Giovanni Bellini

Giovanni Bellini (1430 – Nov 29, 1516) 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 colouristic 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.

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 15th century. Both pictures are of the Holy Conversation (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 mosaicked half dome that recalls the Byzantine architecture in the basilica of St. Mark.

In the later work Bellini depicts the Virgin surrounded by (from left): 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 (Catherine a breaking wheel, and Lucy a dish with her eyes); St. Jerome, with a book symbolizing his work on 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 altarpiece with saints include 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.

The Feast of the Gods, c. 1514 completed by his disciple, Titian, 1529; oil on canvas; National Gallery of Art, Washington
In 1505 she endeavoured through Cardinal Bembo to obtain from him another picture, this time of a secular or mythological character. What the subject of this piece was, or whether it was actually delivered, we do not know.

Albrecht Dürer, 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 St. 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.

He was interred in the Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo, a traditional burial place of the doges.