hands of the mother and son are clasped tightly together in a strong plastic join of Crivellesque inspiration, which in the past led scholars to suppose it was the work of a Ferrarese master. Nor should we underestimate the importance that the particular fascination of the Paduan altar of Donatello still held for Bellini at this time.

The painting is signed at the bottom as "IOHANNES B." The inscription at the top is illegible.

Crucifix: ca 1455

The Mantegnesque phase of Bellini's art comprises several fundamental works. Included among them is the Crucifixion, formerly in the Venetian church of San Salvador and now at the Museo Correr in Venice, whose chronological placing before or after the Transfiguration in the same museum has been a matter of some uncertainty. Certainly the anguished forms and the meticulous arrangement of the elements are characteristics that appear extremely early in Bellini's career, and for this reason the period between 1455 and 1460, coinciding with the presence of Mantegna in Venice, seems the most plausible moment for its execution.

The landscape, though vast and expanded, is not yet conceived as a whole, but built up piece by piece according to an intellectual model filtered through the Gothic experiences of Jacopo. The figures are slender and sharply defined, and their grief, sculpted with raw pathos in the half-open mouths and extreme boniness of the bodies, is echoed in the stony contours of the landscape. These features had led some scholars in the 19th century to ascribe the painting to the Ferrarese artist Ercole de' Roberti.

Transfiguration of Christ: ca 1455

The painting was for long attributed to Mantegna (whose spurious initial can be seen below right), so close is Bellini's painting to the work of his brother-in-law in this period.

The composition shows Elijah and Moses on Mount Tabor on either side of Christ, while below them are the disciples Peter, James and John blinded by the vision, according to the iconography suggested by the Synoptic Gospel. The composition was conceived according to a stratified ascending movement culminating in the figure of Christ, who is clothed in an ethereal pearly-white robe. The figures' shoulders and heads are forced into extreme foreshortening, dictated by the suggestion of the extraordinary Mantegnesque talent for perspective, but the stretch of landscape on the left is already expanded into an image of moving realism.

The panel, which is damaged at the top, probably comes from the church of San Giobbe.

Dead Christ Supported by Two Angels (Pieta): ca 1460

The painting bears at the bottom in the middle the spurious date of 1499 and the similarly spurious initials of Albrecht Durer. The work in fact was attributed to Durer until the end of the 19th century. It is a still fully Mantegnesque work, and datable to well before the date inscribed, possibly to around 1460. The bold line reaches its greatest tension in the draping of the loin-cloth and the abandoned hands of Christ: such is the insistence of the outlines and the subtle and hard emphasis of the shaded areas that it recalls the stone-like linear severity of the Ferrarese artists.

Dead Christ in the Sepulchre (Pieta):ca 1460

In Bellini's work the 'Pieta of the Accademia Carrara' in Bergamo and that of the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan are the prototypes of a series of variants showing the body of the dead Christ over the sarcophagus, with his head bowed and his hands positioned as if for burial. This is an iconography that originated in Constantinople, even if in Italy it was thought to derive from a famous miraculous Roman mosaic-icon, the one of Santa Croce in Jerusalem, which according to legend had appeared during Mass to Pope Gregory the Great.

The painting in the Museo Poldo-Pezzoli, stylistically very close to the Dead Christ representation in the Museo Correr in Venice, is siugned as "IOANNES BELLINVS". It is pervaded by a poignant and highly personal lyricism, which has the effect of transfiguring the divine drama into an expression of intense grief and infinite melancholy.

Paintings between 1460 and 1469

Blessing Christ: ca 1460

This painting is usually identified with the "Portrait of the Savior" mentioned in 1648 by Ridolfi in the Agostinian convent of Santo Stefano in Venice. On the one hand this Christ is still associated with the master's first works, marked by a pathetic resentment that would soon disappear to leave space for the elevated "classical" melancholy; on the other, generically Paduan Bellini demonstrates his capacity to juxtapose the suggestions of Mantegna's style and those post-Donatello influences with a concept of light that is not only extraordinary but emphatically personal.

Madonna and Child: 1460-64

The painting is known as Madonna Trivulzio since it comes from the Trivulzio collection. It is signed as "IO[ANN]ES B[ELLI]N[US]. F."

Madonna with Child Blessing: 1460-64

The picture was originally hung in the offices of the Magistrato del Monte Nuovissimo at Palazzo dei Camerlinghi in Venice. It still retains clear evidence of contact with the world of Mantegna though the graphic and plastic values which are so boldly expressed inhabit the same space as the dense chromatic texture which is so vibrant and responsive to the several degrees of light on the dark background. The stiff severity of the perspective-drawing lesson of Mantegna has by now relaxed into an expressive liveliness whose foundation is in the new, human relationship of light and color.

Madonna with the Child
(Greek Madonna): 1460-64

Of all the still youthful Madonnas by Bellini the masterpiece is the so called 'Greek Madonna' of the Brera Gallery in Milan, which entered the Museum in 1808 following the Napoleonic repression. It was originally in the Ducal Palace in Venice. According to some sources the figures were originally set against a gold background, on which the words "Mother of God" and "Christ" were written in Greek (hence the name of the painting). Obviously, a background of this type would have made it archaic and "archaizing", considerably accentuating the Byzantine appearance of the panel, a veritable Marian icon. The 1986 restoration has established that the still remaining traces of gold beside the Greek letters were a 16th-century addition, while Bellini had originally conceived the sky as it appears now: blue and almost entirely covered by a small curtain held up by a cord. Over the traditional preparatory ground (gypsum and animal glue) he had sketched out the preliminary drawing, marking in with extreme precision even the chiaroscuro with subtle and highly regular criss-cross strokes which can be seen in infra-red photography. This technique used by Bellini must have been famous if Paolo Pino in his Dialogo di pittura (1548) writes that "drawing the painting with such extreme diligence, composing it with chiaro and scuro as Giovanni Bellino was wont to do" was to be discouraged "for it is work thrown away since everything must be covered with the colours".

