Giovanni BelliniGiovanni Bellini, Giambellino in Venetian dialect, is generally thought to have been the son of Jacopo Bellini and younger brother of Gentile. There is, however, uncertainty about his date of birth and even about his parentage. It has been conjectured that he was illegitimate (as he is not named in the will of Jacopo's wife, Anna Rinversi). A date of birth of about 1425 can be deduced from Vasari's claim that Giovanni lived to the age of ninety. There are circumstantial reasons for believing that this is too early, and most modern art historians have accepted a birthdate in the 1430s. On the other hand, it has been argued recently (by Daniel Maze in the Fall 2013 issue of Renaissance Quarterly) that Giovanni Bellini was not Jacopo's son but his younger half-brother and that he was born between 1424 and 1428.
There is no certain documentary evidence of Giovanni until April 1459, when he witnessed a will for the Venetian notary Giuseppe Moisis and was already living away from the family home. He was doubtless trained, like Gentile and a cousin Leonardo, in his Jacopo’s workshop in the parish of San Geminiano, before – presumably after Jacopo's death in 1471 – founding his own workshop at Santa Marina. He was strongly influenced for a time by Mantegna (his brother-in-law). This early phase, which lasted through the 1460s, included such works as the Agony in the Garden (which hangs conveniently near Mantegna’s own version of the subject in the National Gallery, London) and the intensely dramatic Pietà in the Brera. Bellini was later influenced technically by Antonello da Messina, whose works in Venice in 1475-76 showed the potentialities of the new oil medium. His style developed continuously throughout his long career. The hard outlines and sculptured forms of his early works were gradually abandoned. Outlines softened, and forms were increasingly modelled by light and colour alone. His colour warmed and deepened with the use of oil.
Apart from a probable trip to the Marches in the 1470s to paint the altarpiece of the Coronation of the Virgin for a church in Pesaro, he is not known to have travelled outside the Veneto. In 1479, when Gentile went to Constantinople, Giovanni took over work on the cycle of history paintings for the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in the Doge’s Palace. In February 1483 he was appointed official painter ('pictor nostri domini') to the Venetian Republic and held this position until his death. His large canvases for the Doge's Palace were completely destroyed by fire in 1577; they are described at some length by Vasari, but no preparatory drawings or painted copies survive. The bulk of Giovanni's work for the Doge's Palace was probably done during the 1490s, when his workshop's output of other paintings was comparatively low. On 7 February 1506, Albrecht Dürer wrote home from Venice that 'he is very old, but still the best painter of them all’. He died on 29 November 1516 and was buried in the family vault in Santi Giovanni e Paolo. He had an immense influence, not only on contemporaries such as Cima, Carpaccio, Catena, Basaiti and Montagna, but also on the next generation of Venetian painters. Giorgione, Titian, Sebastiano del Piombo, Palma Vecchio and Lorenzo Lotto may all have been trained in Bellini’s studio.
Bellini’s huge output included numerous small half-length Madonnas, a number of half-length images of the Dead Christ (sometimes with angels, putti or saints) for private devotion, a series of major altarpieces, large narrative pictures for the Venetian scuole, the large historical canvases for the Doge’s Palace (now lost), many bust-length portraits, and, towards the end of his life, a few secular allegories and mythologies. Among the many landmarks are half-dozen magnificent altarpieces painted over a span of some forty years: the comparatively early, multi-panelled and still linear Pesaro Coronation (painted in the early or mid-1470s and now largely in the town’s Museo Civico); the one-piece and extraordinarily large San Giobbe Altarpiece (painted in the late 1470s or the 1480s and now in the Accademia); the contemplative Frari Triptych (dated 1488 and still in situ); the luminous Vicenza Baptism (painted around 1501-2 for the church of Santa Corona and still there); the High Renaissance San Zaccaria Altarpiece (dated 1505 and still in the Venetian church); and the very late San Giovanni Crisostomo Altarpiece (dated 1513 and still in situ). Bellini’s secular masterpiece, the Washington Feast of the Gods, was his last major commission, painted in 1514 for Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.
Few of Bellini’s pictures are documented. The chronology of his earlier works is uncertain (since, while many are signed, none is dated before 1474), and his use of a large workshop makes the attribution of even authentically signed pictures difficult in many cases. Designs were reused, and replicas and variants of varying quality executed by assistants. Of the 250 or more pictures sometimes attributed to him, fewer than sixty are unanimously accepted as fully autograph.
Abu Dhabi. Louvre Abu Dhabi.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 70 x 50.
The Virgin, dressed in a bright red mantle, prays to the Christ Child, who is seated on the marble parapet with his hand resting on a book. Signed on the cartellino. From the middle period (probably 1480s). The plain black background (if original) would be unusual for a picture of this date. The painting has been known from photographs since 1930, when it was included in a German monograph by Georg Gronau. Federico Zeri (Catalogo) called it a studio work. Previously on the New York art market and in private collections, it was one of the first works of art to be acquired by the new museum (which opened to the public in November 2017).
Ajaccio (Corsica). Musée Fesch.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 65 x 47.
Early (around 1470-75). Largely repainted. One of a thousand paintings bequeathed in 1836 by Cardinal Joseph Fesch, Napoleon's uncle and Archbishop of Lyon, to his native city of Ajaccio. One of four works stolen in February 2011 by a museum attendant. Recovered by the police in May 2012 from a car park in the city.
Madonna (no. A3287). Wood, 66 x 48.
In the background, a view of the Venetian lagoon. A very similar picture at Berlin (identical in size and possibly based on the same cartoon) has a mountainous landscape. It is generally accepted that the composition, at least, is Bellini’s and is very early (about 1460?). First recorded in Florence in 1924 with the dealer Volterra; given to the Rijksmuseum in 1940 by Mr and Mrs Kessler-Hülsman.
Madonna with Child Blessing (no. A3379). Wood, 55 x 49.
Poorly preserved and cut down substantially at the bottom. Originally the Child was probably standing on a parapet, as in a similar picture (the Contarini Madonna) with a landscape background in the Accademia, Venice. Accepted as autograph by Berenson (who ascribed a very large number of pictures to Bellini in his 1957 Lists) and by Tempestini (1999), but regarded as a workshop product or ignored by other writers. Bequeathed to the museum in 1941 with the collection of the Amsterdam sugar magnate Edwin vom Rath.
Atlanta. High Museum of Art.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 94 x 73.
Signed on the parapet. The Virgin, severely frontal in pose, is rather similar to the late Madonnas in the Brera (dated 1510) and Borghese Gallery. The solitary tree, in a bare landscape, my allude to the Crucifixion. Catalogued by the museum as a work of Giovanni Bellini, but sometimes considered a work of collaboration between Bellini and an assistant or a studio work. Some art historians (from Bernard Berenson in his 1894 Venetian Painters to Anchise Tempestini in an essay in the 2004 Cambridge Companion to Giovanni Bellini) have seen the hand of Rocco Marconi, who was perhaps the most gifted of Bellini’s pupils in his final years. Formerly (1854 to 1919) in the collection of the Earl of Northbrook and his descendents. Bought by Duveen in 1925 and shipped to America. Acquired by the Kress Foundation in 1957 and allotted to the Atlanta museum the following year. There are several other versions. A replica, identical in composition, at Strasbourg is signed by Rocco Marconi. Variants in the church of the Redentore in Venice and at New Orleans (also from the Kress Collection) show the Virgin and Child flanked by saints.
Baltimore. Walters Art Gallery.
Virgin enthroned with Two Saints and Three Donors. Canvas, 92 x 150.
The Virgin and Child are enthroned in the centre of a small semicircular exedra. The donor kneeling on the left is presented to them by St Peter, holding the keys of heaven. The saint presenting the two donors on the right is probably St Mark. A small, late altarpiece from Bellini’s workshop. According to an engraving, it was dated 1510 and represents the procurators Tomà Mocenigo, Luca Zen and Domenico Trevisan. From the Procurita di Ultra in the Doge’s Palace, where Ridolfi (1648) described it hanging above a door and where it remained until at least 1797. By 1828 it had passed into the collection of Baron Wendelstadt at Frankfurt, and later in the nineteenth century it belonged to the antiquarian Wolsey Moreau in Paris and then to Raymond Balse. Acquired by the Baltimore railway tycoon Henry Walters around 1916 from Bernard Berenson. In poor condition. The execution has been variously ascribed to Vittore Belliniano (Bellini’s.chief assistant after 1507), Rocco Marconi and Vincenzo Catena.
Saint Peter Martyr. Wood, 194 x 84.
The Dominican saint is shown with his usual attributes – the dagger in his heart, cleaver embedded in his skull, martyr's palm and book. Signed on the step. From the church of San Domenico at Monopoli, near Bari on the Adriatic coast, and presumably the central panel from a triptych or polyptych. Probably roughly contemporary with the Frari Triptych (1488). Restored in 2007-8.
Berchtesgaden (Bavaria). Castle Museum.
Story of Drusiana. Wood, 32 x 202.
The story of Drusiana appears in the New Testament apocrypha (Acts of John) and is repeated in the medieval Golden Legend. The painting shows Drusiana's funeral and, in the cente, St John the Evangelist raising her from the dead. The long, horizontal panel is usually identified as the predella of an altarpiece noted by the sixteenth-century Venetian aristocrat Marcantonio Michiel in the church of Santa Maria della Carità (now incorporated into the buildings of the Gallerie dell'Accademia). The altarpiece, which can be dated to 1468-71, represented St John the Evangelist, and had a predella with 'little scenes' that Michiel believed were by the miniaturist Lauro Padovano. The altarpiece itself has been destroyed. The predella was taken to the Brera in 1807-8, but left the gallery in 1820 and passed through the hands of collectors in London and Berlin, before entering the collection of Rupprecht von Bayern, the last Crown Prince of Bavaria. It is currently exhibited at Berchtesgaden Castle with works from the collection of the Bavarian royal family (Wittelsbach). Opinion has been divided over whether the predella should be regarded as an early work of Giovanni Bellini or attributed to a collaborator (either Lauro Padovano or Giovanni's cousin Leonardo Bellini). The panel was included with an attribution to the young Giovanni Bellini in the major exhibition Mantegna (1431-1506) held at the Louvre in 2008-9.
Bergamo. Accademia Carrara.
*Dead Christ with the Virgin and St John. Wood, 42 x 32.
Signed with the abbreviated signature ‘JOHANNES B’ on the parapet. This little panel, dating perhaps from the middle or late 1450s, is one of Bellini’s earliest surviving works and his earliest surviving treatment of the Pietà – a subject he painted many times. The Greek names inscribed in gold above the figures suggest that the composition might derive from a Byzantine icon, while the expressions of anguish on the faces of the Virgin and St John recall the works of Netherlandish painters, such as Rogier van der Weyden. From the collection of Conte Guglielmo Lochis, which he bequeathed to the city of Bergamo in 1866. Previously darkened by dirt and old repaint, it was restored in 2008.
*‘Lochis Madonna’. Wood, 47 x 34.
The Child crawls across parapet of pink Verona marble, seeming to break the plane of the picture. A fairly early work, usually dated to the 1470s and occasionally to the 1460s. Signed on the cartellino. Conte Lochis acquired the picture in 1843 from Maddalena Sodani of Milan for the extraordinarily low price of 675 lire (which included a panel by Bartolomeo Vivarini).
*‘Madonna of the Pear’ ('Alzano Madonna'). Wood, 83 x 66.
