The Early Renaissance



Giovanni Bellini


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.

Giovanni Bellini

(b ?1431–6; 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.



Madonna with Child

Tempera on wood, 47 x 31,5 cm
Civico Museo Malaspina, Pavia


Dead Christ Supported by the Madonna and St John (Pieta)

Tempera on wood, 52 x 42 cm
Accademia Carrara, Bergamo




c. 1455
Tempera on wood, 54,5 x 30 cm
Museo Correr, Venice



Transfiguration of Christ

c. 1455
Tempera on panel, 143 x 68
Museo Correr, Venice



Agony in the Garden

c. 1459
Tempera on wood, 81 x 127 cm
National Gallery, London

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