This type of drawing shows similarities with the rigorous Flemish constructive technique though under closer scrutiny it appears to be aimed at a search for a much more solid and volumetrically constructed plastic quality. The delicate imperturbability of the Madonna, which would always remain a distinctive feature of Bellini's Virgins, shows not only its aforementioned Byzantine-iconic roots, but also how much the artist's culture owes to this heritage.

Madonna with the Child: 1460-64

It was assumed by Berenson that this Madonna is a posthumous portrait of the artist's sister. The sky was completely repainted.

Madonna with the Child: 1460-64

The painting is signed as "IOANNES BELLINVS". Stylistically it is close to the Presentation at the Temple (Galleria Querini Stampalia, Venice).

Madonna with Child, Standing on a Parapet: 1460's

This early Madonna painting places the figures in grave confrontation, the baby standing on a tomblike ledge. It supports an apple that refers to Christ as the Redeeming New Adam.

Presentation at the Temple: 1460-64

A direct comparison between two artists is made startlingly clear by the two 'Presentations at the Temple', executed by Giovanni Bellini and by Andrea Mantegna. The two paintings, now housed respectively at the Galleria Querini Stampalia in Venice and the Staatliche Museen in Berlin, have an identical structure and the same characters: in the foreground, leaning against a marble ledge, the Virgin is holding the swaddled Child while the old priest stretches out to take it. At sides and in the centre are several characters identified as Jacopo Bellini (the old man in the middle) and as Nicolosia and Andrea Mantegna, possibly recently married (the young couple standing at the sides facing left). In the painting by Bellini there are two more figures, identified by critics as the mother Anna and Giovanni himself. The invention was probably Mantegna's, as can be assumed from the inflexibly austere framing of the scene, the Child of Donatellian inspiration which placed on the ledge becomes a unit of measure for the scene's spatial depth, and even the physical features of the priest, resembling Squarcione's prototypes which had been familiar to Mantegna.

Mantegna's Presentation: ca 1460

Mantegna's Presentation is enclosed ineluctably within a square frame, a screen separating the group from the spectator; the figures are absorbed in an incisiveness that renders them detached and eternal in an absolute vision. In contrast with its architectural solidity and marmoreal rigor, Bellini's scene has a quite different rhythm, with modifications that are apparently insignificant but in reality substantial: the addition of two characters gives the group more life, splits it up and reassembles it into a small human crowd. The elimination of the frame, or rather its reduction to a pale, marbled shelf, somewhat akin to a church altar-top, suddenly removes every barrier and draws one toward the scene with a sense of intimacy. To the solid as rock colors of Mantegna, who blends flesh-tones, stones and drapery, he responds with a pure and orchestrated play of whites and reds in clear alternation.

The views of critics about when the two works were painted do not concur, but it seems impossible to imagine that a long period of time separated their respective execution, as had been initially suggested, also by virtue of the diverse opinions regarding the precedence of the conception. It would be illuminating perhaps to discover the reasons that led to their execution, which do not appear to be a matter of chance, but almost certainly linked to family events, which with this important family portrait were solemnized.

Head of the Baptist: 1464-68

The same refulgent brightness and profiles strained into vigorous, dramatic gestures returns in the Head of the Baptist as observed in the Polyptych of S. Vincenzo Ferreri.

Agony in the Garden: ca 1465

This early work of Bellini is fundamental for measuring the relationship that existed between the two brothers-in-law, Giovanni Bellini and Andrea Mantegna. A fairly strong resemblance links this work with the analogous subject painted by Mantegna in 1459, possibly for Giacomo Marcello, now also at the National Gallery in London. Indeed, both works were for long considered to be by Mantegna. The atmosphere is leaden and rarefied, and the harsh, barren landscape retains some of the strong elemental emotions of the primitives (in fact much of the setting is drawn from an idea of Jacopo's, exemplified by a sketch from his London notebook); the scene has a motionless essentiality. However, beyond the highly forced lines (still not even approaching the urgency of Mantegna's style) the dramatic way in which the two painters approach the subject is different: Mantegna's harsh and embossed in the dark contrast of strong colors; Bellini's more subtly lyrical and humanly resigned.

Paintings between 1470 and 1479

Pieta: 1472

The group of the Madonna and Saint John the Evangelist supporting the dead Christ is flanked by the figures of Saint Mark (at the left) and Saint Nicholas (at the right). In 1571 the painting was enlarged by Paolo Farinati by putting the scene into a Veronese style landscape. In 1948 the original composition was restored. The contribution of various degree of Gentile Bellini is assumed by critics.

Dead Christ Supported by Angels
(Pieta): ca 1474

The painting originates from the sacristy of the Church of San Francesco in Rimini. The attribution to Bellini is universally accepted.

The Pieta paintings of later years (like this painting in Rimini) are, compared to the earlier, pervaded by a poignant and highly personal lyricism, which has the effect of transfiguring the divine drama into an expression of intense grief and infinite melancholy.

Madonna Enthroned Adoring the Sleeping Child: 1475

The upper part of the painting was cut; it is signed at the bottom as 'IOANNESS BELLINVS'.