Signed on the cartellino attached to the red marble parapet. The pear, prominently placed on the parapet, alludes to the fruit of the Garden of Eden (and hence to the redemption of mankind from Original Sin through Christ as the new Adam). One of the best known and best preserved of Bellini’s numerous half-length Madonnas. It was probably painted in the middle or late1480s, and the pose of the Mother and Child is like that in the Madonna with a Choir of Cherubs in the Accademia, Venice. The landscape, peopled with tiny figures, is rendered in almost Flemish detail. Two pilgrims, with scallop shells, rest beside a tree, a horseman rides by and two men converse outside the city walls. The picture is recorded by Ridolfi (1648) over an altar in the church of Santa Maria della Pace at Alzano (Albino), near Bergamo. It was protected by a cover of the finest crystal. When the convent was closed in Napoleonic times, the panel was acquired by a priest called Giovanni Battista Noli. After a failed attempt by Charles Eastlake in 1869 to secure the picture for the National Gallery, it was sold by the Contessa Elisabetta Sottocassa Noli in 1872 to Giovanni Melli of Bergamo. Melli left it to his cousin, the art historian Giovanni Morelli, who bequeathed his collection to the Accademia Carrara in 1891.
Bust of a Humanist. Wood, 30 x 26.
The anonymous young sitter poses as a scholar in a classicising antique green garment. Inscribed ‘JACOBUS DE …’ on the back, and formerly ascribed to Jacopo di Barbari. The attribution to Giovanni Bellini was made by Longhi (1946). It is disputed. (As ‘Bellini with assistance’ in Goffen (1989) and omitted from Tempestini’s 1999 catalogue.) From the Lochis collection.
Portrait of a Young Man. Wood, 29 x 23.
Bust-length, three-quarter face, wearing a black beret and tunic. Inscribed 'JOANNES BELLINUS' on the marble parapet, but often attributed to the workshop or a follower. From the Lochis collection. Restored in 2013.
Pietà with Two Angels. Wood, 82 x 66.
Such panels often formed the top compartment of an altarpiece, but many of Bellini’s Pietàs are complete pictures intended for private devotion. Traditionally ascribed to Mantegna, but catalogued as Bellini since 1879. Sometimes considered an early work, roughly contemporary with the Pietàs at Rimini and Milan, but sometimes dated rather later (1480-85). It was part of the enormous collection of early Italian and Flemish art amassed by the English timber merchant Edward Solly during the Napoleonic Wars and sold to the Prussian State in 1821.
*Resurrection. Canvas (transferred), 148 x 128.
Transferred from its original poplar panel while still in Italy, and rather damaged. In the background is the castle at Monselice in the Euganean hills south of Padua. On the right, the Holy Women (including Mary Magdalene with wild hair and red robe) approach the sepulchre. The vulture, perched on the bare tree on the left, is a familiar symbol of death. The rabbits, scampering on the hillside, might symbolise fertility and rebirth (or simply be natural inhabitants of the spring countryside). It has been suggested that the nearly naked soldier, slumped next to a shield bearing a head of Medusa and holding his head, personifies the fall of the pagan world. The soldier standing on the right, raising a hand to shield his eyes from the glare, holds a weapon (combined spear and spiked mace) known as a stella del mattino (morning star). The picture was painted for the Zorzi Chapel, to the right of the altar, in the church of San Michele in Isola (on the island of San Michele between Venice and Murano and now the cemetery of Venice). It was probably painted between 5 April 1475, when the chapel was granted to the Venetian aristocrat Marco Zorzi, and summer 1479, when his mother provided funds for Masses to be said at the altar. It was described as a work of Bellini by Sansovino (1581) and Ridolfi (1646), but later ascribed to Cima, Andrea Previtali and Bartolomeo Veneto. After the Camoldolese convent was suppressed, the picture passed into the Roncalli collection in Bergamo. Despite an effort by the painter and art critic Giulio Cantalamessa to re-establish the attribution to Bellini, the picture was allowed to leave Italy and was acquired by the Berlin Museum in 1903. There is preparatory study for the buildings in the background in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana at Milan.
Doge Leonardo Loredan with Four Advisors. Wood (transferred), 138 x 211.
The Doge, looking older than in the famous portrait bust in London, is seated behind a table covered with an Oriental ('Para-Mamluk') carpet. Four young advisors or magistrates sit at the sides. There is another carpet (Ushak prayer mat) on the floor. The carpets, manufactured in Anatolia, may have been diplomatic gifts. Signed and dated 1507 on the marble balustrade on the left. Much damaged, but usually accepted as at least partly autograph. Mentioned by Ridolfi (1648) in the Palazzo Loredan (now the Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts) in the Campo Santo Stefano. Acquired by the Bodemuseum in 1961.
Madonna (no. 10A). Wood, 75 x 53.
A fairly early picture and near replica of the Madonna stolen in 1993 from the church of the Madonna dell’Orto in Venice. Acquired by the Berlin Museum in 1905. There is a third version in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.
Lamentation. Wood, 68 x 86.
One of several related pictures of this subject by Bellini and his workshop, the finest of which is the monochrome brush-drawing in the Uffizi. The types of the Mary and St John are repeated in a Lamentation in Toledo Cathedral (signed by Bellini but finished in Cima’s studio according to Tempestini) and in another in Stuttgart (also signed but usually ascribed to Bellini’s workshop). The Berlin Lamentation was one of a group of pictures attributed in the early twentieth century to ‘Pseudo-Basaiti’ and restored to Bellini by Gronau (1930). Comparatively late (1490s). From the Solly collection.
Portrait of a Young Man. Wood, 32 x 26.
This Antonellesque portrait of a tanned young man in a red doublet against a blue background may date from the early 1480s. In poor condition. Given in 1904 by the wealthy businessman James Simon, who was a major benefactor to the Berlin museums.
Madonna (no. 1177). Wood, 67 x 49.
Sometimes judged an autograph very early work (about 1460?) and sometimes a very early studio replica or variant. There are other versions (corresponding closely in the forms of the Madonna and Child but with different backgrounds) at Amsterdam and Verona. From the Solly collection.
Besançon. Musée des Beaux-Arts.
*The Drunkenness of Noah. Canvas, 103 x 157.
The unusual subject is from Genesis (9:20-23). Against a background of vines, the unconscious Noah is mocked by one of his sons (Ham), while two other sons (Shem and Japheth) cover his nakedness. This curious and disturbing picture, which was once ascribed to Cariani, was first attributed to Giovanni Bellini in 1927 by Roberto Longhi (in Vita Artistica). There were subsequent attributions to Lorenzo Lotto and to Titian; but the picture is now generally recognised as one of Bellini’s very last works, close in date to the Washington Feast of the Gods (1514). Like many of the artist’s late works, it is poorly preserved (restored in 2018). Bequeathed to the city of Besançon in 1894 with the collection of the painter and illustrator Jean Gigoux (now known mainly for his relationship with Balzac's widow, Évelyne Hánska).
Birmingham. Barber Institute.
*Saint Jerome. Wood, 45 x 36.
The saint blesses the lion, which raises its paw pierced by an enormous thorn. A donkey grazes in the sunlit landscape and, in the bottom left corner, a rabbit pokes its head out of its hole. This small panel, signed (with the name idiosyncratically spelt 'IHOVANES BELINUS') on the cartellino, is close to the art of Jacopo Bellini and is generally regarded as one of Giovanni’s earliest works. It was noted as such in 1871 by Crowe and Cavalcaselle, who had seen it at a sale at Christie’s in 1856; but it remained little known until it appeared in 1948 at Lord Southesk’s sale and was acquired the following year by the Barber Institute. Bellini’s earliest works are hard to date because of the uncertainty over his date of birth. The Saint Jerome has been variously placed between ‘about 1450’ and ‘about 1460’, with recent historians tending to favour datings towards the later end of this range.
*Boy in Purple. Wood, 38 x 23.
Damaged by cleaning; the original paint surface is lost apart from the hair and marble parapet. The use of the word ‘VENETI’ in the signature is unusual, and suggests that the portrait could have been painted for a non-Venetian client. The meaning of the inscription ‘NONALITER’ (‘not otherwise’) on the parapet is a mystery. According to an article published in 1993 (by Benedicenti in Paragone), the portrait was painted on the lid of a chest made to enclose a marble bust of Angelo Probi, an emissary of the King of Naples, who died in 1474. It probably represents Probi’s son meditating on his father’s death. The boy resembles the grieving angels in Bellini’s paintings of the Dead Christ at Rimini and in the National Gallery, London. The portrait has been in England since at least 1848, and was formerly in the Holford collection at Dorcester House, Park Lane. Acquired by the Barber Institute in 1946 for £9,500.
Birmingham. City Art Gallery.
Madonna with Saints and Donor ('Cornbury Park Altarpiece'). Wood, 93 x 80.
The Virgin and Child are enthroned in a landscape between St Peter, who clasps a large book of scripture, and St Mark, who presents the kneeling donor. A small altarpiece, signed and dated 1505. Probably the one seen by Ridolfi (1648) in the possession of Cristoforo and Francesco Muselli at Verona. It then had side panels representing St Francis and St Vincent Ferrer. The quality of the execution appears very uneven. The two saints are very carefully painted, while the features of the Virgin and Child are strangely fuzzy. (X-rays have revealed detailed underdrawing beneath the Virgin and Child, suggesting that the central section of the picture could have been painted by an assistant working from the master's design.) The donor seems disproportionately large. (His head may have been repainted.) The picture was in England by 1801, when it was sold in London by a John Purling; it later belonged to the banker Dawson Turner in Great Yarmouth, the Earl of Ashburnham in London, and Oliver Vernon Watney at Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire. Acquired by the museum in 1967. It has been suggested recently (by Michael Douglas-Scott in Venezia Cinquecento (1996)) that the picture could be the Bellini altarpiece presented by the spice merchant Hieronimo Olivier to the Venetian church of the Madonna dell'Orto. However, the description of the altarpiece in Olivier's will is vague (it mentions just a Madonna and Child and a donor portrait of Marco Olivier) and so one cannot be very confident about this identification.
Boston. Gardner Museum.
Madonna and Sleeping Child. Wood, 61 x 43.
Much damaged and repainted. (The Virgin’s face has been restored to look like that of the Frizzoni Madonna in the Correr Museum; the best-preserved parts are the Child’s head, shoulders and left arm.) Usually accepted as a ruined early work (early 1470s?), but rejected by Tempestini (1999) in spite of the (restored) signature. Still in Italy in 1890; by 1893 it was in the collection of Prince Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. Bought by Mrs Gardner (through Berenson) from Henry Reinhardt and Son in 1921.
Christ carrying the Cross. Wood, 50 x 39.
Michiel (1527) mentions a picture of this subject by Bellini in the house of Taddeo Contarini in Venice. There are more than fifty other versions: those at Toledo (Ohio) and Rovigo are also sometimes ascribed to Bellini or his workshop. There is no agreement as to which – if any – of these versions is the original. The Boston picture was attributed to Giorgione by influential critics (including Morelli and Berenson) in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. It was ascribed by Philip Hendy to Palma Vecchio in his 1931 catalogue of the Gardner Museum and to a follower of Bellini in his 1974 catalogue. Bought by Mrs Gardner (through Berenson) in 1898 from Count A. Zileri dal Verme of Vicenza.
Bristol. City Art Gallery.
Descent into Limbo. Vellum, 52 x 37.
