Giovanni Bellini

Giovanni Bellini

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Giovanni Bellini (c. Today, Giovanni is recognised as the most innovative and influential of the Bellini family of painters and his works range from portraits to altarpieces. Masterpieces include the superbly detailed and naturalistic Ecstasy of Saint Francis painting and his hyper-realistic Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan. Bellini's work was hugely influential on his Venetian contemporaries, and this continued through the work of his pupils, amongst whom was Titian (c. 1487-1576 CE).

The Bellini Family

Giovanni Bellini was born c. 1430 CE, the son of the well-known Venetian artist Jacopo Bellini (c. 1400 - c. 1470 CE). Giovanni's elder brother was Gentile Bellini (c. 1429-1507 CE), who also became a celebrated artist. Gentile Bellini was highly successful as a court artist for Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor (r. 1452-1493 CE) and Sultan Mehmed II, ruler of the Ottoman Empire (r. 1444-46 & 1451-81 CE). Gentile also worked on several commissions for the Doges of Venice, but despite these illustrious clients, it was Giovanni's contribution to western art that would be more esteemed by the critics of subsequent generations.

Bellini's use of oil paints LAter in his career allowed for brighter, richer colours, greater layering & faster work.

The Bellini family of artists worked closely together in the same workshop in Venice. The two brothers are known to have collaborated on some of their father's works, for example, on the Descent of Jesus into Limbo altarpiece panel, now in the Museo Civico of Padua. Giovanni even finished off his brother Gentile's painting Saint Mark Preaching at Alexandria, now in Milan's Pinacoteca di Brera. Indeed, accurately attributing certain works to Giovanni is problematic because of the large number of assistants working in the Bellini family workshop and the artist's varying style over the years. Finally, another family artistic connection was Giovanni's brother-in-law, Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506 CE), who had married his sister Nicolosia and who was famous for his innovative use of perspective in paintings and frescoes.

Early Works

Although he used some of his father's ideas from sketchbooks, Giovanni's style would eventually depart dramatically from that of his father which, in the few surviving works, is rather austere in comparison. Like other Renaissance artists, Bellini was very interested in giving his paintings a sense of depth and perspective. This can be seen in such works as the Crucifixion of the mid-1450s CE and the c. 1465 CE tempera on wood piece The Agony in the Garden (National Gallery, London). In the former painting, Bellini seems to have been far more concerned with depicting a realistic panoramic background than the principal figures in the foreground. There is real depth as a snaking and seemingly interminable roadway eventually fades away into the distant hills. Another remarkable feature is the vaguely defined swirl of cherubims above the Cross. The tonal colouring and elongated figures are typical of Bellini's early work and remind of his father's style. Another example of the artist's use of sombre colouring for scenes of grief early in his career is his Dead Christ Supported by the Madonna and Saint John, painted in the mid-1460s CE and now in Milan's Pinacoteca di Brera.

Into Colour

Mid-career, Giovanni seems to have switched his focus to the colore technique (aka colorito), that is using the juxtaposition of contrasting colours to define a composition. This may reflect the influence of the celebrated oil painter Antonello da Mesina (c. 1430-1479 CE) following his stay in Venice between 1475 and 1476 CE. Messina had himself been in contact with the methods of Flemish oil painters who were pioneering in their realism in art. The Doge Leonardo Loredan portrait (National Gallery, London), painted c. 1500 CE, is a good example of Bellini using this technique in action. The portrait is so hyper-realistic, it looks curiously like a coloured two-dimensional version of a sculpture bust. The fine details in the painting may reflect the influence of the German painter Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528 CE), who was much admired by Bellini for the precision of his brushwork. Another development in Bellini's work was to use the much more versatile medium of oil painting instead of tempera which he had almost exclusively used in the earlier part of his career. Oil paints allowed for brighter, richer colours, greater layering, and faster work.

A painting where the light source is being used to add colour to the scene and to pick out background elements in great detail is the Ecstasy of Saint Francis (aka St. Francis in the Desert), completed by 1480 CE and now in the Frick Collection, New York. The light seems to be positively bathing the saint and the desk behind him. Another interesting feature is the number of objects and animals painted by Bellini to symbolise episodes from Francis' life or to indicate poverty and humility, the main principles by which members of the Franciscan order lived. To modern eyes, the figure of Saint Francis seems incidental to the landscape background with its looming grey cliffs and distant fortified town. As the art historian and former director of London's National Gallery Philip Hendy notes, Bellini "became one of the greatest of landscape painters. His study of outdoor light was such that one can deduce not only the season depicted but almost the hour of the day". It is rather curious that a painter living in water-soaked Venice should develop such a passion for landscapes.

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As Bellini's style changed so, too, did the focus of his subject matter: from religious devotional scenes to many more naturalistic mythologies in the latter part of his career. See, for example, his bright and playful Feast of the Gods painting now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Another late development in Bellini's work was the adoption of a more erotic approach to female figures, in keeping with the general trend in Renaissance art of the early 16th century CE. Throughout his career, Bellini was commissioned by figures of wealth and importance, but they were not quite the high and mighty patrons of other Renaissance artists such as the Pope for Michelangelo (1475-1564 CE) and Cosimo I de' Medici, Duke of Florence (r. 1537-1569 CE) for Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571 CE). It was not easy to persuade such strong-minded figures to accept innovations and so here perhaps Bellini had the advantage of some other great artists.