The new relationship of form and color sealed by the quality of light leads to results of ineffable human participation in this painting which originally hung in the offices of the Magistrato della Milizia del Mare in the Palace of the Doges. The Virgin is seated with charming naturalness on the marble throne which is reminiscent of Donatello, and joins her sensitive hands in a gesture of mute adoration of her Son who lies fully relaxed in sleep across her knees. The chromatic values of the painting are reminiscent of the way Piero della Francesca used color in the mid-fifteenth century to unfold the perspective of his images.

Madonna with Child: ca 1475

The painting is in an imperfect condition.

Madonna with Child: ca 1475

The painting is signed as "IOANNES BELLINVS" in the middle of the bottom. It was stolen from the church in the 1980s, the present whereabouts is unknown.

Madonna in Adoration of the Sleeping Child: ca 1475

The Madonna in Adoration is a typical scheme which Bellini repeated in other paintings.

Madonna and Child: ca 1475

This relatively early Madonna anticipates the artist's most popular, almost sentimental works, often produced with studio assistance. Mary's gaze, outward and upward, lets heaven and spectator alike share her concern for the future.

Madonna with Blessing Child: 1475-80

The painting is one of Bellini's masterpieces executed from 1475-80. The artist's interest in landscape, developed fully in the 1490's, is already manifested. The painting is signed as "IOANNES BELLINVS".

Portrait of a Humanist: 1475-80

The painting was attributed to Antonello da Messina until 1932.

Resurrection of Christ: 1475-79

This painting originates from the chapel Marino Zorzi in the mortuary Church of San Michele di Murano. It was attributed to Cima da Conegliano, then to Previtali, Bartolomeo Veneto and Basaiti. The painting was acquired by the Berlin Museums in 1903 and after a thorough cleaning Bellini was unambiguously established as the author.

In this painting the artist follows Northern currents in his scrutiny of nature. Mystical yet realistic, his combination of faith and focus gives the painting a singularly convincing quality, its theme of resurrection a comforting one for the painting's funerary setting.

Paintings between 1480 and 1489

Dead Christ Supported by Two Angels: 1480-85

This panel was centrally placed in the uppermost register of a polyptych. It shares the new stoicism of the painter's brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna; both artists were inspired by the sculptural force of Donatello, who was long resident in nearby Padua.

Among Bellini's favorite themes, to which he returned again and again, were the representations of the Madonna and the Lamentation in which the figure is shown half-length - a treatment already accorded the subject by Donatello. It provided the artist with the opportunity to combine a careful and subtle study of the nude with an expression of muted pain. Here Bellini succeeded in giving visual expression to new spiritual realms which no one before him had made manifest.

Two angels are supporting the naked body of the crucified Christ, who is sinking back from a sitting position. Each holds the dead man's arm with one hand, while their faces lean gently against his head. Bellini had previously executed two paintings on the same theme; one is now in the Pinacoteca Comunale, Rimini, the other in the National Gallery in London. In the first of these, which is in a landscape format, there are four angels. This rather too fanciful interpretation was abandoned in the London picture, which - making the most of the upright format - shows Christ with only two angels. It was not until he painted the picture now in Berlin that Bellini succeeded in achieving a composition which has the balance in a classical sense, and in which the natural beauty of the human body is completely in harmony with the spiritual content of the subject. At the same time, the graphic structure of the picture with its soft yet vigorous contours loses none of its prominence, and in this the likeness to the art of Mantegna is unmistakable. It is hardly surprising that precisely this style should have deeply impressed Albrecht Durer, the artist, and that, during his visit to Venice, he wrote of Bellini that he was 'still the best of all painters'.

Saint Francis in Ecstasy: 1480-85

Giovanni Bellini responded positively to Flemish realism and the new luminous capacities of the oil medium. In this panel Saint Francis stands in the midst of a landscape which is replete with the complex symbolic allusions of Flemish art - plants, animals, and household objects alluding to Franciscan ideals of poverty and humility. Resembling a stigmatization, this scene may be, rather, a meditation on Francis identification with creation. It is dawn, the rocks a cool grey-green, except where the first rays of the sun begin to warmth the earth. Francis stretches out his arms and looks skyward, where, in traditional Franciscan stigmatizations, one would expect to find a seraph. Natural beauty and light are sufficient to describe the divine.

Saint Jerome Reading in the Countryside: 1480-85

Formerly the painting was attributed to Basaiti, but now it is accepted as the work of Bellini.

Saint Jerome Reading in the Countryside: ca 1480

This is an authograph version of the theme, other versions being in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and in the National Gallery, London.

Madonna degli Alberetti: 1487

This highly balanced picture incorporates a system of double lighting that characterizes a small group of similar compositions. The curtain behind the Virgin captures the light coming from in front of her in such a way that the shadow of her figure is projected onto the fabric. In the landscape background beyond, on the other hand, the light expands totally independently in an even, diffused luminosity. The two small trees, or alberetti, on either side of the Virgin that give the painting its name may allude to the 'Song of Solomon' or, in contrast with the dead bushes next to them, the Old and New Testaments.

The panel, the first known work by Bellini to bear a date, is signed and dated under the feet of the Child: IOANNES.BELLINUS.P. / 1487.

Madonna with the Child: 1487

The painting is signed at the bottom as "JOANNES BELLINVS".

Madonna with Child and Saints Peter and Sebastian: ca 1487

The painting is signed as "IOANNES BELLINVS". Earlier it was attributed to Basaiti, presently the attribution to Bellini is universally accepted.

Madonna and Child: 1480-90

The painting, which has been in Bergamo since the 16th century, probably formed part of the dowry of the Carmelite nun Lucrezia Agliardi Vertova, abbess of the Sant'Anna monastery at Albino.