Christ, all in white and holding the banner of the Resurrection, is shown from behind – with the mouth of Hell directly in front of him and angels overhead sounding their trumpets. The Good Thief stands on the left with his cross. Adam and Eve, the first to be released from Limbo, are on the right, alongside a sinner (the Bad Thief?) who covers his ears. This small oil painting on parchment (now glued to wood and varnished) is based on a composition by Mantegna, whose engraving probably dates from the late 1460s or the 1470s. It is not a slavish copy of Mantegna’s print, but includes some additions (eg. the plants among the rocks and the book wedged under the door) and makes some alterations (notably the transformation of Eve from an old crone into a graceful young woman). The minute cartellino (bottom right) has been left blank. The attribution to Giovanni Bellini was made by Byam Shaw in an article in the June 1952 Burlington Magazine. It has been accepted in most subsequent literature, including the monographs by Goffen (1989) and Tempestini (1999). The only definite alternative proposal seems to have been made by Jennifer Fletcher, who (in an essay entitled Mantegna and Venice and published in connection with the 1992 Mantegna exhibition) suggested the Paduan engraver and painter Giulio Campagnola. Those critics that have accepted the Bellini attribution have generally dated the work to the late 1470s. There is no record of the painting before it was sold at Christie’s in 1916 (as School of Dürer). It was bequeathed to the Bristol Museum in 1946 by F. N. Schiller. It is retouched in parts, and the thick varnish gives it an overall brownish tone.
Another composition of the Descent into Limbo (which repeats the figure of Christ but is otherwise different) is found in a drawing (sometimes attributed to Mantegna) in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and a painting (usually attributed to Mantegna) formerly in the Barbara Piasecka Johnson collection. (The painting was sold at Sotheby's, New York, in January 2003 for $28.6 million.)
Calvagese della Riviera (near Lake Garda). Fondazione Sorlini.
Madonna and Sleeping Child. Wood, 79 x 60.
The Virgin, resting her fingertips together in prayer, looks down on the Christ Child, who, propped up against cushions, lies sound asleep on the parapet. As in a number of other early Madonnas by Bellini and his workshop, the Virgin's mantle is red rather than the traditional blue. The picture, previously in the Contini Bonacossi collection, was acquired by the Brescian entrepreneur Luciano Sorlini in 2000. There is another version in the Museo di Castelvecchio at Verona, and there are also variants (eg in the National Gallery, London) in which the Child is sitting up and awake. The composition may date from the late 1470s or early 1480s. The Museo d'Arte Sorlini, inaugurated in 2018, can be visited only by prior appointment.
Cambridge (Massachusetts). Fogg Art Museum.
Madonna and Child (no. 1923.232). Wood, 58 x 43.
Much damaged and restored (the lower part repainted). Comparatively early (1470s?). The Greek letters in the upper corners are similar to those in the Brera’s Madonna with the Greek Inscription, which may be a few years earlier. From the Galleria Crespi, Milan. When the picture was being shipped to New York in 1923, the boat caught fire and, though the painting was not actually touched by the flames, hot steam melted and cracked the gesso and loosened much of the paint layer.
Madonna and Child (no. 1943.103). Wood, 73 x 55.
Also greatly damaged. Probably a comparatively early product of Bellini’s studio. The design of the Virgin and Child is reversed and varied in Madonnas in the Fondazione Sorlini at Calvagese della Riviera and the National Gallery, London. Among some 4,000 objects bequeathed to Harvard in 1943 by the New York collector Grenville L. Winthrop.
Detroit. Institute of Art.
Madonna with Blessing Child. Wood, 83 x 104.
Signed and dated 1509 – a year earlier than a very similar version in the Brera. While the Brera picture is almost unanimously regarded as fully autograph, the Detroit one is usually ascribed to Bellini’s workshop. Until 1815, the picture was in the Mocenigo collection at Venice. It entered the collection of the Duchesse de Berry in the 1840s, was sent to Austria in 1868, passed by descent to Don Jaime de Bourbon, and was bought by the Detroit Institute in 1928. It was completely repainted when acquired; the signature and date on the book were revealed by cleaning.
Düsseldorf. State Museum (on loan from the Kunstakademie).
Triptych: Madonna and Saints. Three arched panels, each, 131 x 55.
The Madonna and Child are enthroned between Saints Peter (left) and Mark or Paul (right) and two Camoldolese saints (probably Benedict and Romuald). The donor, dressed in black with a hood-like capuzo, is Pietro Priuli (1421-93), an immensely wealthy merchant, banker and Procurator of St Mark’s. The triptych was commissioned in late 1507, long after his death, for his chapel in the church of San Michele in Isola. The price was 100 ducats. The picture was probably painted in 1511-13, when most of the payments were made. Bellini may have contributed himself to the underdrawing of the central panel, but the execution was largely or wholly by assistants. (Girolamo da Santacroce, who used the same composition for his Madonna in the Correr Museum, may have been largely responsible for the execution of the centre panel and Benedetto Diana for the execution of the two side panels.) Acquired on the art market in 1831. Restored in 2001, the picture is in poor condition and much repainted. The pseudo-Renaissance frame dates from the 1920s.
*Sacred Allegory. Wood, 73 x 119.
The subject is obscure. In 1902, Gustav Ludwig argued that it was based on a fourteenth-century French poem, Le Pélerinage de L’Ame. The space enclosed by the rails would then represent the earthy paradise, where the souls from Purgatory, represented as children, shake down fruit from the Tree of Life. Saints Peter and Paul guard the gate of the garden, while the hermit over the lake symbolises the ascetic life and the centaur symbolises temptation. There have been many other interpretations: most view the picture as some kind of allegory of the Incarnation and Christ’s Passion, but there has been no agreement on the identity of all the figures or the meaning of all the details. It has been suggested that the picture could be the ‘fantasy in his own style’ referred to by Bellini in a letter of 1501 to Isabella d’Este and completed by July 1504. The Uffizi painting is first certainly recorded only in 1793, when it entered the Medici collections, with an attribution to Bellini, as part of an exchange with the Imperial Gallery of Vienna. The attribution was changed to Giorgione in 1825 and later to Marco Basaiti, before Crowe and Cavalcaselle and Morelli returned it to Bellini. Opinions on dating have ranged from the mid-1480s to the early 1500s. (The earlier dating has been supported by the observation that a painting signed and dated 1488 by Gerolamo da Vicenza (National Gallery, London) appears to contain borrowings from the Sacred Allegory.) There are considerable paint losses, particularly towards the centre of the panel. Old retouchings and darkened varnish were removed in a 2002 restoration.
*Lamentation. Brush drawing in black on panel, 76 x 120.
The dead Christ, viewed close up and foreshortened, is supported in the tomb by the Virgin and John the Evangelist. The Magdalen is on the left, and Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus stand behind with a Holy Woman. The bearded man on the right appears to be a monk. It has been much debated whether this monochrome painting in tempera is a finished work or merely the underdrawing of an intended painting. It was possibly intended as a simile to be used as a workshop model. It may date from about 1490. Bought from the Aldobrandini collection in Rome by Conte Alvise Mocenigo, who gave it to Grand Duke Ferdinando III in 1798 in exchange for a jewelled snuff box. Also in the Uffizi is a striking, highly finished study for the head of the man in a turban. The study is a rare example of a drawing attributed to Bellini that can be firmly linked to a painting.
*Saint Jerome Reading. Wood, 152 x 114.
As often with Bellini, the town in the background is not an actual view but includes famous buildings from different places (including the church of San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Theodoric at Ravenna, the triumphal arch at Rimini and the campanile of Sant’Anastasia at Verona). The meticulously observed birds and creatures – the pheasant in the ancient olive tree on the left, the large lizard at the saint's feet and the squirrel on the branch of the distant tree – may or may not have symbolic meaning. The picture has been sometimes identified with one of this subject seen by Sansovino (1581), Boschini (1664) and Zanetti (1771) in the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Venice. However, the church was not completed until 1489, and most critics date the picture a little earlier (late 1470s or early 1480s). First certainly recorded in the collection of Conte Papafava at Padua. There are much smaller versions in the National Gallery, London, and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and a more distant variant, in which the figure of the saint is reversed, at Washington (signed and dated 1505). Bequeathed to the Florentine Galleries with the Contini Bonacossi collection in 1969. (The collection was transferred from the Pitti Palace to the Uffizi in 1993, but has only been accessible to visitors since March 2018.)
Portrait of a Red-Haired Man. Wood, 31 x 26.
Recorded in the 1753 inventory as a self-portrait. The signature on the parapet is probably false, and the attribution is uncertain.
Florence (Settignano). Villa I Tatti.
Virgin adoring the Child. Wood, 75 x 58.
Berenson, who acquired the painting in Venice in 1909, attributed it to Giovanni Bellini (1932-57 Lists). It is now considered a comparatively early studio work. Damaged in the War and much repainted. There is another version (without the curtain and landscape) in the National Gallery, London.
Fort Worth. Kimbell Art Museum.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 76 x 53.
An open book lies foreshortened on the marbled parapet. The cloth of honour behind the Virgin is brocaded with pomegranates. Signed on a cartellino. Probably a replica, from Bellini’s workshop of the Madonna formerly in the church of the Madonna dell’Orto in Venice (stolen in 1993). The composition has sometimes been dated as early as the mid-1460s. Acquired by Otto Mündler of Paris by 1866 from a private collection in Bergamo; sold with Napoleon III’s collection at Christie’s in 1872; then ‘missing’ until 1969; acquired by the Kimbell Museum in 1971. The condition is somewhat uneven: parts (including the Virgin’s face and the book) are abraded but other parts (including the Child’s head) are well preserved.
Christ Blessing. Wood, 59 x 47.
The risen Christ holds the banner of the Resurrection (the flag with the red cross is out of picture) in his left hand and raises his right hand in blessing. The tiny figures of the Three Maries are visible at the right edge. There is a shepherd with his flock (presumably alluding to Christ as the Good Shepherd) at the left edge and a pair of amorous rabbits (perhaps symbolising rebirth) in the bottom left corner. Brought to England by William Coningham, the English consul to Venice, and sold in London in 1849 as a work of Cima da Conegliano. By 1865 it had entered the collection of the Fisher family of Midhurst in Sussex, in whose possession it remained until 1958, when (much repainted and covered in dark varnish) it was sold at Sotheby’s as a work of Marco Basaiti. After cleaning by the new owner, Josef H. Dasser of Switzerland, it was attributed to Giovanni Bellini by Antonio Morassi (1958), who identified it with the ‘effigy of the Saviour in the act of blessing’ mentioned by Ridolfi (1648) as given by Bellini to the church of Santo Stefano. Acquired by the Kimbell Museum in 1967. For Giles Robertson (1968) it is only a (‘good quality’) studio work, but Tempestini (1999) includes it in his catalogue of autograph pictures. The half-figure resembles the Christ in the Baptism at Vicenza, and the panel may date from around 1500.
Virgin and Child with SS. John the Baptist and Elizabeth. Wood, 72 x 90.
Signed on the parapet. There is another version in Urbino; both are probably high-quality products of Bellini’s workshop. Tempestini (1999) sees the hand of Vittore Belliniano in the Frankfurt picture. Bought in 1833 from the Baranowsky Gallery in Vienna.
Glasgow. Burrell Collection.
*Madonna and Child (‘Burrell Madonna’). Wood, 62 x 48.
The standing Child is supported on the parapet by the Virgin, who, in the palm of her hand, holds a sprig of white blossom that the Child is dangling from a thread. This picture had been in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome, for almost three hundred years when it was sold around 1935 to Arnold Seligmann of Paris. Bought by Sir William Burrell in 1936. Previously ascribed to followers (Pasqualino Veneto and Niccolò Rondinelli), it was attributed to Bellini by Georg Gronau (1930) and most subsequent critics have considered it to be at least partly autograph. A replica dated 1489 is known. There is also a version at Indiana (Ball State University).
