GIOVANNI BELLINI: The Artist of the Century

The Agony in the Garden, Giovanni Bellini - photo by The National Gallery, London

Giovanni Bellini (1430 – 26 November 1516) was born in Venice. He was also a Venice new beginning painter and the brain behind the Venetian School of Painting. He was adjudged one of the greatest and foremost Old Master of resurgence art. In addition, Giovanni Bellini was among the most dominating Venetian artists who contributed greatly towards the growth of Venetian painting and part of those who transformed Venice from just an ordinary artistic centre to a motivating force to be reckoned with till today. Based on the sumptuous, colouristic style, he particularly founded a distinct school of High Renaissance painting.

Giovanni Bellini, Self-Portrait – photo by Wikipedia

In all his life, Giovanni Bellini lived and worked in Venice and his career was for a duration of 65 years. He was distinguished for his groundbreaking portrayal of natural light, tender and graceful pictures and his altarpieces.

He was able to craft profound, sumptuous tints, tones and comprehensive shadings, thereby producing exceptional religious portraits, paintings and magnificent atmospheric landscapes, by making use of comprehensible, slow-drying oil paints. His painting techniques that had a great impact on his students and colleagues made him the best painter to be reckoned with as far as Renaissance in Venice is concerned. He also crafted a number of the best drawings of the Renaissance in addition to this.

The Training of Giovanni Bellini

Giovanni Bellini received training in drawing and painting, and also the fundamentals of oils in his father’s workshop. Generally, religious art was his early works, and they comprised of panel painting carried out in rigid Byzantine style, making use of tempera and expressed a level of religious intensity.

People and What Influenced Giovanni Bellini

The Early Influences

Andrea Mantegna

Crucifixion, Giovanni Bellini, c. 1455 – photo by Wikipedia

Andrea Mantegna who happened to be the brother-in-law of Giovanni Bellini was the greatest influence in his early time. The 1455 Bellini’s Crucifixion work of art displayed in Correr Museum in Venice showed how well this man had really absorbed the lessons he received from Mantegna, particularly in the foreshortening of the body of Christ and the handling of the rocks where the Cross is planted.

Andrea Mantegna happened to be one of the first influences on the professional career of Bellini. Formerly an archeology student, the figures of Mantegna were absolutely structural with valiant contour lines. His influence on Bellini is most evident in Agony in the Garden, which was perhaps representation from one of the paintings of Mantegna by the same name.

Building of the contribution of Mantegna, the artistic personality of Giovanni emerged powerfully in how the drama of the Crucifixion was made more humane by its setting, having the body of Christ shown against a river landscape in the light of dawn. The smooth marble belonging to Mantegna was transformed into suffering flesh by Bellini in the renowned Pieta.

Jacopo Bellini

In all probability, the first exposure of Bellini to painting was made possible by his famous father. Both Bellini and his brother helped their father in his workshop and were both given lessons of their own. Jacopo launched Bellini into artistic concepts.

Byzantine Art and Christianity

Madonna of the Meadow, about 1500-5, Giovanni Bellini – photo by The National Gallery, London

Being a dedicated Christian, Bellini used his paintings as an avenue to exhibit his religious devotion. The images of the Madonna and the Passion were among his much-loved themes. These images were respected for their artistic grace and deep religious feeling. The interpretation of religious icons is a custom or practice established in Byzantine religious art and was evidently a gigantic influence on Bellini and a lot of his colleagues.

Later Influences

Messina and Northern Style

Bellini received a visit from a Sicilian artist in the 1470s. This artist was recognised for disseminating the use of oil paints all over Italy.

Oil painting was initiated by Jan Van Eyck, who happened to be a Flemish painter. This type of painting let painters blend colours without limit, taking their paintings to a far greater depth and brightness than they were earlier established.

The Venetian Influence

A characteristic of Venetian painting later turned out to be the lungful of sensuality and ambiance over shape and form. A lot of the works of Bellini for the period of his career showed careful attention to the instantaneous Venetian landscape, and as his career development, he highlighted further diaphanous and naturalistic forms.