On the parapet in front of the Virgin, a detail present in many other similar compositions, there is a fruit. Like the walled and many-towered city on the right, and the inlet on the left, it is a symbol referring to the Virgin, according to the attributes assigned to her by hymns, analects and lauds ever since the Middle Ages. The mother and child are linked, more than by the tender embracing gesture, by the rapt, reflective gaze with which the Madonna engulfs her son. The painting is the prototype from which various similar compositions derive, such as the Madonna and Red Angels of the Accademia in Venice, with the child seated on the Virgin's left knee.

Madonna and Child: 1485-90

Bellini was one of the great geniuses of the Renaissance; his use of color to achieve rich, atmospheric effects became the hallmark of Venetian art of the Renaissance. In addition to large altarpieces, Bellini also painted devotional images of the Madonna and Child for domestic settings. In spite of their modest size and conventional theme, these paintings invariably exhibit a remarkably fresh, inventive approach. The Madonna in this painting is aligned with the vertical axis of the picture, but the rust-colored cloth of honor and the position of the tenderly held Child introduce a daring asymmetry. The beautifully painted landscape, incorporating a distant view of the Alps, serves to balance the composition and underscores the still, poignant mood of the picture. The quince held by the Child is a symbol of the Resurrection.

Virgin and Child: 1485-88

Bellini's mastery of the new oil painting technique is evident in 'The Virgin and Child' painted about 1485-88. The theme of the 'Virgin and Child' represented in half length behind a marble ledge was one particularly favored by Bellini, and he painted innumerable versions of it throughout his long life.

The Virgin and Child would have been intended for private devotion in the home, as more intimate and domestic counterparts to the large-scale sacred images that decorated the altars of Venetian churches.

Madonna of Red Cherubs: ca 1485

The painting comes from the Scuola della Carità in Venice. The gaudy red cherubs from which the painting takes its name are symbols of passionate love.

Portrait of Giovanni Emo: 1475-80

Although Antonello de Messina can be considered as the main influence in this portrait, it is nonetheless divorced from the types of the Sicilian artist. Previously the character was identified with Bartolomeo Colleoni of Bergamo. Other proposed identifications are those with Jacopo Marcello, Vittore Pavoni and Bartolomeo d'Alviano. Each of these identifications has led to different chronological placing, ranging from 1475 to after 1500.

Portrait of a Young Man in Red: 1485-90

From the 1470's, and simultaneously with his intense sacred output, Bellini had been engaged in work as a portraitist (in fact the Portrait of Jorg Fugger, the first known dated work by Bellini, is of 1474); although not particularly prolific, this activity was highly significant in terms of its results. The influence of Antonello da Messina in this field was highly evident in some instances. The 'Portrait of a Young Man in Red' of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, datable to between 1485 and 1490, is one of the clearest examples of this, even though the psychological rapport between the person portrayed and the spectator is less immediate than in Antonello da Messina.

Although the concept and design of this portrait, considered to be among the finest of late quattrocento portraits extant, are derived from a Flemish prototype, the monumental simplicity of design, impersonal mood, and generalized surfaces betray the classical traditions of Italy.

Paintings between 1490 and 1499

Four Allegories - Lust (or Perseverance): ca 1490

The four panels with Allegories at the Accademia in Venice are often likened to the Sacred Allegory, but they belong instead to the artist's scanty secular production. They originally formed part of a small dressing-table with a mirror and a rack on which to hang objects, belonging to the painter Vincenzo Catena who, writing his will in 1530, left it to Antonio Marsili. The spread of this kind of furniture was so great that in 1489 the Venetian Senate prohibited its manufacture, limiting it to what was strictly necessary. Often, as in this instance, their decoration comprised symbolic representations of a moralistic character.

An unusual theme for Bellini, the panels represent respectively: Lust tempting the virtuous man or Perseverance (Bacchus who from a chariot offers a plate of fruit to a warrior); Fickle Fortune (the woman on an unstable boat holding a sphere); Prudence (the naked woman pointing at a mirror); Falsehood (the man emerging from the shell). There are diverging opinions about the interpretation of the last two representations, such that they have been seen as: the Woman as Vanitas (on the basis of similar representations by Jacopo de' Barbari and Baldung Grien), and the Man in the shell as an allegory of Virtus Sapientia, since the shell might have a positive connotation as a generative principle.

Four Allegories - Falsehood (or Wisdom): ca 1490

Four Allegories - Fortune (or Melancholy): ca 1490

Four Allegories - Prudence (or Vanity): ca 1490

Madonna and Child with Two Saints
(Sacra Conversazione): ca 1490

Bellini's Sacred Conversation the two saints are traditionally identified as Saints Catherine and Magdalene but it is more likely that they are two noble Venetian ladies who commissioned the painting.

The painting is one of the loftiest expressions of this frequently painted theme. It shows a magisterial development that has prompted critics to recall the fundamental teaching of Leonardo's "sfumato". The light, in fact, softly progressing over the faces and garments, strikes from the side of the assorted figures of the Virgin and Saints Catherine and Magdalene, silent companions of the former in sacred contemplation. Also in the characteristic symmetrical composition of all Bellini's sacred conversations, the spreading of a crepuscular and intimate light that tinges the figures is a demonstration of how far ahead Bellini was proceeding in these years in developing the concepts of space and color which had belonged to Antonello da Messina. The indistinct background, completely lacking any kind of connotation, is just "opened" in depth by the two diagonal wings of the saints which close at the sides the perfect pyramid formed by the group of the Madonna and Child. What is suggested is a warm and yet transparent depth in which the figures move without being engulfed.