Glasgow. Kelvingrove Museum.
Virgin with Blessing Child. Wood, 62 x 46.
The Child, steadied by the Virgin, balances on the parapet and raises his right hand in blessing. Sometimes considered a copy or workshop replica of a lost original, but accepted as at least partly autograph by some critics (including Berenson in his 1957 Lists, Tempestini in his 1999 monograph, and Humfrey in his catalogue entry for The Age of Titian exhibition held at Edinburgh in 2004). It may date from the late 1470s or early 1480s. Overcleaned and much restored. Extensive repaint was removed in 1943. X-rays show that the background was originally plain and that the black paint does not conceal a landscape. There is a rather similar, perhaps slightly later Madonna (signed) at Ashby Castle in Northamptonshire. Bequeathed to the museum in 1877 by the widow of the Scottish painter John Graham-Gilbert. The Renaissance-style tabernacle frame is of recent manufacture (2012).
Harewood House (near Leeds).
Virgin and Child with Donor. Wood, 83 x 70.
Signed on the parapet. Rather worn, and the underdrawing shows through in places. The donor’s red gown and black stola identify him as a senator (or Chancellery secretary). Painted, possibly with studio assistance, in the 1480s or 1490s. Sometimes identified as the picture with a portrait of Marin Hollivier that was bequeathed by his brother Jeronimo in 1524 to the church of the Madonna dell’Orto. Formerly owned by the art historian Langton Douglas and by Viscount Harcourt; acquired by the Earl of Harewood by 1931. There is a ruined replica (minus the donor) in the Norton Simon Museum at Pasadena.
Houston. Museum of Fine Arts.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 82 x 64.
The lively Child clutches a fluttering goldfinch. The Madonna is badly damaged and was formerly heavily repainted. (Old photographs, taken prior to cleaning, show her with different facial features and with a white underveil covering her hair and forehead.) The landscape is better preserved. The painting has been accepted as an early work of Bellini by some critics (including Fritz Heinemann in his monumental 1962 Giovanni Bellini e I Belliniani), but it has been little discussed in the more recent literature on the painter. It is cautiously presented as 'Giovanni Bellini or fifteenth-century follower' in Carolyn Wilson's 1996 catalogue of the early Italian paintings at Houston. It was acquired in Venice in 1922 by the wealthy New York retailer Percy Selden Straus, who bequeathed 82 works of art to the Houston museum in 1944.
Indiana. Ball State University.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 66 x 53.
Another version of the Burrell Madonna at Glasgow (which is almost identical but omits the strip of landscape on the right). Once in the collection of Comtesse Ducrocq in France. Acquired in 1928 by Wildenstein & Co., who sold it in 1950 to E. Arthur Ball of the Indiana family of entrepreneurs and philanthropists. Donated in 1995 to the university museum, which classes it as a work of ‘Giovanni Bellini and studio’.
Kansas City. Nelson Art Gallery.
Madonna and Child. Canvas (transferred), 74 x 57.
Signed on the parapet. One of at least nine versions. Another, very similar, also from the Kress collection, is in Washington. An identical castle appears in the background of the Mond Madonna in the National Gallery, London. Probably a work of the 1490s; the attribution has ranged from ‘workshop copy’ to ‘autograph Bellini’. Until 1870, it was in the collection of Conte di Collalto at Castello di Collalto; then in Madrid and later the collection of the Grand Duc d’Oldenburg. Acquired by Samuel H. Kress in 1952.
Liverpool. Walker Art Gallery.
Portrait of a Man. Wood, 35 x 27.
When this picture first entered the Liverpool Royal Institution in about 1843 it was thought to be a self-portrait of Giovanni Bellini, whose name appears on the parapet. It was ascribed to Niccolò Rondinelli by Berenson in 1894; but since cleaning in 1950, when heavy overpaint was removed, it has been accepted as autograph by a number of critics. Ignored by both Goffen (1989) and Tempestini (1999).
London. National Gallery.
The Blood of the Redeemer. Wood, 47 x 34.
Christ presses the blood from the wound in his side into a chalice held by a kneeling angel. This miniature-like painting was possibly the door of a tabernacle. An early work, painted (it has been argued) before 1464 when the Pope forbade discussion of the Holy Blood. The damaged clouds (revealed in 1978 when oil overpaint was removed from the tiled pavement) once contained cherubim and seraphim picked out in shell gold. The influence of Mantegna is marked, particularly in the classical bas-reliefs with scenes of pagan sacrifices that decorate the marble panels. Sold to the National Gallery in 1887 by the Pre-Raphaelite painter and art dealer Charles Fairfax Murray.
*Agony in the Garden. Wood, 81 x 127.
The representation of the subject is a synthesis of the various Gospel accounts. The angel (represented by Bellini as a transparent cherub) appears only in Luke (22, 43) and the 'lanterns, torches and weapons' of the chief priests' men only in John (18, 3). The cup held by the angel is an allusion to Christ's words: 'O my Father, if the cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done' (Matthew: 26, 42). Christ, unusually, is shown without a halo; perhaps the dawn sunlight behind his head takes the place of one. The colours of the Apostles' robes – vermilion, azure and crimson – appear to have faded, whereas the ultramarine of Christ's garment has remained dark. The picture was attributed to Mantegna until 1854, when Gustav Waagen recognised that it was an early work of Bellini. A drawing in Jacopo Bellini’s London sketchbook (about 1450) and paintings by Mantegna at Tours (from the predella of the San Zeno Altarpiece of 1457-9) and in the National Gallery (of 1459?) are of broadly similar design. Bellini’s version has been variously dated between the late 1450s and mid-1460s. The painting appears to have been acquired in Venice by Joseph Smith, who was British Consul there from 1744 to 1760. It later belonged to Sir Joshua Reynolds and was sold, after the painter's death, for just £5 in 1795. Bought by the National Gallery for 600 guineas in 1863 at the Davenport-Bromley sale. The Bellini and Mantegna versions have hung side by side in the gallery since the late nineteenth century.
Dead Christ supported by Angels. Wood, 95 x 72.
The letters 'IC' and 'XC' in the upper corners are abbreviations, often found on icons, of the Greek words for 'Jesus Christ'. Restoration removing repaint from the angel on the right has exposed considerable damage. It is not certain whether the panel was originally part of an altarpiece (like the Pietà in the Vatican) or a complete picture (like the Pietà in the Brera). It has almost always been accepted as an authentic work and dated fairly early (late 1460s or 1470s). A variant, in which the pose of Christ was reversed, was formerly at Berlin and was destroyed during the last war. Acquired in 1889 by Jean Paul Richter for Ludwig Mond from the Cav. Cesare Menghini of Mantua; bequeathed by Mond in 1924.
*‘Madonna of the Pomegranate’. Wood, 91 x 65.
The pomegranate can symbolise Christ's Passion (because of its red juice), the fruitfulness of the Word of God and the people of the Church (because of its many seeds) and the kingship of Jesus (because of its purplish colour and crownlike calyx). Signed on the cartellino. This Antonellesque work – with rounded forms and smooth finish – was probably painted in the mid-1480s (a Madonna based on Bellini’s design and also in the National Gallery is signed by the Cremonese painter Francesco Tacconi and dated 1489). The execution, though of very high quality, is possibly partly or wholly by Bellini’s workshop. In spite of the signature, Tempestini (1999) ascribes the picture to Cima. Bought in 1855 from Baron Francesco Galvagna of Venice.
**Doge Leonardo Loredan. Wood, 62 x 45.
Loredan became the 67th Doge in 1501, when aged sixty-five. This superb, exceptionally well-preserved portrait of him was probably painted not long afterwards. He wears his ceremonial hat and the robe of ‘white gold’ he wore for the first time for the annual procession to Santa Maria Formosa on the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin in February 1503. Doges had been conventionally portrayed in profile, and this must be one of the earliest frontal portraits of a reigning doge. The portrait was acquired from the Grimani Palace, Venice, by John Campbell (the future Lord Cawdor) in the 1780s. It was then bought for just 13 guineas in 1807 by the Gothic novelist, travel writer and eccentric art collector William Thomas Beckford, who sold it to the National Gallery in 1844 for 600 guineas.
Circumcision. Wood, 75 x 102.
Signed on a cartellino. There are more than thirty versions of this composition. A variant in New York (with a landscape rather than plain black background) is signed by Bellini and dated 1511, a derivation in the Louvre (with additional figures) is signed by Bartolomeo Veneto and dated 1506, and a copy at Rovigo is signed by Marco Bello. Though regarded as the best of the many versions, the National Gallery painting has rarely been accepted as a fully autograph Bellini. It was once sometimes ascribed to Vincenzo Catena, but is now normally classed simply as a product of Bellini’s workshop. The quality of the execution varies, but the painting of the women's faces seems worthy of Bellini himself. Possibly the picture mentioned by Ridolfi (1648) in the possession of Cristoforo and Francesco Muselli at Verona. In the Orléans collection in the eighteenth century, and in the collection of Lord Carlisle at Castle Howard by 1805. Presented by the 9th Earl in 1895.
*‘Madonna of the Meadow’. Canvas (transferred), 67 x 86.
The picture, which was transferred from its original panel to canvas in 1949, has suffered from paint losses and the flesh tones, in particular, are poorly preserved. It is Bellini's only painting to show the Virgin seated on the ground, as in the Madonna of Humility. The Child sleeping across the Virgin’s knees may prefigure the dead Christ in a Pietà. Some details in the luminous landscape background, such as the ram next to the classical altar and the fight between the large white bird and the snake, may be symbolic. (An erudite suggestion is that they allude to a passage in Virgil’s Georgics: II, 319/20.) The vulture in the tree may symbolise death. Once attributed to assistants or followers (Basaiti, Pseudo-Basaiti, Catena and Bissolo), but now regarded as a late masterpiece (about 1500-5). Purchased (as a work of Marco Basaiti) in 1858 from the painter Achille Farina of Faenza. There is a smaller version, attributed to Bellini's workshop, in the Yager Museum at Oneonta, New York.
*Assassination of St Peter Martyr. Wood, 100 x 165.
On the left the assassin, Carinus, murders the saint with his sword; in the centre Brother Dominic attempts to flee from another soldier. The woodcutters in the forest mimic the actions of the assassins. Damaged and retouched, and possibly cut down on the left. The signature on the cartellino on the fence, bottom right, is faint and not certainly genuine. After attributions to Basaiti and Bellini’s workshop in the early twentieth century, the picture has usually been accepted as by Bellini himself (at least in part). Late (about 1505?). The horizontal format and fine detail suggests that the picture was made for a connoisseur rather than as an altarpiece for public show. Purchased in Venice by Sir Charles Eastlake from the painter and dealer Natale Schiavone in 1854. It hung in Eastlake's London residence (7 Fitzroy Square) until 1870, when his widow presented it to the National Gallery. Restored and reframed in 2015-18. There is another (studio) version in the Courtauld Institute, London.
*Portrait of Fra Teodoro as St Dominic. Canvas, 63 x 50.
The lily is St Dominic’s traditional attribute and the book is labelled Sanct Dominic. On the parapet there is a half-effaced inscription relating to Fra Teodoro of Urbino, who was a Dominican monk at San Zanipolo in Venice. It is uncertain whether the picture is an image of St Dominic for which the friar acted as a model or a portrait of the friar as St Dominic. On the parapet there is also a cartellino with an inscription (probably original) with Bellini’s signature and a date, 1515. One of Bellini’s very last works. Recorded first in 1797 in the Palazzo Pesaro, Venice; on loan to the National Gallery since 1895 from the Victoria and Albert Museum, which acquired it in 1856.
