Giovanni Bellini

Giovanni Bellini (c. 1430 – 1516) is considered to be the founder of the Venetian school of painting. Giovanni Bellini, son of Jacopo Bellini, brother of Gentile Bellini and brother-in-law of Andrea Mantegna, was an Italian Renaissance painter, probably the best known from the Bellini family of painters. Giovanni Bellini, 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 and the creation of deep, rich tints and detailed shadings. Giovanni Bellini's sumptuous coloring and fluent, atmospheric landscapes had a great effect on his contamporary colleagues, especially on his pupils Giorgione and Titian.

Giovanni Bellini

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

Up until the age of nearly thirty Giovanni Bellini's paintings display a religious feeling and human pathos which is his own. Executed in the old tempera method, the Biblical scenes are softened by a new and beautiful effect of romantic sunrise color. Unfortunately, many of Giovanni Bellini's great public works are now lost.

After 1479-1480 Giovanni Bellini worked as conservator of the paintings in the great hall of Palazzo Ducale. Besides repairing and renewing the works of his predecessors he was commissioned to paint a number of new subjects, illustrations 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.

Giovanni Bellini"The Madonna of the Meadow" by Giovanni Bellini

Fortunately many of Giovanni Bellini's altar-pieces with figures and simple Madonnas, have been preserved. Bellini gradually throws off the last restraints of the Quattrocento manner and gradually acquires a complete mastery of the new oil medium. Giovanni Bellini's method of using oil paint brought not only a greater maturity but an individual style, achieving a certain richness by layering colors in new and varied ways. The old intensity of pathetic and devout feeling gradually fades away and gives place to a noble, if more worldly, serenity, sweetness and charm. Bellini's saints gain in power, presence and individuality. In his later work Bellini achieved a unique religious and emotional unity of expression.

Giovanni Bellini
"Madonna with saints" (1505) by Giovanni Bellini
Altar painting: oil on wood, transferred to canvas 402 x 273 cm
Church of Saint Zaccaria, Venice

The German painter, Albrecht Dürer, visiting Venice for the second time in 1506, wrote of Giovanni Bellini: "He is very old, and still he is the best painter of them all".

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 oil painting. 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. Giovanni Bellini raised Venice to a center of Renaissance art that rivaled Florence and Rome. He brought to painting a new degree of realism, a new wealth of subject matter, and a new sensuousness in form and color.

Giovanni Bellini
"The Feast of the Gods" (c. 1514) by Giovanni Bellini
Completed by his disciple, Titian, 1529
National Gallery of Art, Washington

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