There is also another, probably autograph version at the Prado in Madrid. The success of paintings like this can be measured by the large quantity of existing variants, mostly the work of the workshop or only partially autograph, and often reproduced in various copies.

Sacred Conversation: 1490

The painting (Virgin and Child with Saints Magdalene and Ursula) is signed: "IOANNES BELLINVS P.". It was in the collection of the painter Carlo Maratta. Probably autograph, although some critics consider it to be a workshop product or a copy with modifications of the Sacred Conversation in the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice.

Sacred Allegory: 1490-1500

The meaning of the representation of the painting is an unresolved question. According to the various interpretations the painting would be seen respectively as: (1) the pictorial representation of a French allegorical poem of the 14th century; (2) a Sacred Conversation; (3) a complex allegorical representation of God's four daughters (Mercy, Justice, Peace, Charity); (4) the vision of Paradise; (5) a meditation on incarnation.

In the past the painting was for long attributed to Giorgione owing to the warm diffusion of the light, the subtle but total naturalism, and the air drenched with golden color. Nevertheless the scheme used by Bellini was still the traditional one, planned according to a rational and controlled construction of the whole composition, although signs of the imminent new landscapist vision of the 16th century can be discerned.

The picture is, however, justly one of the most famous of the master's paintings, inspired, in the already complete tonal unity of the color, by a spirit of profound and visionary contemplation. From such works as this Giorgione takes his point of departure.

The Lamentation over the Body of Christ: ca 1500

Bellini and his workshop executed several variants of the subject 'Lamentation over the Dead Christ'. The rare chiaroscuro of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, a gift made by Alvise Mocenigo to the Grand-duke of Tuscany is one of them. This is a more crowded composition than the previous "imago pietatis", in which the very isolation of the figures becomes a diaphragm that separates the spectator from the drama. Here the prominent knees of Christ, and his abrupt foreshortening sharply break this ideal wall and bring the sacred group closer to, and therefore in more immediate communication with, those worshipping.

Angel Announcing and Virgin Annunciated: ca 1500

External covers of the organ of Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Venice. On the internal side of the covers Saint Peter (also in the Gallerie dell'Accademia) and Saint Paul (lost) were placed.

Portrait of a Young Man: ca 1500

The painting is one of a series of portraits executed by Bellini around 1500. The series culminated in the portrait of Doge Loredan (National Gallery, London).

Portrait of a Young Man: ca 1500

The painting is one of a series of portraits executed by Bellini around 1500. The series culminated in the portrait of Doge Loredan (National Gallery, London).

Portrait of a Young Man: 1500

This work, along with the Portrait of a Young Man conserved in the Galleria Capitolina, is recorded in the Inventories of 1753 as a self portrait, and as such it continues to be regarded, even though this supposition lacks any scientific foundation. The portrait is highly distinctive, the face having a mellow, molded quality accentuated by its halo of soft curls and the round clouds which fill the sky in the background.

Paintings between 1500 and 1509

Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan: 1501

The portrait, the largest of Bellini's portraits, was probably painted around 1501, the year in which this aristocrat became Doge. The age of the person portrayed, who held office from the age of sixty-five to eighty-five, does not indeed allow to it to be any later. The teaching of Antonello da Messina had clearly been absorbed in the subtle realism of the facial wrinkles and the garments and, even before this, in the sitter's three-quarter turn, rather than the profile pose which was prescribed by dogal iconographical tradition and also adopted by Gentile Bellini.

The artist s progress from the early portraits is apparent, and particularly from the still pre-Antonellian Portrait of Jorg Fugger, fixed and linked as it is to the analytical realism of late-Gothic art. In this figure, that fixity now assumes the quality of an emblem of his own highest dignity of office: a "denaturalization" almost that crystallizes, but does not dim, the psychological make-up of this highly cultivated man, even in spite of the fact that he is rendered with solemn detachment. Any psychological excess or a too penetrating individualization were prohibited in the name of official and hierarchical decorum. For this reason the portrait finishes by being placed in a line that is consistent more with the Venetian portraiture tradition than with the revolutionary and hyper-real portraits of Antonello da Messina.

Baptism of Christ: 1500-02

There are Giorgionesque elements in the painting, and the contribution of Giorgione is assumed by some critics (in the angel in red at the left side). The painting is signed on the rock at the bottom: "IOANNES / BELLINVS".

Head of the Redeemer: 1500-02

This is a fragment of an altarpiece depicting the Transfiguration. Another fragment of the same work, in the same museum, shows a scroll which bears the writing "IOANNES BELLINUS ME PINXIT". Uniting light and shade, the head of Christ stretches upwards in ecstasy, conscious of his dual nature, human and divine, a symbol of the idealized message of the artist.

Crucifixion: 1501-03

The background of the painting is analogous with that of the Pietà in the Academy in Venice.

Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and a Saint: 1500-04

The work was certainly executed before 1504, since Previtali repeats the figure of the Baptist in one of his dated paintings (in the National Gallery, London). It is one of the artist's loftiest and most beautiful Sacred Conversations, on the one hand embodying the still 15th century idea of a separation between the figures and the landscape behind (the communion of the two would be achieved with the Madonna of the Meadow some years later), though at the same time characterized by a landscape that is laid out in the realization of a unitary naturalistic vision with limpid atmospheric values.

Santa Conversazione: 1505-10

The painting represents the Virgin and Child and two figures: a woman praying and a figure who could be Saint Simeon. The painting may be a 'Sacra Conversazione' (holy conversation), a subject developed at the end of the 15th century, but the figures, rather than conversing, seem to be united in a mystic communion. Their attitudes and expressions convey great peace and a meditative mood which bathes the whole painting: the landscape in the background is harmoniously formed from subtly graduating tones. There are no sharp contrasts and the light and shade is gently blended, creating a chromatic melody achieved through the rendering of the diffusely filtered atmosphere.