Portrait of a Dominican Friar as Peter Martyr. Wood, 59 x 48.
The attributes of the saint – the sword in his breast, the knife in his head, the halo and the palm – are not original, but were added perhaps some hundred years after the picture was painted. X-rays (first published in 1950) show that the sitter was originally holding a scroll rather than the palm. By about 1827, the portrait was in the collection of the Marchese Sommi-Picenardi, near Cremona. It was bought by the National Gallery in 1870 as an important work of Giovanni Bellini. However, the attribution was rejected in 1883 by Giovanni Morelli, who argued that the (retouched) signature on the parapet was false and that the shape of the sitter’s ear was peculiar to the work of Giovanni’s brother Gentile. The Gentile attribution was generally accepted for some fifty years. After it was finally abandoned, the portrait was generally regarded as a very late work of Giovanni’s studio (with little if any contribution from Bellini himself). However, the painting is much worn and restored, and (following technical analysis at the National Gallery) it has been recently suggested that it could be an autograph portrait of the 1490s.
Madonna and Child (no. 3913). Wood, 79 x 38.
The Virgin gives the Child a piece of fruit. The background drapery is pulled to one side to reveal a view of a castle on a rocky mount. Signed on the cartellino. Usually accepted as an authentic – but much repainted – work of the 1480s or 1490s. The case for an attribution to Bellini himself, rather than his workshop, is strengthened by technical examination revealling pentimenti and original fingerprints. The discolouration of old varnish gives the picture a dirty, brownish-yellow tone. First recorded in 1843 in the collection of Giacomo Lazzari of Naples; bought by Sir Charles Eastlake a few years later, and bequeathed to the National Gallery by Ludwig Mond in 1924. Because of its condition, the picture has been usually relegated to the reserve collection in the basement galleries.
Saint Jerome Reading in a Landscape. Wood, 47 x 34.
This exceptionally well-preserved panel is a much smaller variant, with a different landscape, of the picture formerly in the Contini Bonacossi collection and now in the Uffizi. From 1855 (the year it was purchased from a M. Marcovich of Venice) until 1939 it was catalogued as a work of Marco Basaiti. Since then, it has been variously ascribed to Bellini himself, his workshop, and a follower. The same hilltop castle appears in the Berlin Resurrection (where it has been identified as the Rocca di Monselice, south of Padua).
Madonna and Child (no. 2901). Wood, 82 x 62.
Probably a comparatively early work of Bellini’s studio (mid or late 1470s). A false signature was removed by cleaning in 1959.There are other versions or variants in the Fondazione Sorlini at Calvagese della Riviera, Berenson collection at Settignano, Fogg Museum at Cambridge (Mass.) and Castelvecchio at Verona. Bequeathed by Lady Lindsay in 1912. Reserve collection.
Madonna and Child (no. 3078). Wood, 80 x 65.
There is a fragmentary signature on the cartellino. A damaged studio work, probably of the 1490s. From the Layard bequest. Reserve collection.
Madonna and Child with Saints and Donor (no. 750). Canvas, 184 x 296.
Doge Giovanni Mocenigo, holding a banner with his family’s coat-of-arms and the Lion of St Mark, kneels before the Virgin. He is presented by his name-saint, John the Baptist, while St Christopher stands on the left with the Christ Child on his shoulders. In the (heavily retouched) Latin inscription on the altar, the donor invokes the Virgin’s protection for Venice and for himself. Doge Giovanni Mocenigo, who reigned from 1478 until 1485, is also represented in profile portraits, attributed to Gentile Bellini, in the Correr Museum, Venice, and the Frick Collection, New York. This interesting votive picture was bought in 1865 from Conte Alvise Mocenigo for the considerable price of £3,400. It is much damaged and restored, and very dark. It was traditionally ascribed to Carpaccio (whose false signature it once bore). There have been attributions both to Gentile and to Giovanni Bellini, while several writers have seen the hands of both brothers. Tempestini (1999) thinks that the picture was begun by Gentile (who was responsible for the Doge’s portrait and at least the design of the Virgin and Child) and finished by Giovanni (who painted the two saints and landscape). Since 1951, the National Gallery has catalogued the picture simply as ‘Venetian School’. Reserve collection.
Adoration of the KIngs (no. 3098). Canvas, 110 x 209.
Traditionally attributed to Gentile Bellini, later (1951-86) catalogued as an early work of Carpaccio, and now attributed by the museum to Giovanni Bellini's workshop. Very worn and much repainted. An idea of the original quality is, however, afforded by the figure of the leading king, who has removed his turban and is kneeling before the Virgin and Child. The man at the left edge appears to be wearing white penitential garb and could be the donor. The picture is said to have come from the chapel of the Thiene family in the church of San Bortolo at Vicenza. Acquired by Sir Henry Layard by 1865 as a work of Gentile Bellini. Reserve collection.
London. Courtauld Institute Galleries.
Assassination of St Peter Martyr. Wood, 68 x 101.
A smaller and inferior version, with proportionately larger figures and a good many other differences, of the picture in the National Gallery. The four central figures were probably taken from drawings made for the National Gallery version. The trees in the background bleed in sympathy with the victims. It is said to have been dated 1509 on the back. It was possibly painted for the church of San Pietro Martire on Murano, which reopened for worship that year after a fire. The execution has been ascribed to Andrea Previtali (a pupil of Bellini from Bergamo) or to Vittore Belliniano (Bellini’s principal assistant in his final years). From the Lord Lee of Farnham collection, bequeathed to London University in 1947.
London. Royal Collection.
Portrait of a Young Man. Wood, 44 x 36.
Signed, in elegant cursive letters, on the cartellino attached to the marble parapet. The broad handling and blurred outlines are typical of Bellini’s late style, and the portrait may be the last by the artist to have survived (about 1505-7?). The young man’s simple black robe and black biretta were of the sort worn both by the patrician and citizen classes in Venice. It has been conjectured that the portrait could be that recorded by Ridolfi (1648) of the Venetian humanist Pietro Bembo 'before he became a Cardinal'. However, the only sure likenesses of Bembo (eg. Titian’s famous portrait in Washington) show him in middle age. The portrait was acquired in Venice by Consul Smith in 1752 and sold to George III in 1763. Despite the signature, the attribution was once doubted – partly on the grounds of Giovanni Morelli’s theory that Bellini only used roman capitals and partly because the panel was heavily overpainted. Morelli's theory about Bellini's signatures was exploded in 1922 (by Georg Gronau) and the repaint was removed in a 1928 restoration. Formerly at Hampton Court, the portrait now hangs in the 'King's Closet' at Windsor Castle.
Madonna with Two Female Saints. Wood, 77 x 104.
The two saints may be Ursula (holding the arrow) and Catherine or Mary Magdalene. A variant, bearing Bellini’s signature and with different flanking saints, of the Madonna with SS. Catherine and Mary Magdalene in the Accademia, Venice. Exhibited as a work of Giovanni Bellini, but often ascribed to his workshop. It once belonged (1712) to the Roman painter Carlo Maratta and was acquired by Philip V of Spain in 1723.
The Saviour. Wood, 44 x 34.
From the Benedictine convent of San Plácido at Madrid. One of many versions, the best of which is in the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid.
Madrid. Academia de San Fernando.
The Saviour. Wood, 43 x 32.
Signed on the parapet. This devotional image of Christ, frontal and bust-length, probably dates from the 1490s or early 1500s. It was evidently very popular: some twenty versions are known, including one in the Prado.
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
‘Nunc Dimittis’. Wood, 62 x 83.
The old man on the right resembles the high priest Simeon in depictions of the Circumcision by Bellini’s workshop. The young woman praying on the left has not been identified. The strange Latin title ‘Nunc Dimittis’ (‘Now Dismiss’) was coined in 1964 by Philip Hendy and refers to the words used by Simeon as he took the infant Christ into his arms. There have been different critical opinions of the painting, which probably dates from around 1505-10. It has sometimes been considered an autograph late work, near in style to the Madonna of the Meadow (National Gallery, London) and the Sacra Conversazione (Accademia, Venice), and sometimes a product of Bellini’s prolific workshop. Previously in the Paris collection of Count Pourtalès. Acquired by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1964.
**Dead Christ supported by the Virgin and St John. Wood, 86 x 107.
The dead Christ, wearing an horrific crown of thorns, is supported in his sarcophagus, the front edge of which extends across the bottom of the picture like a parapet. The Virgin holds his pierced right hand and poignantly brings her face close to his. There is the steely, light-streaked sky of a chill dawn. Inscribed in classical letters on the front on the sarcophagus with an adaptation from the Elegies of Propertius: ‘When these swelling eyes evoke groans this work of Giovanni Bellini should shed tears’. Christ's left hand rests above the artist's name. A masterpiece of Bellini’s early period and the most famous of his many versions of this subject. Datings have varied between the late 1450s and early 1470s, but more recent opinion has tended to favour the later end of this range. The picture is first recorded in 1795 in the collection of Marchese Luigi Zampieri (Sampieri) at Bologna. Shortly afterwards, it must have fallen victim to the French occupiers' rapacious looting, as it was presented to the Brera in 1811 by Napoleon's stepson, Eugène de Beauharnais. The restoration of the picture in 2014 was marked by the Brera with a small exhibition (Giovanni Bellini: La Nascita della Pittura Devozionale Umanistica). The richly decorated Renaissance frame may be original.
*Madonna with a Greek Inscription. Wood, 82 x 62.
The Child, clutching an apple, appears about to fall forward off the parapet and is caught by his mother. The Greek letters refer to Mary as Mother of God. One of Bellini’s finest early Madonnas (late 1460s or early 1470s), somewhat resembling the Madonna and Child Blessing in the Accademia, Venice. From the Ufficio dei Regolatori alla Scrittura of the Doge’s Palace, Venice. Removed to the Brera in 1808. Restored in 1883 (when gilding was removed to reveal the original sky) and again in 1986-87.
*Virgin and Child in a Landscape. Canvas (transferred from panel), 85 x 115.
Signed and dated 1510 on the classical altar, on which a tiny cheetah or leopard (thought to be a monkey before a restoration of 1986) is sitting. The spotted cat probably refers to sinful mankind ‘spotted with evil’. The tapes hanging on the tree on the right are to trap birds attracted by a tethered decoy, and are likely to allude to a passage in Psalm 124 (‘Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers …’). The shepherd sleeping at the lower right could refer to the idle shepherds who neglect their flocks (Isaiah 57). It is unclear whether the two figures under the tree on the left and the horseman riding by in the right background (which also appears in the Madonna with the Pear at Bergamo and the Dolfin Madonna in San Francesco della Vigna at Venice) have any symbolic meaning. The picture is first recorded in about 1769 in the Palazzo Monti at Bologna; it was bequeathed by Giacomo Sannazzari to the Ospedale Maggiore at Milan in 1804 and sold to the Brera in 1806. Almost always regarded as one of Bellini’s rare fully autograph late works. There is a workshop variant, dated 1509, in the Detroit Art Institute.
Milan. Castello Sforzesco.
‘The Trivulzio Madonna’. Wood, 78 x 54.
The Virgin, dressed in a pale red mantle, passes a quince to the Child, who is seated on a cushion placed on the marble parapet. The fragmentary signature on the cartellino is sometimes suspected to be a later addition, but was declared genuine after a restoration in 2000. The picture is usually accepted as an authentic early Bellini, probably of the 1460s, though Goffen (1989) and Tempestini (1999) both tentatively revived an old attribution to Lazzaro Bastiani. Bequeathed to the City of Milan in 1935 with the collection of Prince Luigi Alberico Trivulzio.