The Medium of Oil Painting

San Zaccaria Altarpiece, Giovanni Bellini – photo by Web Gallery of Art

Bellini started abandoning his older paint style of tempera to favor oil paints in the 1470s after he had made a name for himself and became renowned through his portraits and dramatic portrayals of Biblical events. Using oil paints assisted in unleashing Bellini’s eye for light and colour, and his paintings portrayed more realistic quality.

As a result, a lot of his altarpieces are meticulous and realistic, that it was concluded that those who are sitting in the back pew can feel the sensation imprinted on the face of every subject.

Moreover, it was at this period that Bellini was given a prominent position at the Palace in Venice. During that period, he painted panels in the great hall of the palace, altarpieces and portraits while he watched over additional works for the remaining part of his life.

When it comes to the medium of oil painting in Venice, Giovanni Bellini was among the first Venetian painters to dedicate himself to it. He gave up tempera after 1475 and painted nearly solely in oils, a medium in which he quickly turned out to be a complete master. The visit of the Sicilian artist to Venice in 1475 to 1476 was the likely reason for this fascination with oils, having immersed the most recent oil painting methods in Naples.

His paintings were a combination of Italian skill in anatomy and work of art with Dutch realism and glow with a wealthy intensity. The Giovanni Bellini’s mastermind made it possible for him to transmit these characteristics to his latest works, as he gave his figures an expression of calm deliberation. Furthermore, he kept innovating and keeping up to date, scrounging and then harmonising thoughts from his colleagues and pupils.

Piero della Francesca’s Influence

Pesaro Altarpiece, Coronation of the Virgin, Giovanni Bellini – photo by FreeArt

Bellini felt the impact and influence of Pedro della Francesca in his work known as the Coronation of the Virgin dated around 1473 by some authorities and between 1470 and 1471 by others. Space is never separated again as experienced is in the era of the polyptychs. It was rather united by a linear point of view. It draws the landscape, the throne and buildings together in a new way.

An understanding of Piero della Francesca’s works was apparently fundamental to this growing of the art of Giovanni, such as the influx of Antonello da Messini in Venice in the year 1475, which was important for the purpose of the upcoming Venetian painting. It was the combination of these two situations that brought the Early Renaissance to Venice around 1475, and led to the innovative work of the last quarter of the century, like works by Carpaccio, Cima di Conegliano and Bartolomeo Montagna.

Religious Frescoes and Altarpieces

For most of his painting career, Giovanni Bellini actually focused on religious works of art throughout his painting career, apart from infrequent instances of portrait art, such as his 1501 renowned Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan. Giovanni Bellini was chosen alongside his brother and some other artists to create a series of ornamental paintings for Scuola di San Marco in the year 1470. This was followed by a cycle of numerous historical fresco paintings for the Chamber of the Grand Council in Doge Palace.

Regrettably, no existing works from the Scuola di San Marco and all the mural paintings belonging to Giovanni in the ducal palace were damaged in the disastrous fire of 1577.

Mature Paintings

Resurrection of Christ, Giovanni Bellini – photo by Web Gallery of Art

One of the notable mature paintings of Giovanni Bellini was The Resurrection of Christ which was crafted around 1480. He used these paintings to give reserved expression to the connection between man and nature, using the never-ending assortment of the Italian landscape and the whole range of human feeling to fill the rational space of the Tuscans. In addition, when it comes to the general arrangement of space, each detail has its part to play.

Bellini first deploys thoughts that he was to elaborate in a group of works painted a little later, in the Lamentation over the body of Christ. The search of Bellini for a more usual, more monumental and solemn space was accompanied by an effort to accomplish better pictorial effects, and his works of this particular time foreshadow the propensities of the 16th century. The sequence of Madonna and Child paintings dating from about 1490, revealed a remarkable mastery of Renaissance space and an actually infinite resourcefulness similar to that of the early portraits of Titian.