Madonna of the Meadow
(Madonna del Prato): 1505

Having been assigned to Marco Basaiti for long time, this painting is now one of Bellini's undisputed masterpieces. Unfortunately a far from excellent state of preservation (partly due to its transfer from wood to canvas in 1949) has compromised the quality of its color composition, especially in the group of the 'Madonna and Child'.

The image is a kind of synthesis of Bellini's dictates, a height of unattainable unity of poetry and metaphorical and religious meanings, which Bellini's complex culture on the one hand and his emotional depth on the other succeed in reaching. Few works in fact have such a highly developed double nature, demanding therefore a comprehension and an interpretation that take account of different levels. Unequivocal is the poignant lyricism of the landscape, and its rarefied and intensely limpid presence. But the sky pervaded by an indefinitely serene light and, against its deep blue transparency, the golden weightless trees, the neat graceful buildings, the air devoid of sounds or disturbances are also the ideal representation of the "quies" (spiritual reconciliation, idyllic or ascetic retreat into solitude) as the guiding principle of the Marian concept. Nor must we forget that if the Madonna sits down in a barren rocky land it is because she is a Madonna of Humility; if the lush and minutely depicted greenness of a meadow extends around her it is an allusion to the "hortus conclusus" of medieval hymns, while in the background other attributes referring to her are added: the fortress on the hill, the doorway, the well, the clouds (symbol of the humanity of Christ and also of divine mysteries), the struggle between the pelican and the snake.

Pieta: 1505

In the background, beyond the emblematic fig-tree, rises a walled city in which the main buildings of Vicenza can be identified: the Duomo, the Torre, the pre-Palladian basilica, as well as the bell-tower of Sant'Appolinare Nuovo in Ravenna and the Natisone at Cividale. But we reach the background only later, after having been attracted by the intense dramatic force of the group in the foreground. The Madonna holds the dead Christ in her lap, almost overwhelmed and bent down by the weight of her son's body that seems to slide away from her. Her face, faded by old age, appears worn out and exhausted through her suffering. Christ's abandonment, suggested by his hair hanging against the splendid, lenticular symbolic patch of grass (the Marian "hortus conclusus") which blooms behind the figures, is stiffened to the point of attaining a Durer-like quality in the contorted hands. The sharp drape on which the body is plain is also a reminiscent of Durer.

The painting is a devotional work for private patrons. It is signed bottom left: IOANNES / BELLINUS.

Saint Jerome Reading in the Countryside: 1505

The painting contains a vague and somewhat unclear inscription on the first stone at bottom left: S MCCCCCV. It is now accepted as an autograph and resolved as: IOANNES BELLINUS MCCCCCV. But this dating creates not inconsiderable problems, since it is clear that the style is the one Bellini used not later than 1490. Various theories have been advanced, from the proposal to separate the figure from the landscape, attributing them thus to different hands (Bellini and Basaiti, Bellini and workshop), to that of a different interpretation of the date or to the later completion of the painting most of which was executed a long time before. All things considered, the attribution to Bellini now seeming beyond doubt the latter view seems the most likely.

An intervention by the workshop, if it existed, did not go further than some parts of the landscape, like the part with the ruins above left, which does appear stiff and rather heavy. The landscape is laden with the usual symbols and religious metaphors which Bellini was very careful about (the fig-tree, the withered tree, the ivy, the layered, agglomerated, crumbling rocks, etc.). However, in the very clear landscape view all these elements, affectionately and lyrically portrayed one by one, have not yet found the sublime harmony that was typical of the backgrounds which Bellini painted after 1500, and appear here more like a kind of splendid naturalistic compilation.

Sermon of Saint Mark in Alexandria: 1504-07

On the death of Gentile, Giovanni Bellini inherited from his brother the celebrated sketchbooks of their father Jacopo, though on one condition: that he finish the large canvas with the Sermon of Saint Mark in Alexandria, commissioned by the Scuola Grande di San Marco, which Gentile had started in 1504. On 18 February 1506, in fact, when Gentile dictated his last will, the canvas was already "in large part done", though not finished. It was the Scuola di San Marco itself that confirmed Bellini's assignment to complete the painting on 7 March of the same year, a few days after the death of his brother.

The plan of the large "historia", conceived as an ordered representation on a wide stage closed on three sides by large architectural walls, was clearly Gentile's. The style of the architecture, suggested to the painter during his journey in the East (where he had been sent by the Republic in 1479 in the retinue of a diplomatic mission) is reminiscent of Mameluke prototypes, which led to the speculation that Gentile may have proceeded from Constantinople to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage, and from there have recorded new architectural ideas that were different from Ottoman styles, the latter being more familiar to Venetians.

The official narrative, however, hinges on the crowd gathered around the preaching saint in the square, where, according to Venetian canons of public portraiture, the characters appear as a socially and hierarchically defined group.

Critics have advanced a number of theories concerning the extent to which either brother was responsible for the painting of this large human group. Apart from Vasari, who in the first edition of the Lives (1550) mentioned Gentile as the only author of the painting, only to drop this idea in the second edition (1568), the old historiographers attributed the Sermon to both brothers without entering into detail about the individual contributions.

Modern critics see Giovanni as the hand behind the more precisely psychologically analyzed portraits, placed in the central group, many of whom are shown with a three-quarter turn, and of some characters on the far left. Others assert that Saint Mark himself, in addition to the senator listening on the right, may be the work of Giovanni.