Portrait of a Humanist. Wood, 35 x 28.
The young man wears a wreath and a toga. A recent attempt has been made (by Angela Dillon Bussi) to identify him with the poet Raffaelle Zovenzoni. Zovenzoni (born 1431 in Trieste) lived in Venice for a time and knew Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, describing Giovanni as 'a painter worthy of Alexander'. Traditionally ascribed to Antonello, the portrait was attributed to Bellini by Roberto Longhi (1932). The attribution had some subsequent support; but Robertson (1968) and Tempestini (1999) were sceptical, while Goffen (1989) thought the portrait could have been produced in Bellini’s workshop in the late 1470s. Acquired by the museum in 1876 from the De Cristoforis collection, Milan. At the time of its acquisition, the portrait had been repainted to show the sitter as a Venetian senator. The repaint was removed by the famous Milanese restorer Luigi Cavenaghi. The portrait is quite damaged (particularly the lower face and chest).
Milan. Museo Poldi Pezzoli.
Pietà. Wood, 48 x 38.
The three tree trunks behind the dead Christ probably allude to the Crucifixion. The extensive landscape background, with winding roads and rocky outcrops on either side, is similar to that in Mantegna's very early Adoration of the Magi (Metropolitan Museum, New York). Regarded in the late nineteenth century by Morelli (followed by Berenson and others) as a school work with a false signature, but subsequently usually accepted as an authentic early work. Tempestini (1999) rejects it (noting that it ‘is very weak in anatomy’). Acquired in the mid-nineteenth century by Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli from the celebrated Milanese restorer Giuseppe Molteni.
Milan. Museo Bagatti Valsecchi.
Saint Giustina. Wood, 128 x 52.
The saint holds a martyr’s palm and book and has a dagger driven into her heart. The inscription (‘S. Giustina de Boromeis’) inscribed along the bottom of the panel reflects the legend that she belonged to the Vitaliani family of Padua, from whom the Borromeo were descended. Baron Giuseppe Bagatti Valsecchi may have acquired the Saint Giustina because he was married to a Borromeo, but it is not known when or from whom the painting was bought. There are similarities with Mantegna’s Saint Giustina from the Saint Luke Polyptych at the Brera and Saint Euphemia in Naples. The panel was ascribed to Alvise Vivarini until 1913, when Bernard Berenson re-attributed it to Giovanni Bellini as ‘one of the most complete masterpieces of Italian painting of the fifteenth century’ (Gazette des Beaux-Arts). Subsequent critics have almost unanimously accepted it as a comparatively early work of the artist (mid-1470s?). Anchise Tempestini, who referred it in his 1999 monograph to a painter of the ‘Bastiani- Carpaccio-Diana’ school, is an exception. Restored in 2006.
Milan. Biblioteca Trivulziana.
Portrait of Raffaele Zovenzoni(?). Vellum, 15 x 16.
According to Marcantonio Michiel (whose sporadic notes on works of art were made between 1521 and 1543), Giovanni Bellini painted a portrait miniature of Raffaele Zovenzoni for the manuscript of Zovenzoni’s 1474 Latin poem Istria. The manuscript of Istria is in the Biblioteca Trivulziana, but Bellini’s portrait of the author was assumed lost. In 1991 (in Apollo), Jennifer Fletcher identified the missing portrait with a miniature (unreliably inscribed with the name of Guarino Guarini) that is in the same library and could have belonged to the manuscript. The identification was challenged a few years later by Angela Dillon Bussi (Libri & Documenti (1995)). Dillon Bussi suggested that the Portrait of a Humanist, attributed to Bellini or his workshop, at the Castello Sforzesco is a portrait of Zovenzoni, and attributed the Trivulziana portrait (which appears to represent someone else) to Lauro Padovano.
Murano. San Pietro Martire.
*Barbarigo Altarpiece. Canvas, 200 x 320.
Before the Madonna, enthroned under a canopy, Doge Agostino Barbarigo kneels in his robes of state, introduced by St Mark, while on the other side St Augustine (the Doge’s name saint) stands with a book and crosier. The fortress in the strip of landscape on the right also appears in the Pesaro Coronation (where it is usually identified as the Rocca di Gradara). The partridge (strutting in the right foreground) can be interpreted either as a symbol of evil and betrayal (Jeremiah 17: 11) or of truth and the Church. The peacock (perched on the marble balustrade) is a symbol of immortality and the heron (on the ground behind the balustrade) of longevity. Dated 1488, the same year as the Frari Altarpiece (the Christ Child, standing on the Virgin’s knee, is identical in the two paintings). The picture is likely to have been commissioned to mark the coronation of Doge Agostino, who was elected in 1486 after the sudden death (possibly by poison) of his brother, Doge Marco Barbarigo. It was painted for the Sala dello Scudo in the Doge’s Palace, but was bequeathed by Doge Agostino in 1501 to the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli on Murano, where two of his daughters were nuns. (The Doge's will requested that his daughters and other nuns pray before it for his soul.) The picture has been in San Pietro Martire since 1815. One of Bellini’s early works on canvas, it has been restored many times. Old retouchings were removed in 1979-83. The 'Sansovino' frame dates from 1684.
Madonna in Glory with Saints. Wood, 350 x 190.
Beneath the Virgin is a semi-circle of eight saints: Peter, John the Evangelist, Mark, Francis, Louis of Toulouse, Anthony Abbot, Augustine and John the Baptist. Painted for the high altar of Santa Maria degli Angeli, which was stripped of its art works in 1806. Late (1505-13?). Ascribed by early sources – Boschini (1674) and Zanetti (1771) – to Marco Basaiti. Attributed to Bellini by Gronau (1930). Most recent critics think it was designed by him but executed partly or wholly by an assistant. It has suffered severely from flaking. It was removed from the church in the 1980s and stored horizontally at the Accademia. After a long period of restoration, the picture was exhibited in 2016 at the Museo Diocesano at Venice. A new programme of restoration was underway from March 2018 at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence.
*Transfiguration. Wood, 116 x 154.
In a beautiful pastoral landscape, Christ stands in a shining white robe between Moses and Elijah; God speaks from the clouds; and the three apostles (Peter, James and John) have fallen dazzled to the ground. The buildings in the background seem to have been inspired by monuments at Ravenna – the Tomb of Theodoric and the tower of San Appollinare in Classe. Signed on a cartellino attached to the fence in the foreground. An inscription, discovered recently on Moses’ scroll, dates the picture to the year 5239 of the Jewish calendar (ie. September 1478 to October 1479). Probably the altarpiece commissioned for the funerary chapel of Archdeacon Alberto Fioccardo in Vicenza Cathedral. The chapel, second on the left aisle, was under construction by 1467, and the building work and furnishings were finished by July 1484. The chapel was rededicated in 1613, and by 1644 the picture had entered the Farnese collection, which was transferred from Parma to Naples in 1734. The picture was taken to Rome by French troops in 1799, subsequently returned to Naples by Ferdinand IV's Commissioner Domenico Venuti, and then sent to Palermo by Ferdinand in 1806, when the king fled to Sicily. It is likely to have suffered some damage during these various journeys, and is also reported to have been affected by damp. There are paint losses, concealed by restoration, on the drapery of the prophet on the left and by Christ's left hand, and the heads of Peter and James have been repainted.
New Haven. Yale University Art Gallery.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 34 x 27.
This small Madonna was probably produced in Bellini's workshop in the 1470s or 1480s. It is quite ruined and has been relegated permanently to storage. It had been completely repainted when it came to the museum in 1959 with the Rabinowitz bequest, and was subsequently subjected to the most drastic cleaning. Only the figure of the Child was spared the restorer's solvents and scalpel.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
*‘Davis Madonna’ (no. 30.95.256). Wood, 67 x 45.
The pale blue of the Virgin’s mantle and the sky is undercoat, the final paint layers having been lost to overcleaning. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, this picture was in the collection of Walther Fol at Rome, with an attribution to Alvise Vivarini. It was discovered by the art historian Jean Paul Richter, who sold it for $5,000 in 1895 to the wealthy financier Theodore M. Davis, who bequeathed it to the Metropolitan Museum in 1915. It is possibly the earliest of Bellini’s numerous Madonnas (datings have ranged from the mid-1450s to early 1460s). The influence of Mantegna is evident in the rocky landscape with winding roads. The composition in which the Virgin prays before the sleeping Child, which was common with the Vivarini, is repeated in only one other picture certainly by Bellini: the Madonna and Child Enthroned in the Accademia, Venice.
‘Lehman Madonna’ (no. 1975.1.81). Wood, 54 x 40.
The Child, clothed and wearing a red cap, stands on the parapet and makes the sign of benediction. An early work (datings have ranged from ‘about 1460’ to ‘about 1470’), clearly showing Mantegna’s influence (eg in the garland behind the Virgin’s head and the landscape with the winding road and river). The fruit on the left of the parapet and on the garland are types of gourd, a symbol of the Resurrection. In 1911 the picture belonged to Principe Potenziani at Rieti; it was bought by the investment banker Philip Lehman from the Florentine dealer Professore Luigi Grassi in about 1916 and bequeathed to the museum by Robert Lehman in 1975. Parts (including the Virgin’s face and cloak) are heavily repainted.
*‘Rogers Madonna’ (08.183.1). Wood, 89 x 71.
The Child holds a quince, another symbol of the Resurrection, and gazes heavenwards; in the left background is a glimpse of a village and distant mountains. Probably painted around 1490, and related in design to the Madonna of the Pear at Bergamo and the Madonna with Cherub Heads in the Accademia at Venice. Workshop assistance has occasionally been suspected (eg. in the monographs by Rona Goffen (1989) and Anchise Tempestini (1999)), but the execution appears to be of exceptionally high quality. Bought for the museum by Roger Fry (then Curator of Paintings) from the Florentine dealer Georges Brauer in 1908. The fine Venetian frame is not original but dates from the early sixteenth century. Another version, with a different landscape, was formerly in the Cook collection at Richmond and later in a private collection in Switzerland.
Madonna and Child with Four Saints. Wood, 97 x 154.
St Peter (with keys) and St Catherine of Alexandria (with martyr’s palm and wheel) are on the left; St Lucy (with lamp and palm) and the Baptist (with reed cross and scroll) are on the right. Signed on the cartellino in the centre of the parapet. The picture appears to be a late product of Bellini’s workshop, and was probably executed by two or more assistants. The figure of St Lucy is very like that of Persephone in the Washington Feast of the Gods (1514). The picture was in England by 1810, when it was offered for sale at Christie’s with the estate of Sir Philip Stephens, and by 1893 it had entered the distinguished collection of the London merchant banker Robert Benson. The New York banker Jules Bache paid Duveen the huge price of $350,000 for it in 1927. Bequeathed to the museum in 1949.
Circumcision. Wood, 68 x 103.
Signed and dated 1511 (bottom centre). One of many versions, the best known of which is in the National Gallery, London. Previously ascribed to Vincenzo Catena, it is now classed simply as a work of Bellini’s workshop. It was once in the collection of Conte Carlo Castelbarco in Milan and later that of Salomon Goldschmidt in Paris. Donated to the museum in 1917 by J. Pierpont Morgan. Damaged by overcleaning.
Madonna and Child (no. 49.7.2). Wood, 34 x 28.