Bellini produced five major altarpieces for churches from the 1470s CE to 1513 CE. These were for the Pesaro, Frari, San Giobbe, San Zaccaria and the San Giovanni Crisostomo in Venice. The central panels of these altars are in the sacra conversazione theme, that is the Virgin and Child surrounded by saints and well-wishers. Monumental pieces several metres high, the altar panels are elaborately framed to mimic contemporary developments in architecture and are much larger and more eye-catching than altarpieces then being produced elsewhere, such as in the Netherlands. In a nod to Venice's Byzantine history, some of these altarpieces include gold mosaic effects in the domed interiors of the background architecture.

Bellini uses little tricks of perspective which seem to give his figures more space to exist in.

The San Zaccaria piece is often considered the finest of the lot and, completed c. 1505 CE, it is curiously pious and tranquil. This mood, best seen in the 5 metres (16 ft 4 in) high central panel, is achieved by the symmetrical architectural background, which is curiously open at the sides to a landscape of trees and so not meant to merely extend the walls of the church. A more explicit calming effect comes from the reduced number of figures than was traditional in such scenes and the arrangement and attitude of those figures, all of whom are gazing downwards. There are, too, little tricks of perspective which seem to give the figures more space to exist in. These techniques include the columns behind columns, the checkerboard flooring, and the domed ceiling. Despite the tranquillity of the scene, Bellini has not neglected his love of colour, as seen in the vibrant robes of blue, red, yellow, and green.

The Great Council of Venice

Despite his successes, Giovanni was still somewhat overshadowed by his brother Gentile in his own lifetime, largely because of his seniority in age. An example of this is the commission for Gentile to complete a large cycle of historical paintings for the Great Council of Venice. However, in 1479 CE Gentile was dispatched to Constantinople on a diplomatic mission and Giovanni was the natural choice to continue the work. This he did, adding perhaps seven entirely new paintings to the collection. Critics regarded these new canvases as amongst the artist's best ever, but unfortunately for posterity, a fire ravaged the building a century later in 1577 CE and destroyed all of the artwork.


Always a prolific painter, Bellini kept on working into his eighties. Later masterpieces include The Drunkenness of Noah (1514 CE) and the Lady at her Toilet (1515 CE). As the famed German Renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer stated in 1506 CE, Bellini "was very old, but still the best in painting" (Hale, 47). Bellini died in Venice in 1516 CE and was buried alongside his brother in the city's Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo.

Giovanni Bellini influenced Renaissance art not only through his own work's effects on his contemporaries but also via three of his most famous apprentices: Palma Vecchio (c. 1480-1528 CE), Giorgione (c. 1478-1510 CE), and Titian. In short, Bellini's works, workshop, and pupils together ensured that instead of the previous dominance of line and form, now colour and brushstrokes took precedence in Renaissance art. As the Thames & Hudson Dictionary of the Italian Renaissance boldly states, "Bellini changed the course of Venetian painting and laid the foundations for a revolution in the history of European art." (46).

Review: Bellini masterpieces at the Getty make for one of the year’s best museum shows

In his depiction of Jesus newly risen from the tomb and lifting his right hand in gentle blessing, painted around 1500, Giovanni Bellini represents Christianity’s savior as the morning dawn. At the far right, the bell tower of a distant town pierces the incandescent horizon, poised to toll and announce the arrival of a new day.

In this extraordinary masterpiece — one of 12 pictures in “Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice,” newly opened at the J. Paul Getty Museum — sunrise is breaking, its cloud-streaked sky washed in diaphanous smudges of orange, yellow, pink and blue. Yet the sun cannot be the source of the body’s illumination, which comes in from the opposite direction at the left front.

Shading tells the story — not least in the raised arm’s exquisite shadow falling across the figure’s classically defined chest. The pictorial illumination is impossible but thoroughly believable, miraculous but convincing. Soft, translucent glazes of oil paint make the painting shine with an inner light.

In the middle ground, barren branches of a dead tree rise next to Christ’s blessing hand, juxtaposing a symbol of death and the cross with a gesture of salvation. Through art, the radiant figure and the luminous landscape unite as one.

Bellini’s brilliant use of landscape is the subject of the Getty’s exhibition, which is among the most exciting museum shows in the United States this year. Bellini launched the so-called Golden Age of Venetian painting, characterized by the sensuous, luminous color and acute conceptual refinement on breathtaking display in “Christ Blessing.”

The last time I recall seeing a considerable number of his paintings in an American museum show was 11 years ago, when “Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting” was at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Much of Bellini’s work is painted on wooden panels, and loans are difficult to negotiate. That path-breaking exhibition had six marvelous paintings by the artist.

The Getty’s 12 have been assembled from public and private collections in Venice, Florence, Paris, London, the United States and elsewhere.

Remarkably, Getty senior curator Davide Gasparotto has organized what appears to be the first monographic exhibition on the artist ever in an American museum. It’s modest in size (there’s also one drawing, a “Nativity” from around 1470) and fits in a single gallery but it’s a room of exceptional artistic grace and power.

The show is tightly focused on devotional paintings rather than the altarpieces and larger works at which Bellini also excelled. Devotional paintings are meant for contemplation, up-close and personal, one on one. Four crucifixions side by side on one wall offer a stunning array of varied takes on a single theme central to the faith.

So does a second wall with three versions of St. Jerome, the late-4th century hermit-scholar, who withdrew from society for lengthy periods of solitude in the Syrian desert. One is from around 1455, when Bellini was just starting out the shape and burnt sienna color of the fierce but suffering lion with a sharp thorn stuck in his outstretched paw, which the compassionate saint would remove, is strangely echoed in the rock formation of the cave in which the wizened Jerome sits.

The next is from 30 years later, and the third is from 20 years after that, a decade before the end of Bellini’s life (he died in 1516). By then, the Venetian Renaissance was in full swing. The full arc of Bellini’s career unfolds.