The Last Years of Giovanni Bellini

The popularity of Bellini in the midst of art detractors all through the centuries varied to some extent. But these days, as when he was alive, he is generally honored for his originality, skill and essential role in taking Renaissance to Venice.

After Death

16th Century

Critics of the 16th century reversed their earlier praise of the artist in the decades subsequent to the death of Bellini. A lot of these critics knew what Bellini is up to including his skill, but normally acknowledged him to have been totally left behind by Titian, his previous student.

17th Century and 18th Century

Guided by Dolce’s assessment, a lot of the 17th and 18th-century critics downgraded the position of Bellini to that of an ordinary facilitator of greatness guided by the assessment of Dolce, instead of one of greatness. Nevertheless, a few viewed Bellini as helpful in taking Renaissance painting to Venice and establishing the Venetian school.

19th Century

It was not until the 19th century that the work of Bellini was critically acclaimed once again, thanks a lot to John Ruskin, who happened to be his champion, who went as far as declaring two of the works of Bellini as the two best paintings in the whole world.

20th Century

There was an opportunity for the 20th-century critics to rediscover a number of Bellini’s forgotten or lost works and evaluate his work and motivation in unparalleled detail, by the time Ruskin brought Bellini back to his place at the controls of the Venetian Renaissance.

Giovanni Bellini’s Works for the Last Years

S. Giovanni Crisostomo Altarpiece, Child Blessing and Madonna are the last year works of Giovanni Bellini. These works were stamped with the pictorial qualities and monumentality of the works of his young colleagues, Titian and Giorgione. Bellini, who was among the creators of the new style, adapted himself rightly to it.

The Drunkenness of Noah, Giovanni Bellini – photo by Museo Correr – Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia

His classicism made no dissimilarity between the blasphemous and consecrated and wasn’t affected by the fresh taste for secular or classical subjects. Instead, these themes let him counter the extremely systematic classicism of the latest generation. However, there emerges a profoundly youthful addition to life from his Drunkenness of Noah, the living, the strawberry-red of the drapery, an abandonment to existence, gilded flesh of Noah as he lies sprawled out on his back, the tender green of the grass, and the cup touched by the dusty light are set against a background of vines and autumnal foliage.

In this challenging, naturalistic assertion, which developed its inflexible character only in his old age, the classicism of Bellini remains the same. There are few other instances of such a development as Bellini’s, which was that of an artist who took Venetian painting from the inertness of the end of the Gothic period to the doorsill of contemporary painting.

Bellini remained full of activity to the very end. He continued to be active in the works he was commissioned to do up till his 70s and was still actively involved in overseeing a series of paintings in the Hall of the Great Council in Doge’s palace. He decided upon himself to paint The Feast of the Gods for Duke Alfonso in the year 1514.

Unfortunately, Bellini gave up the ghost in 1516.

Reputation and Legacy

The Feast of the Gods, Giovanni Bellini, 1514-1516 – photo by WikiArt

While Bellini was alive, he was known and acknowledged as the foremost painter of his era, as he was described as the best painter of them all by Albrecht Durer, who happened to be a great German painter and printmaker. Likewise, Giorgio Vasari, who was a Renaissance biographer, was convinced of the greatness of Giovanni Bellini.

When talking about the growth of the Venice school, Giovanni Bellini played a very important role, particularly in the use of Northern Renaissance aesthetics. He was the person who led the way to the use of oil paints, allowing for improved colours and atmospheric effects, which later turned out to be the characteristic of Venetian painting. On the other hand, he was the man behind the elements of Northern Renaissance religious symbolism. Bellini performed all these even as he was blending Byzantine art with quattrocento.

Selected Paintings by Giovanni Bellini

There are quite a lot of Paintings done by Giovanni Bellini in his lifetime. Many of these paintings can be seen in a lot of the best art museums across the world.

Some of the well-known paintings originated by Giovanni Belli are:

  • The Portrait of Jorg Fugger
  • Transfiguration of Christ
  • Ecstasy of St. Francis
  • The San Zaccaria Altarpiece
  • Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan
  • Sacred Allegory
  • Madonna of the Meadow