The Child holds a swallow (rather than the usual goldfinch). The castle in the background resembles that in the Madonna of the Meadow (National Gallery, London). This little panel was ascribed to Cima da Conegliano in the late eighteenth century, when it belonged to John Strange (the British Resident in Venice); and it retained this attribution when it was in the Duke of Hamilton’s collection in Scotland and when it was bought by Jules Bache from Duveen for $200,000 in 1927. It was later attributed to Giovanni Bellini himself by some critics (including Georg Gronau and Bernard Berenson), but is now generally considered a late product of his workshop. There is another version, with a different background, in the Ca d’Oro in Venice. Exceptionally well preserved.
New York. Frick Collection.
**Saint Francis in the Wilderness. Wood, 124 x 142.
The saint has left his simple hut, where he was meditating on a skull, reed cross and crown of thorns, and stands with his hands outstretched to welcome the golden light streaming through the clouds in the top left corner. It has been much discussed whether he is communing ecstatically with nature, singing his canticle to the sun, or receiving his stigmata on Mount La Verna. Landscape is given a remarkable scale and importance in relation to the lone figure, and the detail is exquisite. Much has been written on the religious symbolism in the picture, which has been claimed to contain references to Moses (the leaves of the tall laurel on the left glowing like the burning bush and the water spout in the bottom left corner recalling the water struck from the rock), the Eucharist (the canopy of grapevines over the little shelter), the Resurrection (the sprouting fig stump to the saint’s right and the tiny kingfisher perched below the water spout), the hermit life (the grey heron perched near St Francis’s donkey and the rabbit poking its head out of a crevice behind the saint), the Good Shepherd (the herdsman tending his flock on the town’s outskirts) and much else. The tranquil hill-town is perhaps an idealised La Verna. Many plants are identifiable: the little herb garden is planted with orris, Jacob’s staff and juniper; spleenwort, toadflax and ivy grow wild on the rock face; and the grassy bank is sprinkled with Michaelmas daisies. Signed on the cartellino attached to the withered bush, bottom left.
The painting is a masterpiece of Bellini’s middle period, close in style to the Naples Transfiguration of 1478-79. In spite of its substantial size, it was never a church altarpiece and probably hung in the main hall (portego) of a Venetian palazzo, where its detail could be appreciated close up and at eye level. It is almost certainly the picture (‘St Francis in the wilderness in oil’ with a landscape ‘wonderfully composed and detailed’) seen by Marcantonio Michiel in 1525 in the house of Taddeo Contarini in Venice. Michiel says that it was painted for Zuan Michiel (a state official, who was secretary to the Council of Ten from 1497 to his death in 1513). Later in the Giustiniani and Cornaro palaces in Venice, it was in England by 1852, when it was sold at Christie’s. The influential critics Bernard Berenson (who omitted the picture from his original 1894 Lists of Venetian painters) and Roger Fry (who excluded it from his Bellini monograph of 1899) regarded it as the work of a follower (Marco Basaiti). But when the painting was exhibited in London in 1912, it caused a sensation, and both Berenson and Fry were compelled to change their opinion. Henry Clay Frick bought the painting three years later, in 1915, for $250,000 from Knoedler’s of New York. It has hung ever since in the central Living Hall of the Fifth Avenue mansion. Cut down slightly at the top, but otherwise in exceptionally good condition. It was rigorously examined, using the latest technology, and lightly cleaned for an in-focus exhibition held at the Frick in 2011.
New York Brooklyn Museum.
Portrait of Young Man. Wood, 39 x 34.
The sitter (bust-length and three-quarter face) wears a black robe and cap. His shoulder-length auburn hair is curled under in a zazzera style. Signed on the parapet. The portrait may date from around 1480. It is very damaged and has been excluded from most recent catalogues of Bellini’s works. Donated to the museum in 1932 from the estate of the New York philanthropist and art connoisseur Colonel Michael Friedsam.
New York. Pierpont Morgan Library.
‘Sacra Conversazione’. Wood, 75 x 109.
The Virgin and Child with Saints Paul and George, two female saints and an unknown donor. Comparatively late (early 1500s?) and often ascribed to Bellini’s workshop. The composition appears largely to have been pieced together from elements in earlier paintings by Bellini (eg. the figure of St Paul is repeated from the Pesaro Coronation). Bequeathed by Cardinal Rezzonico to Antonio Canova, and sold by the sculptor’s brother (Bishop Canova) to the Comte de Pourtalès. Later owned by the Marqués de Salamanca and the Marquis de la Ganay.
Nivå (Denmark). Nivaagaards Malerisamling.
Portrait of a Young Man. Wood, 30 x 23.
The young man's plain black robe and biretta are of the sort customarily worn by Venetian citizens. The sky is an unusually intense ultramarine. This little known picture was acquired in 1900 by the Danish landowner and politician Johannes Hage, whose collection forms the basis of the museum's holdings. Stolen, along with Rembrandt's Portrait of a Lady, in January 1999 but recovered undamaged seven months later.
Oneonta (New York). Yager Museum at Hartwick College.
'Madonna of the Meadow'. Wood (transferred), 49 x 59.
A smaller version, probably from Bellini's workshop, of the late masterpiece in the National Gallery, London. The Madonna and Child are almost identical to those in the London painting, but the landscape is different. Formerly in the Palazzo Papafava at Padua, it was acquired from an Italian dealer in 1954 by the Reverend Louis van Ess, who bequeathed it to his old college in 1960. Considerably damaged by flaking. Transferred to a new support in 1954. Restored in 2012.
Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada.
Christ Blessing (full-length). Canvas (transferred from panel), 163 x 92.
The new shoot growing from the tree stump symbolises the Resurrection. The hill-town in the left distance is taken from the Madonna of the Meadow (National Gallery, London). Once accepted as autograph by some critics (eg. Pallucchini in his 1959 monograph and Berenson in his 1932-57 Lists), but now classed by the museum as a late product of Bellini’s workshop. Purchased in 1913.
Christ Blessing (half-length). Wood, 52 x 41.
This picture also had supporters at one time. (It was attributed to Bellini by Georg Gronau in his 1930 German monograph and accepted by Berenson in his 1957 Lists, Bottari in his 1963 Tutta la Pittura and Pignatti in his 1969 L’Opera Completa.) However, it has received little attention in the more recent literature and is presently attributed by the museum to Bellini’s workshop. It probably dates from the time of the Vicenza Baptism (early 1500s).
Oxford. Ashmolean Museum.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 33 x 27.
This little-known, small, rather damaged panel may date from around 1470. It was badly restored in the early twentieth century, when the background (which may originally have shown a landscape or curtain) was gilded. Once with the Portalupi family of Verona, it was later in the collections of the connoisseur J. P. Richter, the industrialist Ludwig Mond, Lord Melchett, and the art historian Kenneth Clark. After Lord Clark’s death, it was accepted by the Exchequer in lieu of inheritance tax, and allocated to the Ashmolean Museum in 1987.
Oxford. Christ Church.
*Portrait of a Man. Paper, 39 x 28.
One of the finest surviving Renaissance portrait drawings. The elderly man's alert expression, as he glances to his left, the play of light and shadow across the contours of his face, and the creases and folds in his lined and sagging skin are beautifully observed. The drawing was in all probability an independent portrait rather than a preliminary drawing for a painting. It was traditionally supposed to be a portrait of Ludovico Sforza (Il Moro) by Leonardo da Vinci. An attribution to Alvise Vivarini (advanced by Bernard Berenson in his 1901 Lorenzo Lotto) was discarded long ago. Since then, the drawing has been attributed to one of three artists – Giovanni Bellini, Andrea Mantegna and Francesco Bonsignori.
The attribution to Giovanni Bellini was first proposed in 1928 (by James Byam Shaw in Old Master Drawings). It depends on comparisons with Bellini's painted portraits, as the painter's drawings are extremely rare. It has been supported by the identification of the sitter as Giovanni's brother, Gentile Bellini. This identification, based on portrait medals, is conjectural.
The attribution to Mantegna, Giovanni and Gentile Bellini's brother-in-law, was published in 1944 (by Hans and Erica Tietze in their Drawings by the Venetian Painters). The attribution is linked with another portrait drawing, now in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. The Dublin drawing is thought to represent Marchese Francesco Gonzaga and is probably by the same hand (and possibly from the same series) as the Christ Church portrait. As the Marchese's court painter, Mantegna is the most obvious person to have provided a drawing of him. While Giovanni Bellini is less likely to have drawn Francesco Gonzaga, he could conceivably have done so, as the Marchese was in Venice (for example) after the Battle of Fornovo in 1495.
The third candidate, Francesco Bonsignori, worked for the Gonzaga and is said by Vasari to have made 'many portraits of gentlemen of the court'. The case for Bonsignori rests on the premise that the Christ Church and Dublin drawings are by the same hand as a third portrait drawing in Vienna, which corresponds almost exactly to the painted Portrait of a Venetian Senator (National Gallery, London), which is signed by Bonsignori and dated 1487. The objection to Bonsignori is that he was not a great artist, like Bellini and Mantegna, and would have been incapable of creating a drawing as fine as the Christ Church portrait. It is of course conceivable that Bonsignori based his Portrait of a Venetian Senator on a drawing by Mantegna (or Bellini).
The Christ Church portrait was attributed to Bonsignori when exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum (Splendours of the Gonzaga) in 1982, to Mantegna when exhibited at the Royal Academy (Andrea Mantegna) in 1992, and to Giovanni Bellini when exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum (Titian to Canaletto: Drawing from Venice) in 2015-16. The drawing has been at Christ Church since 1765, when it was one of more than two thousand paintings and drawings bequeathed by General John Guise to his old Oxford college.
Padua. Museo Civico.
Portrait of a Young Man. Wood, 35 x 26.
The young man's curled (and dyed?) fair hair is grown so long that it falls on his shoulders. His red gown and black stola identify him as someone of high social standing (senator or Chancellery secretary). Critical opinion has been divided over this little portrait. Dussler (1949) rated it one of the best of Bellini’s surviving portraits, while Robertson (1968) described it as ‘perhaps never more than a work of a follower’. It has been dated as early as ‘1480-85’ and as late as ‘the early 1500s’. From the Emo Capodilista collection (formerly housed in the Palazzo Capodilista on the Via Umberto I).
*Christ Blessing. Wood, 58 x 44.
An early work (mid-1460s?), which fits the description of a picture mentioned by Ridolfi (1648): ‘To the fathers of Santo Stefano [the Augustinian convent in Venice] Giambelliano presented an effigy of the Saviour in the act of blessing, most unusual for its devotion and diligent execution’. The subject is rare in fifteenth-century Italian painting, and Bellini may have drawn inspiration from a Flemish source. In the collection of Prince d’Orloff in the nineteenth century with an attribution to the Netherlandish painter Lucas van Leyden; acquired by the Louvre for 75,000 francs in 1912 from the dealer François Kleinberger and attributed to Giovanni Bellini by Roger Fry in the same year.
*Crucifixion. Wood, 71 x 63.
Christ hangs dead upon the cross between the anguished Virgin and St John the Evangelist. The rocky mound, littered with skulls and bones, on which the cross is set, overlooks a light-flooded dawn landscape, with a castle on a lake, a road looping through rolling hills and pale mountains in the distance. The picture was in the Paris collection of the banker Rodolphe Kann at the beginning of the twentieth century and then in Florence with the famous dealer Alessandro Contini Bonacossi. The attribution was sometimes doubted before the War (eg. by the German art historians Georg Gronau and Luitpold Dussler). But the panel is now accepted as an authentic early work, painted when Bellini was still somewhat under Mantegna’s influence (most evident in the landscape). It is close in style to the great Saint Vincent Ferrer Polyptych in SS. Giovanni e Paolo and may date from 1465-70 – a few years later than the very early Crucifixion in the Correr Museum. Acquired by the Louvre in 1970 after it had been sold by Contini Bonacossi’s heirs.