For the wealthy patrons who could commission a devotional painting — and for lucky us in the museum today — the sight of St. Jerome deep in thoughtful study pictures the same contemplative analysis in which a viewer is engaged. Bellini’s artistic mirror creates a powerful bond.

But the artist’s particular reflection also exploits a profound difference. St. Jerome is always shown poring over a written manuscript. (He was the first to translate the Bible’s Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek into Latin, a more universal and thus more influential language.) Rather than words, a painting is a physical, concrete object. Bellini painted “the Word” into artistic flesh.

The three St. Jerome panels encompass the painting materials Bellini employed. The first is in tempera, a hard, durable, ancient medium that allows a crisp line and satiny sheen the third is in oil paint, with a soft, transparent, luminous effect and in between them, the second is in a mixture of the two, both tempera and oils.

It is a myth that Bellini introduced oil painting, perfected in Northern Europe, to Italy, and that he abandoned tempera when he realized oil paint’s seductive power. Instead, he used both throughout his life. But it is certainly true that the arrival of oils, followed by the use of canvas rather than wooden panels as a support, sent the Venetian Renaissance into orbit at the hands of Titian, Giorgione, Veronese and the rest.

Speaking of materials, one of the crucifixion panels is a puzzlement. The surface is scattered with tiny sparkles, almost as if glistening bits of glitter are embedded in the paint. Gasparotto, the curator, told me the effect might be produced by tiny worm holes, not uncommon in 500-year-old wooden panels.

If so, I wonder whether the sparkle might come from tiny bits of pulverized glass in the paint. (Apparently the pigments haven’t been scientifically tested.) One marvelous revelation of the great National Gallery survey in 2006 was that many artists mixed finely ground and brightly colored glass, plentiful in Venice’s celebrated Murano workshops, into their paint. Glass juiced the picture’s colorful luminosity through reflected light.

Both the St. Jerome paintings and the crucifixions, like the “Christ Blessing” and other panels, demonstrate the Getty show’s main point: They highlight Bellini’s transformation of passive natural landscapes into active protagonists.

A Bellini landscape is a full-fledged character. Often it is as complex and meaningful as the people portrayed, from whom it is inseparable.

One of the clearest demonstrations is a crucifixion from the Corsini Collection in Florence. Although a bad cleaning job undertaken more than a century ago harmed the color, the composition is clear. Christ’s body hangs heavily on the cross, his broadly outstretched arms forming a graceful upward curve. Behind and below him in the middle ground, the contour of a pair of rocky mesas repeats the arc in a parallel curve.

More than merely a formal or stylistic echo for simple pictorial harmony, the emphatic repetition visually unites figure and landscape, cupping the distant land, sea and sky between them. This radiantly enclosed universe performs a stark contrast with the barren earth of Golgotha into which the cross is planted.

There the skull and bones of Adam are strewn across the dusty foreground. The crucifixion stands as the path between the earthly and the heavenly, shifting from the Old Testament to the New. Christ is the New Adam, and the landscape is our guide.

A second, very different emotional layer also reverberates against this anguished scene of suffering and death. The two rising, upturned arcs are as if Jesus and the world have united in a triumphant gesture of exultation, like a hero before a throng.

If Bellini’s painted landscape looks nothing like the hard and arid natural one outside the actual walls of Jerusalem, where the biblical event took place, that’s because his version echoes the soft, green, seaside expanses of the Veneto. When Bellini was born, around 1435, Venice was the most powerful city in Italy. But its fortunes began to change after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire, when Bellini was still a teenager.

The maritime city of lagoons, still splendid and rich, slowly turned away from prosperous sea-faring trade in luxury goods from the East, source of its historic wealth, and toward its future to the West. There lay the verdant landscape of Italy, which Bellini began to absorb into the subjects of his art.

The city’s thousand-year history with Byzantium lingered. The frontal, half-length format of the intensely focused “Christ Blessing” is virtually a Byzantine icon — albeit now relaxed by softened forms and tempered with the closely observed, Italianate landscape that unfolds behind the figure.

Such landscapes surely meant something powerful to the patrons who bought Bellini’s art. They were, after all, city dwellers. The pastoral landscape was a natural retreat from the urban toil and intrigues of a place constructed from scratch on pilings erected atop watery marshes. Nature and society were different realms.

Like St. Jerome leaving Rome for the solitude of the desert, a Venetian doge or merchant could conceptually retreat by silent study of the landscape in an exquisite devotional painting. Bellini plainly knew it.

In fact, he may have felt the same way himself. In his drawing of the “Nativity” in pen and brown ink, the rustic barnyard scene of the little family attended by a donkey, cow and shepherds is fenced off from the Italian countryside, itself backed by a distant view on the horizon of a fantastic urban skyline that strings together fanciful towers, domes and parapets.

The city is a virtual Oz. It rises beyond a luxuriant field, a setting before which a miracle takes place. In Bellini’s nativity, the Venetian Renaissance is being born.

‘Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice’

Where: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Brentwood

When: Through Jan. 14 closed Mondays

Twitter: @KnightLAT


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Giovanni Bellini - History


Italian family of artists. Primarily painters, the Bellini were arguably the most important of the many families that played so vital a role in shaping the character of Venetian art. They were largely responsible for introducing the Renaissance style into Venetian painting, and, more effectively than the rival Vivarini family, they continued to dominate painting in Venice throughout the second half of the 15th century. The art of Jacopo Bellini, a slightly older contemporary of Antonio Vivarini, is stylistically transitional. In his earlier career it was still strongly reflective of the Late Gothic manner of his master Gentile da Fabriano, but from c. 1440 it was increasingly Renaissance in character. It is not easy to trace Jacopo’s development, and accurately to assess his achievement, since only a small fragment of his painted oeuvre now survives but two large albums of drawings (London, BM Paris, Louvre) testify to his capacity for inventiveness and to his involvement with artistic concerns characteristic of the Renaissance.