Here too the research carried out before and during the last restoration was useful in giving new and more precise answers to the problem, revealing the numerous modifications of arrangement and character that some faces have undergone, and the additions and corrections applied to a part of the drawing of the buildings.

But beyond the precise detailed statements, which are in fact secondary, the intervention of Giovanni should be evaluated on the overall conception of the composition. Moving and animating the characters, indeed, restoring to them a unique and peculiar individuality, lightening, even if slightly, the severity of Gentile's "order", Giovanni went beyond the solemn historical consecration typical of his brother's great narrations and imprinted in the "story" a human dimension together with a masterly development towards modernity.

Madonna and Child with Four Saints and Donator: 1507

One of the "Sacra conversazione" compositions of the artist signed and dated as "IOANNES BELLINVS / M.D.VII.". The four Saints are John the Baptist and Francis at the left, Jerome and Sebastian at the right. The painting probably belonged to the altarpiece 'Christ Crowned with Thorns' (now in Stockholm) which was donated to Louis XII, King of France.

The Murder of Saint Peter the Martyr: 1509

On the left Saint Peter the Martyr is represented as being murdered by Pietro da Balsamo, a heretic. On the right another monk, Fra Domenico, tries to escape in vain.

Paintings after 1509

Madonna and Child Blessing: 1510

In its interpretation this painting shows similarity to the famous 'Madonna of Meadows' in London. Although the curtain (characteristic to the earlier period) returns to separate the holy group from the surrounding landscape, a new vision that takes account of Giorgione's innovations, and absorbs them, blends the natural elements with the human presence.

The analysis carried out on the occasion of the last restoration (1986) revealed the absence of a preparatory drawing in the landscape. This confirms that, while for the figures Bellini still felt the need to lay out the image beforehand, by this time he had a full and total confidence in the manipulation and figurative arrangement of the landscape. Over the preparatory ground he proceeded with light strokes, on which he often intervened with his fingertips.

Even fifty years after the beginning of his career Bellini has not abandoned the habit inherited from his father Jacopo of the sketch in a notebook and the single study from life. Here, then, is a tiny cheetah on the classical memorial stone, farming activities and animals. The result is a transparent landscape with a light, ordered structure. Although, in this respect, it is certainly still linked to the Quattrocento, the light is now so much the essence of it that it transforms and directs it toward tonalism. The organization of the image is quite unitary, also because it is bathed in a soft, gentle, auroral light that alludes to the dawn of a new era.

Madonna and Child: ca 1510

The same softness of color and the same gentleness in the group of the "Madonna and Child" return in the signed canvas of the Galleria Borghese in Rome, chronologically very close to the Brera painting. Yet another variation on a theme that was among the dearest to the painter, this is probably its last fully autograph version, although some critics consider it the work of the workshop. On the contrary, the expanded forms, the curvilinear widening of the volumes and the chromatic intensity are all elements that unequivocally point to the last phase of Bellini's career, as is the more relaxed connection between mother and child, where the Madonna does not hold the child closely to her in an attitude of yearning affection, but proffers it quietly to the adoration of the spectator.

Saints Christopher, Jerome and Louis of Toulouse: 1513

In 1513 Bellini signed and dated the 'Altarpiece with Saints Christopher, Jerome and Louis of Toulouse' of the church of San Giovanni Crisostomo in Venice. (It is usually referred to as the Altarpiece of San Giovanni Crisostomo.)

The painting had been commissioned in 1494 by the merchant Giorgio Diletti, who had left instructions in his will for the construction of an altar and the execution of an altarpiece to go with it representing Saints Jerome, Louis and Crisostomo. The almost twenty years that elapsed between the ordering and execution of the altarpiece, and the partial modification of the identity of the saints requested by Diletti, have raised a number of queries which scholars have only partly resolved. The first uncertainty concerns the bishop saint on the right holding a book bearing the inscription "De civitate Dei", which has led some scholars to identify him with St Augustine. However, the inscription on the book is almost certainly a later addition: its extraneousness is revealed by the fact that it is written on the back of the volume and by the uncertainty of the inscription itself, unimaginable in Bellini who was always highly accurate and extremely precise. Besides, the Anjou lilies on the bishop's cloak confirm that it must be the French noble Louis, who renounced the throne to become a Franciscan. According to a complex iconological interpretation of the altarpiece, Saint Louis in his lavish bishop's robes represents a pastoral and liturgical significance. In this he provides a contrast with Christopher, an emblem of the active faith and preaching, and both are placed under an arch, a symbolic image of the church, on which the second verse of Psalm 14 is written in Greek: "The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God". The choice of the Greek language is explained, besides the fact that the church of San Giovanni Crisostomo was the center of the Greco-Venetian community, also by remembering Bellini's contacts with the erudite circle that revolved around Aldo Manuzio. Manuzio, indeed, is credited with an important edition in Greek of the Psalter, which was printed between 1496 and 1498.

Beyond the parapet Saint Jerome a hermit and doctor of the Church represents the highest point of spiritual life that of mystical exaltation and revealed science. Beside him the fig-tree symbolizes that he has been chosen by the Lord to understand its supreme law.

According to this interpretation we are therefore confronted by a clear, conscious stand-point in the contemporary religious debate that existed in Venice during those years: a position by which action and contemplation are a unitary moment in the ecclesiastical path.

Undoubtedly such a complex and culturally significant proposition must have been established by the client in the first place; nonetheless, Bellini's humanistic and theological lucidity too is certainly confirmed once again.

Virgin in Glory with Saints: 1510-15

The painting comes from the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli on Murano, it is now deposited at the Church of San Pietro Martire on Murano. It was executed by Giovanni Bellini and a collaborator.

