(active 1400S/1500s)

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      • Bellini   There were three painters in this Venetian family: Jacopo, and his sons Gentile and Giovanni.

        Jacopo (c.14001470/71) was a pupil of Gentile da Fabriano, with whom he was working in Florence in 1423, when he was prosecuted as a result of an affray with a youth who threw stones into the workshop yard. Only four pictures are known to be certainly his, all rather stiff and hieratic in pose and treatment; yet in 1441 he defeated Pisanello in a competition portrait of Lionello d'Este ofFerrara, but this portrait cannot be identified with certainty. His major surviving works are his two sketchbooks (BM and Louvre), which were the source of many ideas and designs used by his sons and by his son-in-law, Mantegna. The four signed works are in Lovere, near Bergamo, Milan (Brera), Venice (Accad.) and Verona. Other, attributed, pictures are in Florence (Uffizi), Milan (Poldi-Pezzoli), Padua and Verona.

        Gentile (c.1429/30-1507) probably worked in the family shop until his father died (an altarpiece said to have been signed by all three and dated 1460 is recorded), but he had achieved sufficient fame to be ennobled by the Emperor in 1469, though nothing is known of the work that procured him this honour. In 147981 he was in Constantinople, painting portraits for, and of, the Sultan, Mahomet II, whose portrait is in London (NG). He worked on the cycle of history pictures in the Doge's Palace in 1474, and again on his return from Turkey, but all were burnt in the fire of 1577. His series depicting the processions and ceremonies of two of the major charitable foundations in Venice (the Scuola Grande di S. Marco was one) became the standard type for this kind of picture, full of portraits and views of the city, for instance, the Miracle of the Reliquary of the Cross, at the bridge of S. Lorenzo (1500: Venice Accad.) painted for the Scuola di S. Giovanni Evangelista - another great foundation. His large St Mark Preaching at Alexandria (Milan, Brera) was unfinished at his death, and he bequeathed one of his father's sketchbooks to his brother on condition that he finished it. He also bequeathed to two of his pupils his sketchbook of Roman drawings (now lost), which may be evidence for his having visited Rome. There are works in Berlin, Birmingham, Boston (Gardner), Budapest, Chicago, Istanbul (Univ.), London (NG), Milan (Brera), New York (Frick Coll.), San Francisco and Venice (Accad., Correr, S. Marco Mus.).

        Giovanni (c.1430-1516) is usually thought to be the younger son, but his birthdate is pure conjecture. There is some evidence that he was independent by 1459, but he can be presumed to have been connected with the family workshop until Jacopo's death. His early work derives mainly from his father's, but, like Gentile, he was strongly influenced by Mantegna, who married their sister Nicolosia in 1454. The chronology of his works is difficult because he became the main teacher of his generation, the main source of new ideas and forms, with a large shop of pupils and assistants, so that 'OP. IOH. BELL.' is not only a signature but a trademark, the sign of the workshop rather than the artist. His pupils included Giorgione, Titian, Raima Vecchio and Sebastiano del Piombo, and he influenced directly or indirectly all the painters of his own and the next generation, even when they were the pupils of his brother or the Vivarini; Cima, Catena, Basaiti, Montagna and Carpaccio are examples of this. Durer wrote home from Venice during his visit in 15057 that he was 'very old, but still the best in painting'. He became the greatest of the Venetian Madonnieri, or Madonna painters, evolving a succession of designs and types of unparalleled imaginativeness and versatility for official commissions, such as the votive offerings of the Doges, large altarpieces and small devotional works, in which, despite their private purpose, he never departed from the hieratic character of the Madonna as the Theotokos (mother of God). He was influenced by Antonello, and from the latter's St Cassiano altarpiece and one of his own, painted for SS. Giovanni e Paolo (and burnt in 1867), stem the great sacre conversazioni of St Giobbe (c.1483/5: now in the Accad.) and St Zaccaria (1505: still in S. Zaccaria) and the later developments of the form, notably those by Giorgione and Titian. His compositions of the Pieta, particularly those with the dead Christ supported in the tomb by angels or by the Virgin and St John, derive ultimately from Donatello and Jacopo Bellini, and were intended more as private devotional works than for churches. He frequently included landscape as a background, and in the Agony in the Garden, painted in emulation of Mantegna's similar work (both in London, NG), he combines observation of nature with rare poetic feeling, but naturalistic details are never allowed to overwhelm the figures. In 1479, when Gentile went to Turkey, he took over the work in the Doge's Palace and eventually became chief painter to the State, a position he held until his death, in spite of Titian's attempts'to displace him. The loss of these history paintings, together with those by Pisanello and Gentile da Fabriano, in the fire of 1577 means that the early style of Venetian history painting can only be guessed at. His official duties included painting portraits of the Doges - the Doge Loredano (c.1501: London, NG) is the finest of these - and his portraits, many of which adapt tttthe Flemish type of the three-quarter view against a landscape background, are simple, sensitive and compelling. His last works break new ground. His St Jerome (1513: Venice, S. Giovanni Crisostomo), with its spatial device of the saint seated in a landscape and seen through an arch, before which the other life-size figures stand, is an entirely new invention. He had painted Christian and classical allegories before, but never a mythology on such a scale as the Feast of the Gods, painted in 1514 for the Duke of Ferrara (now in Washington, N G), which depicts a rustic Olympian picnic in a mildly erotic pastoral vein. Titian later repainted the landscape background to make it suit his own mythologies painted for the same room. The Lady at Her Toilet (1515: Vienna), a semi-mythological subject which possibly started as a portrait, combines the composition used for his late Madonna pictures with genre detail and a nude figure. These three works show the old Bellini coming to terms with the new century. Technically, he learned much from Antonello; stylistically, he digested Mantegna, yet survived as an independent personality; iconographically, he was the most theologically learned and inventive painter North Italy produced. There are works in the Royal Coll., Baltimore (Walters), Bergamo, Berlin, Besancon (a very late Noah), Birmingham (Mus., Barber Inst.), Boston (Gardner), Bristol, Cambridge Mass. (Fogg), Detroit, Dresden, Florence (Uffizi), Glasgow (Mus., Burrell), Houston Texas, Kansas City, London (NG, Courtauld Inst.), Los Angeles, Milan (Brera, Poldi-Pezzoli), Naples, New Orleans, New York (Brooklyn, Frick Coll., Met. Mus., Morgan Library), Ottawa, Oxford, Padua, Paris (Louvre, Jacquemart-Andre), Pasadena Cal. (Simon), Pesaro, Philadelphia (Johnson), Rimini, Rome (Borghese, Capitoline Mus.), San Diego Cal., San Marino Cal. (Huntington), Stuttgart, Toledo Ohio, the Vatican, Venice (Accad., Correr, Ca d'Oro, Doge's Palace, Querini-Stampalia, churches), Verona, Vienna and Washington (NG).

      • Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books) | Search Site | Art Rarities in Stock

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