(b ?1431𔃄 d Venice, 29 Nov 1516).

Painter and draughtsman, son of Jacopo Bellini. Although the professional needs of his family background may have encouraged him to specialize at an early date in devotional painting, by the 1480s he had become a leading master in all types of painting practised in 15th-century Venice. Later, towards the end of his long life, he added the new genres of mythological painting and secular allegory to his repertory of subject-matter. His increasing dominance of Venetian art led to an enormous expansion of his workshop after c. 1490 and this provided the training-ground not only for his numerous shop-hands and imitators (generically known as Belliniani) but probably also for a number of major Venetian painters of the next generation. Throughout his career, Giovanni showed an extraordinary capacity for absorbing a wide range of artistic influences, both from within Venetian tradition and from outside. He also oversaw a technical revolution in the art of painting, involving the gradual abandonment of the traditional Italian use of egg tempera in favour of the technique of oil painting pioneered in the Netherlands. It was thanks to Giovanni Bellini that the Venetian school of painting was transformed during the later 15th century from one mainly of local significance to one with an international reputation. He thus set the stage for the triumphs of Venetian painting in the 16th century and for the central contribution that Venice was to make to the history of European art.

Giovanni Bellini - History

Born : c. 1426-30, Venice

Died: 1516, Venice

GIOVANNI BELLINI, like his brother Gentile Bellini, began his career as an assistant in the studio of his father, Jacopo Bellini (c. 1400-70). His early work, executed in tempera, reflected a confluence of Byzantine stiffness and the analytical precision of the Flemish. Soon Bellini trained himself to become one of the early masters in the techniques of oil painting. He was later influenced by Donatello (to whose works he was exposed while executing with his father and brother the Pala Gattamelata for the Church of Sant'Antonio da Padova) and by the work of his sister's husband, Andrea Mantegna.

By 1479 Bellini had succeeded his brother in executing a cycle of great historical scenes for the Chamber of the Grand Council [Maggior Consiglio] in the Doge's Palace. Giovanni Bellini's six or seven canvases in the series, acclaimed as among his masterpieces, were destroyed in the devastating Palace fire of 1577.

The theme of Madonna and Child recurs frequently in Bellini's work. Mariolina Olivari comments in Giovanni Bellini [p. 4], "Bellini's paintings are characterized by a strange, subtle tension that always binds the mother and child in a relationship of profound pathos." One of Bellini's most masterful works is the Madonna and Child enthroned with SS. Peter, Catherine, Luisa and Jerome, painted in 1505 when he was approximately 75 years old. The painting is in the Church of S. Zaccaria. Bellini's late work, however, is characterized by highly naturalistic landscapes.

In 1506 Bellini's brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna died after completing only one of a cycle of four paintings commissioned by Cav. Proc. (later Cardinal) Francesco Cornaro (B-60). Thereupon, Cornaro turned to Bellini to execute, with his studio, The Continence of Scipio, perhaps based on a drawing by Mantegna. (See P. F. Brown, Venice and Antiquity [New Haven, 1996], pp. 252-5.) The painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari noted in 1568 that Giorgio Cornaro (presum. H-4, the nephew of Cardinal Cav. Proc. Francesco) had in his collection at that time another of Giovanni Bellini's paintings, Cena at Emaus that work, although recorded in an engraving and several derivations by another artist, has not survived.

In The Uffizi: A Guide to the Gallery [Venice: Edizione Storti, 1980, p. 60] Umberto Fortis has noted that "Bellini with his absorption of the achievements of the greatest masters of the age traces the development of Venetian Humanism itself in his own evolution as a painter, to attain a superior, serene autonomy of compositional values."

Bellini trained many younger artists in his workshop, including Giorgione, Titian, Jacopo da Montagna, Rondinello da Ravenna and Benedetto Coda of Ferrara. He was recognized in his own time as the leading painter of his period. Upon visiting Venice in 1506, the German artist Albrecht Durer wrote: "He is the best painter of them all." The prominent writers of his time also joined in his praise, including Pietro Bembo in his verses and Ariosto in Orlando Furioso, Canto 33. In Vasari's words, "There is no lack at Venice of those who endeavored to honor him when dead with sonnets and epigrams, just as he had honored his country when alive."

The J. Paul Getty Museum

Writing from Italy in 1506, Albrecht Dürer observed that Giovanni Bellini was "very old, but still the best in painting." Giovanni created the soft, luminous art of saturated color that brought Venetian painting into the Renaissance and helped Venice rival Florence as the center of artistic production. His father Jacopo headed a successful workshop where Giovanni and his brother Gentile painted until about 1470. The precisely organized, linear style of brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna was an early influence as well. Around 1475 the Sicilian Antonello da Messina brought oil painting to Venice, and Giovanni soon switched to the new technique. His vision remained contemplative and poetic, but his style became warmer and more luminous. Giovanni showed that landscape could establish mood rather than just acting as a backdrop, and he integrated figures harmoniously into his landscapes.