The represented Saints are John the Evangelist, James, Mark, Francis, Louis of Toulouse, Anthony Abbot, Augustine, and John the Baptist. (Note that Francis and Louis are at the center of the group of eight saints.)

This scene is not an Assumption but another image of glory exalting the Immaculate Conception.

The Feast of the Gods: 1514

'The Feast of the Gods' was Giovanni Bellini's last great painting and one of only a few that he executed on canvas. It was the first in a series of mythologies or bacchanals commissioned by Duke Alfonso d'Este to decorate the camerino d'alabastro, or alabaster study, of his castle in Ferrara. The artist, whose career began in the 1450's, was trained to paint on wooden panels, which require a very meticulous application of pigment. When he worked on canvas late in his career, Bellini retained his tight, precise brushwork. The flesh tones, iridescent silks, and even the foreground pebbles here demonstrate his delicate touch.

According to the current interpretations, the scene illustrates a passage from Ovid's Fasti (The Feasts), a long classical poem that recounts the origins of many ancient Roman rites and festivals. Ovid (43 B.C. - A.D. 17), describing a banquet given by the god of wine, mentioned an incident that embarrassed Priapus, god of virility.

The beautiful nymph Lotis, shown reclining at the far right, was lulled to sleep by wine. Priapus, overcome by lust, seized the opportunity to take advantage of her and is portrayed bending forward to lift her skirt. His attempt was foiled when an ass, seen at the left, "with raucous braying, gave out an ill-timed roar. Awakened, the startled nymph pushed Priapus away, and the god was laughed at by all." Priapus, his pride wounded, took revenge by demanding the annual sacrifice of a donkey.

The ass stands next to Silenus, a woodland deity who used the beast to carry wood, thus wears a keg on his belt because he was a follower of Bacchus, god of wine. Bacchus himself, seen as an infant, kneels before them while decanting wine into a crystal pitcher.

Reading from left to right, the principal figures are:

Silenus, a woodland god attended by his donkey

Bacchus, the infant god of wine crowned with grape leaves

Faunus or Silvanus, an old forest god wearing a wreath of pine needles

Mercury, the messenger of the gods carrying his caduceus or herald's staff

Jupiter, the king of the gods accompanied by an eagle

An unidentified goddess holding a quince, a fruit associated in the ancient world with marriage

Pan, a satyr with a grape wreath who blows on his shepherd's pipes

Neptune, the god of the sea sitting beside his trident harpoon

Ceres, the goddess of cereal grains with a wreath of wheat

Apollo, god of the sun and the arts, crowned by laurel and holding a Renaissance stringed musical instrument, the lira da braccio, in lieu of a classical lyre

Priapus, the god of virility and of vineyards with a scythe, used to prune orchards, hanging from the tree above him

Lotis, one of the naiads, is a nymph of fresh waters who represents chastity.

These deities are waited upon by three naiads, nymphs of streams and brooks, and two satyrs, goat-footed inhabitants of the wilderness. On the distant mountain, which Titian added to Bellini's picture, two more satyrs cavort drunkenly and a hunting hound chases a stag.

Young Bacchus: ca 1514

'The Young Bacchus' is a small panel work transferred onto canvas, formerly assigned to Basaiti, though now accepted as one of Bellini's last works; also accepted is its identification with the 'Young Bacchus Holding a Vase' attributed to Giorgione, which Ridolfi saw in the property of Bartolo Dolfini in Venice in the middle of the 17th century. A metaphorical rapport is suggested between the representation of the child god and the alternation of the seasons, in the same way in which it is drawn in Macrobio's Saturnalia, which was printed with commentaries in the humanistic age. The idea of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, would correspond with the smallness of Bacchus.

Certainly the small Bacchus must be seen as very close to the 'Feast of the Gods', the masterpiece of Bellini's last years. Indeed, the resemblance between the Bacchus of the 'Feast and the Young Bacchus' has been pointed out several times. In the small canvas, however, we witness yet again the incredible openness that the almost ninety year-old artist succeeded in advancing in his affirmation of a new profane sensibility, the same that ran through the Naked Woman 'in front of the Mirror of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the Drunkenness of Noah of the Musée des Beaux Arts in Besançon. The same landscape background against which the young Bacchus is seated was by now an image that was so essential and reduced to pure ideal substance that it seems referable only to the other foreshortening, similarly idealized and eternal, of the Viennese 'Naked Woman'. Also in addressing himself to and portraying nature Bellini had covered a considerable distance. One might say, indeed, that he no longer needed to look at it or represent it with elements that were in some way real or recognizable; nor did he needs to animate it in any way. He gave only its pure structure, the inner and "philosophical" vision.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ: ca 1514

The painting originates from the now demolished Church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Venice. At the left to the central group of the Madonna and the dead Christ one of the Maries and Joseph of Arymathaea are represented, while at the right Magdalene and a monk can be seen. The collaboration of Bellini's workshop is assumed.

Drunkennes of Noah: ca 1515

The attribution to Bellini is accepted although formerly it was attributed to other masters.

Portrait of Teodoro of Urbino: 1515

In 1515 Bellini signed and dated the Portrait of Teodoro of Urbino of the National Gallery in London. The old prelate appears here as Saint Dominic, solemnly clothed in a black robe. The unusual flowered curtaining and the customary three-quarter pose do not diminish the physiognomic impact of this mask, which is actually accentuated by the meager color and by the far-away leftward gaze.

Source: Art Renewal Center

Source: Web Gallery of Art

This page is the work of Senex Magister

Return to Pagina Artis

Return to Bruce and Bobbie's Main Page.