Giovanni's large workshop produced altarpieces , devotional works, and sensitive, compelling portraits, as well as highly influential half-length Madonnas. Through his workshop's activity, Giovanni directly or indirectly influenced the Venetian painters of his and the next generation, including Sebastiano del Piombo, Lorenzo Lotto, and Vittore Carpaccio. His work also deeply impressed Fra Bartolommeo, who visited Venice in 1507. He spent his career exploring new ideas, including those of such illustrious pupils as Titian and Giorgione.

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Giovanni Bellini Artworks

This painting depicts the common religious theme of Christ's time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before being taken prisoner by the Roman soldiers as a result of Judas' betrayal. In this version Christ kneels at a rock mound in prayer, while the disciples, Peter, James and John, sleep on the ground behind him. Visible in the clouds above the kneeling Jesus is an angel, holding aloft a cup and paten as symbols of Christ's sacrifice to come. Beyond these foreground figures, in the distance, winding their way along the road, are the Roman soldiers with Judas in the lead. Bellini's fine religious parable acts also as an excellent example of his respect for the natural landscape.

The topography of this painting recalls the sparse open countryside of the Lombardi region. Bellini had grown up in natural surroundings like this and his love for nature married well with his fervent religious beliefs. Despite never travelling further than Mantua, he was however aware of the discoveries in perspective and drawing being made in Florence thanks to his father Jacopo's travels. This new learning inspired Bellini to render the natural world around him with a realism and religious devotion not seen before. Indeed, he chose to depict landscapes with which he was familiar rather than imagine elaborate and idealised scenes.

This painting is often compared to an earlier painting on the same subject by his brother in law, Mantegna, whose landscape is, by comparison, dramatic, somewhat cramped and heavily populated by angels and soldiers in close proximity. Bellini exchanges Mantegna's spires of Jerusalem for small hill top towns, much closer in reality to the settlements found in the countryside around Venice at the time. The sparseness of the countryside allows the procession of soldiers to be placed further back into the distance thereby generating a powerful sense of impending fate the calm as the storm clouds gather in the distance.

Another remarkable aspect of this painting is Bellini's rendering of the tantalizing dawn light. The pink warmth of the rising sun is almost tangible as it catches the river and rocks and floods into the broad valley beyond the viewer. The light ripples over the back of Jesus's robes with an iridescence enhanced by the addition of gold to the blue. By continuing to harness light and color in this way, Bellini earned his reputation as the master at generating atmosphere.

Tempera on panel - The National Gallery, London


Pieta depicts the dead body of Christ being held up by Mary and Joseph. His wounds from the sword and his crucifixion are still fresh. The three figures are positioned in the central foreground with an obscured (by the three figures) rural landscape unwinding behind them.

This painting is significant because it marks Bellini's move away from the stylistic practices of Mantegna and the Paduan school. It shows the artist exploring his own, more serene and intimate style a style that was softer than that seen in his previous paintings. His open low-lying landscape is suffused with natural light and opened up yet further by the horizontal fleeting clouds and sky. The stiffly-wrapped drapery of his costumes is replaced by far softer, more sweeping, folds. The grace these peripheral changes add to the image support an intimacy of feeling between the mother and her dead son (for there can be no higher love than that between mother and only son) which is immensely powerful in its tenderness. This was an aspect of Bellini's work that becomes a recognizable feature in his paintings to come. Also noticeable here are the beginnings of his ability to infuse classical themes and compositions with personal interpretation. Though he has a vital compositional function as a third party in the triptych, the somewhat stilted figure of Joseph (when compared to Mary) is still clearly absorbed in personal grief.

The fervour of religiosity so keenly depicted in Bellini's earlier work has dissipated and become something more refined and humanistic. As the art historian Roger Fry put it, "The sorrow which Bellini has here conceived is divine only in its excess of humanity." It is the simple, universal and agonising loss of a mother the viewer feels here over the loss of an ardent disciple. This is, in part, thanks to the development of the artist's rendering of the human figure. The move away from an emphasis on line and contour, towards more modelled planes and shading gives dead weight to Christ's arms and softness to his skin, he is almost ready to slump out of the image.

Tempera on Panel - Pinacoteca Brera, Milan, Italy

The Sacred Conversation

This altarpiece was originally painted for the church of St Giobbe in Venice. It depicts the common religious theme of The Virgin Mary in consultation with a group of saints and a heavenly gathering. In this particular painting the saints depicted are, from left to right, St Francis, St John, St Job, St Dominic, St Sebastian and St Louis. At the base of The Virgin's throne sit three angels with musical instruments.

This painting was the first example of The Sacred Conversation set within the architecture of a Venetian church. Previously, the divine group were set within a heavenly setting, whereas here Bellini brings them right down to earth. In its original place within the church of St Giobbe, the painting would have been surrounded by pillars similar to those within the space of the painting creating the illusion that The Virgin, Christ and all the saints were within reach of the worshipper. This effect would have been intensified by the familiar architecture of the painting, which is so reminiscent of the interior of St Mark's Basilica, the greatest church in Venice. The gold of the cupola and the marble that lines the walls behind the Madonna are both very recognisable features of The Basilica and, having been looted from Constantinople in the 13 th century, were also symbolic of Venetian international power. This use of an architectural setting for biblical scenes went on to influence many future religious painters, notably Fra Bartolomeo in his Mystic Marriage of St Catherine in 1512, now held in the Accademia in Florence.

The warmth of the golden light within this picture may well have been inspired by the sacred and mysterious light of the Basilica generated by the vast quantities of gold on its walls. The atmosphere is certainly one of the reasons this picture is worth noting. By this point Bellini is painting more and more in oil and in this example he uses oil to layer thin layer upon thin layer, giving richness and depth to the light suffusing the scene.

Despite the inviting gesture of St Francis and the delicate rendering of the largely naked figures of St Job and St Sebastian, there is still a removed and slightly distant nature to Bellini's figures here. He is still conforming to the idea of representing a type with the saints, rather than a personality, though this was to change dramatically later on in his career. Here though there is a feeling that he is still displaying his mastery of the skills of lifelike representation and that something of the raw emotion of his earlier Pieta has been sacrificed in the study of St Sebastian's technical positioning and the Madonna's austere expression.

Oil on Panel - Galleria dell' Accademia, Venice

Doge Leonardo Lorodan

Bellini's portrait was most probably completed in the first year of Doge Leonardo Lorondan's rule. It shows the bust of the Doge in full ceremonial dress, in three quarter view, sitting behind a pedestal before an open blue background. The painting is most significant because of its importance to Venetian portraiture and Italian Renaissance art as a whole.

The fifteenth century was witness to big changes in formal approaches to art. The increasing ability of artists to render truly lifelike portraits meant demand soared during the first half of the sixteenth century too. Vasari (writing in 1550) stated that Bellini "introduced into Venice the fashion that everyone of a certain rank should have his portrait painted either by him or by some other master." Though Florence is often considered the forerunner of the Renaissance, Venice's trade links meant the great artists' studios, like Bellini's, were open to advances in other countries, most notably the Netherlands, but also through Sicily, another vibrant trading port.

This portrait shows evidence of a Dutch influence. Firstly, and most notably, the sitter is depicted in three quarter view as opposed to the more usual Italian profile of the time. Though this is not the first use of this technique in Italy it is a prime example of how much more intimate and powerful the viewers' connection to the sitter becomes in this format. Secondly the sitter is positioned behind a pedestal, placing him in space, with the illusion that he is just there on the other side of an opening to the viewer. And lastly, it is painted in oil rather than tempera. Bellini's mastery of this medium, new to Venice and Italy at the turn of the century, enabled him to paint with the subtlety that here renders the Doges' skin so soft and realistic.

The picture also displays the sparseness and the sense of light more closely associated with the Dutch masters. But here Bellini is adapting it for specific reasons. Fiercely and proudly republic, Venice was aware of the dangers of celebrating the power of a single elected individual and the doge was constantly held accountable by his peers. Doge Lorodan campaigned (and won his election) on the strength of these democratic ideals, effectively presenting Bellini with the task of portraying the ruler of Venice without elevating him personally. Subsequently this portrait is possessed with the diffused blue sky light of Venice. The serenity and averted focus of the Doge's eyes perfectly personifies "The Most Serene Republic of Venice" (as it was often called) while the ceremonial robes describe the state's love of pageantry and tie the sitter firmly to his office. This is a picture of the ruling doge as the personification of his proud city.

Oil on poplar board - The National Gallery, London

The Sacred Conversation

This painting, once more an example of oil on board, is widely considered Bellini's finest work. The art critic, John Ruskin, went so far as to describe it as the best painting in the world. It too depicts the common religious theme, the Sacred Conversation. As with many other examples, it shows the Madonna and Child at the centre of the painting, flanked on both sides by the figures of saints, arranged in a traditional pyramidal structure. In this case the saints are, from left to right, St Peter, St Catherine, St Lucy and St Jerome. The group are positioned within sacred architecture, The Madonna and Child enthroned beneath a half cupola.

Made very late on in his career, this painting shows the entirety of Bellini's mastery in rendering the human figure and perspective. It is also an example of how he used color to knit together the composition. The contrasting and complementary arrangements of the robes of the saints generate a harmony between them that is deeper than the simply structural. The poise and serenity of the faces of the saints, St Catherine's far away smile and St Jerome's absorption in his book, give the saints a life of their own with which they are very rarely seen, and which is not present in the earlier St Giobbe altarpiece. Ernst Gombrich describes the significance of this in the popular art history tome "The Story of Art" when he says, "In the earlier days, the picture of the Virgin used to be rigidly flanked by the traditional images of the saints. Bellini knew how to bring life into simple symmetrical arrangement without upsetting its order." Set above a side alter in The San Zaccaria Church in Venice, the painting and its perspectival architecture give, as with the St Giobbe example, the illusion of being simply an extension of the inner space of the church. Thanks to the peripheral views of the open landscape, however, this example gives a greater sense of light and space than its illustrious predecessor.

Oil on board - San Zaccaria Church, Venice

The Feast of the Gods

This is the greatest example of the small number of secular pictures that Bellini made toward the end of his life. The painting is a complicated composition reminiscent of a roman frieze in its horizontal layout. It depicts a scene from Ovid in which some seventeen figures including Bacchus, Hermes, Jupiter, Pan, Neptune and Apollo, feast in the forest. It was commissioned by the duke of Ferrara for his study and thus the subject matter was allowed to be of a more private nature. Many of the goddesses and nymphs have their breasts exposed and Priapus, the man in green to the right-hand side of the painting is attempting to lift the skirt of the sleeping Lotis. There are many symbols of sexuality running through the painting and it is thought the couple in the centre, the lady in peach and the man next to her with his hand between her thighs were portraits of the Duke and his wife.

Though Dosso Dossi made alterations to the painting after Bellini's death (at the behest of the Duke) the main alteration was by Titian who reworked the landscape, while leaving the original Bellini figures intact. The painting is filled with the vibrant colors Bellini was famous for, most notably the blue robe of the young Bacchus on the left. Though these figures are gods there is really very little to delineate them as such. To all intents and purposes this is a naturalistic scene of people enjoying life in the landscape. This interpretation may be due to Bellini's inexperience at this type of painting, but it may also come down to his humanization of mythical characters normally considered beyond the reach of mortality.

Giovanni Bellini

Giovanni Bellini (noin 1430–1516) [1] oli venetsialainen taidemaalari. Bellinin värinkäyttö oli Venetsian koulun tapaan lämminsävyistä ja koloristista. [2] Hän oli ensimmäisten joukossa omaksumassa öljyväritekniikkaa.

Giovanni Bellini on kuuluisin Bellinin suvun taidemaalareista – hänen isänsä Jacopo Bellini [2] ja veljensä Gentile Bellini olivat myös maalareita. Bellinin töistä näkyy hänen lankonsa Andrea Mantegnan vaikutus. Giovannin Bellinin vaikutus venetsialaiseen maalaustaiteeseen oli suuri. Hänen kuuluisimpia oppilaitaan olivat Giorgione ja Tizian.

Muiden aikansa venetsialaisten tapaan Giovanni Bellini ei ottanut kovin vahvoja vaikutteita antiikista, vaan keskittyi uskonnollisiin aiheisiin. Hän teki useita Sacra conversazione -sommitelmia, joissa kuvataan Madonnaa pyhimysten seurassa. Muita Bellinin suosimia teemoja olivat Kristus Getsemanessa ja pietà-aihe. Bellinin parhaana teoksena on pidetty Franciscus Assisilaista. [2]

Art History News

One of the most beloved and influential religious painters of the Italian Renaissance, Giovanni Bellini (Venice, about 1435-1516) was also a master in depicting landscape. His paintings of religious scenes often featured evocative natural settings that were as important and affecting as their human subjects.

On view October 10, 2017, through January 14, 2018, Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice presents 12 paintings and one drawing that explore the poetic role played by the natural world in the artist’s religious compositions. The exhibition includes several masterpieces that rarely travel, making this an exceptional opportunity to experience the artistic beauty and iconographic complexity of Bellini’s art.

“Giovanni Bellini skillfully employed natural and built features in his imagery to complement religious subjects and enhance the contemplative, meditative potential of his paintings,” said Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Thanks to the loan of a number of masterpieces from generous institutions in Europe and the United States, our visitors will be able to experience directly the poetic beauty that made Bellini one of the greatest masters of the Renaissance, and has kept him on the list of the most admired and coveted artists ever since. The exquisite beauty and delicate charm of these paintings have an aesthetic and spiritual power way beyond their modest scale. As a focused experience of sublime beauty in the service of devotion, this exhibition is as good as it gets. Not to be missed is a gross understatement.”

Giovanni Bellini was one of the most illustrious artists of the Italian Renaissance, admired for his accomplishments in all genres of painting practiced in 15th-century Venice, including religious subjects, mythological scenes, and portraits. He began his career painting small pictures intended for private devotion, later creating emotionally intense portraits as well as innovative altarpieces. Toward the end of his long life he added mythological and secular allegory to his repertoire. He was also one of the artists who championed the shift from painting in egg tempera, traditional in Italy, to painting in oil, a technique pioneered in the Netherlands. He operated a busy studio in Venice and trained many younger artists, including Giorgione and Titian. A standout among great artists both in his family and in his community, Bellini was one of the key figures who elevated the Venetian school to international repute.

“The devotional components of Giovanni Bellini’s pictures, such as a sole crucifix in a landscape or an image of Saint Jerome reading in the wilderness, are always infused with a refined sensitivity to the natural world,” said Davide Gasparotto, senior curator of paintings at the Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. “Bellini’s paintings feature expressively charged interpretations of sacred characters and symbols immersed in a realm of lived experiences in a way that was entirely unprecedented in Italian painting. Through this poetic use of landscape, Bellini elevated the devotional work of art to an object of worthy aesthetic admiration, thus ushering in a new chapter in the history of European painting.”

  • Christ Blessing, about 1500, Giovanni Bellini, tempera and oil on wood panel. Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

  • Sacred Allegory, about 1500-1504, Giovanni Bellini, tempera (?) and oil on wood panel. Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence. Photo credit: Scala/Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali / Art Resource, NY.

The exhibition also includes one of Bellini’s earliest surviving works, Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, about 1455, which depicts the saint as a penitent hermit blessing a lion. He reads in a cave that dominates the picture’s foreground, while a broad, deep landscape opens out into the background. Rather than evoking the Syrian desert of the fable, the scenery recalls the gentle slope of the Venetian mainland, a feature of many of Bellini’s paintings.

The Feast of the Gods, 1514/1529

Giovanni Bellini and Titian’s The Feast of the Gods is one of the greatest Renaissance paintings in the United States by two fathers of Venetian art. In this illustration of a scene from Ovid's Fasti, the gods, with Jupiter, Neptune, and Apollo among them, revel in a wooded pastoral setting, eating and drinking, attended by nymphs and satyrs. According to the tale, the lustful Priapus, god of fertility, stealthily lifts the gown of the sleeping nymph Lotis, as seen in the painting. A moment later, he will be foiled by the braying of Silenus' ass and the assembled deities will laugh at Priapus' misadventure.

The Feast was the first in a series of mythologies, or bacchanals, commissioned by Duke Alfonso d'Este to decorate the camerino d'alabastro (alabaster study) of his castle in Ferrara. Bellini completed it two years before his death in 1514. Years later, the Duke commissioned two reworkings of portions of Bellini’s canvas. Dosso Dossi made an initial alteration to the landscape at left and added the pheasant and bright green foliage to the tree at upper right. Most famously, Bellini’s student, Titian, made a second set of alterations, painting out Dosso’s landscape with the dramatic, mountainous backdrop now seen, leaving only Dosso’s pheasant intact. It is possible that Titian wished to harmonize the Feast with the other, later paintings he also created for the camerino at the Duke’s behest. The figures and elements of the bacchanal were untouched by the later artists and remain Bellini’s own. The original tonalities and intensity of the colors have recently been restored, and the painting has regained its sense of depth and spaciousness.


lower right on wooden tub: joannes bellinus venetus / p MDXIIII


Probably commissioned by Alfonso I d'Este, Duke of Ferrara [d. 1534)[1] by inheritance to his son, Ercole II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara [d. 1559] by inheritance to his son, Alfonso II d'Este, Duke of Ferrara [d. 1597] by inheritance to his cousin, Cesare d'Este, Duke of Ferrara confiscated 1598 from the Castello at Ferrara by Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini [d. 1621], Rome, when he was acting as Papal Legate and recorded in his inventory of 1603 by inheritance to his nephew, Cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini [d. 1638], Rome, and recorded in his inventory of 1626 by inheritance to his niece, Olimpia Aldobrandini Borghese Pamphilj [d. 1681], Rome, and recorded in her pre-1665 inventory and 1682 posthumous inventory by inheritance to her son, Giovan Battista Pamphilj Aldobrandini [d. 1710], Rome[2] Aldobrandini heirs, until the line became extinct in 1760[3] by inheritance 1769 to Paolo Borghese Aldobrandini [d. 1792], Rome by inheritance to his nephew, Giovan Battista Borghese Aldobrandini [d. 1802], Rome purchased 1796/1797 by Pietro Camuccini [1761-1833] for the collection of his brother, Vincenzo Camuccini [1771-1844], Rome[4] presumably by inheritance to Vincenzo's son, Giovanni Battista Camuccini [1819-1904], Rome sold 1853 with the entire Camuccini collection through Antonio Giacinto Saverio, Count Cabral, Rome,[5] to Algernon Percy, 4th duke of Northumberland [1792-1865], Alnwick Castle, Northumberland by inheritance to his cousin, George Percy, 5th duke of Northumberland [1778-1867], Alnwick Castle by inheritance to his son, Algernon George Percy, 6th duke of Northumberland [1810-1899], Alnwick Castle by inheritance to his son, Henry George Percy, 7th duke of Northumberland 1846-1918], Alnwick Castle sold 16 June 1916 to (Thomas Agnew & Sons, London) on joint account with (Arthur J. Sulley and Co., London)[6] inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, after purchase in 1921 by funds of the estate[7] gift 1942 to NGA.

[1] Possibly commissioned by his sister Isabella d'Este final payment made to Bellini by Alfonso in 1514 painting located in Camerino d'Alabastro of the Castello until 1598.

[2] Giovan was the son of Olimpia Aldobrandini by her second marriage, to Camillo Pamphili upon his inheritance, Giovan changed his name to Aldobrandini. His brother Cardinal Benedetto [d. 1730] also inherited some paintings.

[3] In 1760, the paintings were involved in a lawsuit between the Colonna and Borghese, and were settled on the second son of the head of the Borghese in 1769.

[4] Jaynie Anderson, "The Provenance of Bellini's Feast of the Gods and a New/Old Interpretation," Studies in the History of Art 45, Symposium Papers 25 (1993): 271.

[5] Cabral was Northumberland's attorney in Rome he negotiated the transaction with Camuccini a seal with what is probably his coat-of-arms is on the back of the painting. See Anderson 1993, 269-270.

[6] The painting is number J1755 in Agnew's records (see Thos. Agnew & Sons, Picture Stock Book, 1904-1933, Section 2 [which records paintings purchased jointly by Agnew and a partner] NGA27/1/1/10, Research Centre, National Gallery, London copy in NGA curatorial files digitized and available at, accessed 17 May 2017).

[7] Although the painting was exhibited in 1920 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as from the collection of Carl W. Hamilton, New York, he probably only had it on credit, as he had many paintings from Duveen Brothers, Inc. on the same basis. According to a history of the Widener collection written by Edith Standen, the Widener curator, Joseph Widener "would not have the Bellini listed as having passed through the Carl Hamilton Collection. because, he said, Mr. Hamilton never completed the payments on it." She also wrote that Widener "said the Duke of Northumberland tried to sell him the picture before World War I." (Handwritten manuscript and typed copy, Edith Standen Papers, Gallery Archives, National Gallery of Art, Washington copy in NGA curatorial files.)

The painting is not recorded as sold in Agnew's records until 1922 (see note 6). However, Arthur Sulley appears to have handled the sale to Widener. Sulley wrote to the collector about the painting in 1917, and his letter of 26 September 1921 to Widener states that the painting will be delivered around 10 October 1921 (both letters in NGA curatorial files).

Created of two simple ingredients, peach purée, and Prosecco, the Bellini is a fan favorite.

Giuseppe Cipriani, the founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy, created the cocktail. The pink-ish-colored drink was named the Bellini because it reminded him of a painting of a saint. This painting was done by 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini.

The Bellini began as a seasonal drink item at Harry’s Bar and later, becoming popular at the bar’s New York counterpart. The cocktail is an official part of the IBA (International Bartenders Association).

The drink calls for puréed white peaches. In the original recipe, a few drops of raspberry juice were added to give a bright pink hue to the drink. Because white peaches can be hard to come by, often yellow peaches or peach nectar are substituted.

This charming cocktail is not only easy to make, but the result is delicious. Thirsty? Try making our favorite recipe for the Bellini cocktail.

Watch the video: Maria Callas Live: Bizets Carmen Habanera, Hamburg 1962