Virgin and Child with SS. Peter and Sebastian. Wood, 84 x 61.
A rather crowded composition, in which the Madonna and two flanking saints are shown in a vertical rather than the more usual horizontal format. In spite of the signature, it was attributed by Morelli (1897), and subsequently Berenson, to Niccolò Rondinelli (a pupil of Giovanni Bellini from Ravenna). It was restored to Bellini by Georg Gronau in his 1930 monograph on the artist. It was probably painted, with studio assistance, in the 1480s or 1490s. Formerly in the collections of the Prince of Orange at Brussels and Lord Northwick at Connaught Place and Cheltenham; bought by the Louvre in 1859 for 15,000 francs. .
Portrait of a Man. Wood, 32 x 26.
As with almost all the portraits attributed to Bellini, the identity of the sitter – a long-haired young man – is unknown. Regarded as an authentic Bellini by Berenson (1932 and 1957) and a number of subsequent critics. Goffen (1989) and Tempestini (1999) were uncertain. Given to the Louvre by Albert de Vandeuil of Paris in 1902.
Virgin and Child with Four Saints and a Donor. Wood, 73 x 124.
The Baptist and a female saint (Mary Magdalene?) are on the left; St George and St Peter are on the right. The Virgin lays a hand on the head of the praying donor (probably a member of the Pesaro family), who receives the Christ Child’s blessing. Signed on the parapet. The picture, which was probably painted in Bellini’s workshop in the 1490s, once hung over the altar of the Palazzo Pesaro in Venice. Bequeathed in 1914 with the collection of Baron Schlichting.
Bishop Saint (St Augustine?); St Anthony Abbot. Wood, each 120 x 40.
Side panels from an unknown altarpiece. The panels were placed on loan with the Louvre in 1980 from the church of Saint-Wandrille at Le Pecq (some 20 km. west of Paris). They had been bequeathed to the church in 1866 by a local man (Guillaume Parissot) and their earlier history is unknown. They have been attributed to a number of different Venetian painters, including Lazzaro Bastiani and Alvise Vivarini. The attribution to Giovanni Bellini, as very youthful works of the 1460s, was made in 1986 (by Miklós Boskovits in Revue du Louvre). It relies on stylistic comparisons with the Carità Triptychs (Accademia, Venice). Two further panels from the polyptych have been discovered recently in a French private collection. As yet unpublished, they represent the deacon saints Stephen and Lawrence. It is clear from the trilobate shape of the tops of the panels that the polyptych was framed in a late Gothic style.
Paris. Musée Jacquemart-André.
Virgin and Child Enthroned. Wood, 131 x 103.
The Child, raising his right hand in blessing, stands on the knee of the Virgin, who is enthroned on a terrace. The landscape is largely hidden by a dark green curtain hanging behind the throne. The picture has been damaged by over-cleaning. (The Virgin's red dress has lost much of its modelling and the sky has lost its glazes and appears a very dense blue. The flesh parts and the Virgin's white veil are better preserved.) The panel was possibly the central part of an altarpiece that had saints, and perhaps also donors, at the sides. As it is, the simple symmetry of the vertical composition, the linear geometry of the dais and throne, and the pure bright colours give the painting a remarkably modern look. It was unattributed when acquired by Nélie Jacquemart and was catalogued by the museum in 1926 simply as 'Venetian School, c.1510'. Berenson listed it as a late work of Giovanni Bellini in the 1957 edition of his Venetian Painters, but Heinemann (1962) attributed it to a minor Bellinesque painter called Pietro degli Ingannati. More recently, it has been generally called either a very late work of Bellini or a very late product of his studio.
Pasadena. Norton Simon Museum.
*Portrait of Jöerg Fugger. Wood, 26 x 20.
There was once an inscription (covered when the panel was strengthened) on the back giving the sitter’s name and the date, 20 June 1474. Fugger was a young German merchant, born in 1453 and known to have been in Venice in 1474. He wears a black coat with silver tassels and slashed sleeves. The garland in his curly brown hair identifies him as a classical scholar. The small portrait is painted in oil and seems to show the influence of Antonello (though he is not known to have been in Venice until 1475). It was found in ‘a garret’ of the Fugger castle at Oberkirchberg (near Ulm in Germany) by August L. Mayer, who published his discovery in the May 1926 Burlington Magazine. It was sold the same year to Walter Schnackenberg of Munich, and bought by Alessandro Contini Bonacossi for $40,000 in 1928 from Kleinberger & Co. Acquired by the Norton Simon Foundation in 1969 after it had been sold by Contini Bonacossi’s heirs. Somewhat worn.
Pavia. Pinacoteca Civico.
Madonna. Wood, 47 x 32.
The panel, which originally had a round top, has been cut down. Regarded by some critics as one of Bellini’s earliest works, painted in the 1450s and perhaps just a little later than the Davis Madonna in New York. In spite of the signature (?) on the stone parapet, the attribution has often been disputed. The authorship of Bartolomeo Vivarini was suggested in the late nineteenth century (by Morelli) and that of Lazzaro Bastiani in the 1960s (by Heineman and Robertson). The Bellini attribution subsequently experienced something of a revival, but was rejected by Tempestini (1999) after repaint was removed in a restoration.
Pesaro. Museo Civico.
**Coronation of the Virgin. Wood, 262 x 240.
The Coronation is attended by St Francis and St Jerome (right) and St Paul and St Peter. The back of the huge marble throne resembles a picture frame; through it is viewed a castle on a hill (often supposed to be the Sforza Rocca di Gradara, just a few miles from Pesaro). The pilasters on either side of the gilded frame contain paintings of saints in niches (Catherine of Alexandria, Lawrence, Anthony of Padua and the Baptist on the left, and the Blessed Michelina of Pesaro, Bernardino of Siena, Louis of Toulouse and Andrew on the right). On the pilaster bases are paintings of St George and the Dragon (left) and St Terentius (right, holding a model of the Rocca Costanza at Pesaro). The predella contains a Nativity, in the centre, and scenes from the lives of the four saints in the main panel (Conversion of Paul; Crucifixion of Peter; Jerome in the Desert; and Francis receiving the Stigmata). The altarpiece was originally crowned by a Pietà, which was looted by the French in 1797 and is now in the Vatican Pinacoteca.
The altarpiece is undated and undocumented. Vasari, in the earliest known reference to it, says it was in San Domenico at Pesaro, but the original location seems rather to have been San Francesco (now Santa Maria delle Grazie). Although Bellini is now known to have used oil paint in combination with tempera in some of his earliest works, the Coronation of the Virgin has been claimed as his first important true oil painting. (His inexperience with the new medium is suggested by the 'drying cracks' visible in places.) The altarpiece has usually been dated to the early 1470s, though some critics – detecting the influence of Antonello’s oil technique – have placed it a few years later. It has also been associated with a will, dated 30 September 1476, that gave a legacy to San Francesco to pay for a picture for the high altar. The altarpiece (including the frame) was restored in 1988; it is well preserved, though the pilaster panels have suffered some paint losses. The Vatican Pietà was temporarily reunited with the rest of the structure for an exhibition at the Museo Civico, Pesaro, in 1988-89 and again for the Bellini exhibition at the Quirinale, Rome, in 2008-9.
God the Father. Wood, 102 x 132.
Probably a fragment from the top of an altarpiece. It resembles the figure in the Vicenza Baptism.
Philadelphia. John G. Johnson Collection.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 64 x 41.
Heavily repainted (including the faces). ‘Signed’ on the stone parapet and once widely accepted as an early work of the late 1450s or early 1460s. However, Goffen (1989) expressed doubts because of the poor draughtsmanship (eg. of the Virgin’s hands) and Tempestini (1999) excluded the picture from his catalogue. Purchased by Johnson in 1906 on the recommendation of Roger Fry, who claimed, in an article in the Burlington Magazine, to have discovered it ‘at a provincial auction in England’. It was withdrawn from exhibition in 1974 because of its poor condition but recently restored. The composition is related to Donatello’s Verona Madonna (known through a number of replicas).
Poznan (Poland). National Gallery.
Madonna and Child with Donor. Wood, 71 x 57.
The Child dangles a flower from the end of a piece of string, which the Virgin catches in her left hand. This little known and rather damaged painting was formerly in the collection of the art historian Fritz von Harck at Leipzig. It was published as a work of Giovanni Bellini by Georg Gronau in his 1928 German monograph on the artist's late works. It has, however, been largely ignored in the subsequent voluminous literature on the painter. It is particularly close in style to the Cornbury Park Altarpiece (now in the Birmingham City Art Gallery), which is signed and dated 1505 but was certainly executed partly by studio assistants. It is badly abraded and parts, including the faces of the Virgin and Child, are retouched.
Prato. Palazzo degli Alberti.
*Crucifixion. Wood, 81 x 49.
Until recently, this superb painting remained almost unknown in a private collection. It is now owned by the Banca Popolare di Vicenza. The buildings in the background are thought to include the cathedrals at Vicenza and Ancona, Vicenza’s Torre di Piazza and the campanile of Santa Fosca at Venice. There are Hebrew inscriptions on the tombstones that have been supposed to include dates of 1501 and of 1502 or 1503. Some critics have accepted a dating in the early 1500s, while others have considered the panel much earlier (late 1470s). Once ascribed to Marco Basaiti, the attribution to Giovanni Bellini was made in Gamba’s 1937 monograph, when the picture was in the collection of Niccolini di Camugliano at Florence.
Rimini. Museo Civico.
*Dead Christ supported by Angels. Wood, 91 x 131.
Painted, according to Vasari, in Rimini for Sigismondo Malatesta. It hung in the church of San Francesco (Tempio Malatestiano) there, and was transferred to the Palazzo Comunale in 1798. Sigismondo Malatesta died in October 1468, but most critics have dated the picture rather later than this. It has been conjectured that the patron was rather Carlo Malatesta (a grandson of Sigismondo, who was a commander in the Venetian army and a member of the Scuola Grande di San Marco, and who died in 1482). The composition was inspired by Donatello’s bas-reliefs: the Christ supported by Two Angels in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which may have been executed in Padua, is particularly closely related. A conspicuous crack runs horizontally through the middle of the panel.
Rome. Galleria Borghese.
*Madonna and Child. Wood, 50 x 41.
Signed on the cartellino on the parapet. There is a resemblance to the Virgin and Child in the San Zaccaria Altarpiece of 1505. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were attributions to followers of Bellini (Bissolo, Catena and Pseudo-Basaiti), and some more recent critics have considered it a late studio work. Tempestini (1999) considers it Bellini’s latest surviving half-length Madonna (about 1510). The picture is unrecorded before 1833, when it is listed in a Borghese inventory.
Rome. Pinacoteca Capitolina.
Portrait of a Young Patrician. Wood, 34 x 25.
This form of portrait – the sitter seen bust-length behind a parapet, turned to three-quarter view and set against a background of sky and clouds – is typical of Bellini and ultimately Flemish in origin. The black sash (stola) worn over the young man's right shoulder marks him as a Venetian patrician. Signed on the parapet. The picture was acquired by Pope Benedict XIV in 1750 with the collection of Prince Gilberto di Savoia, and was described as a self-portrait in early inventories of the museum. It was attributed to Niccolò Rondinelli by Morelli and Berenson, but almost all critics since Georg Gronau's 1930 monograph have accepted it as an authentic Bellini. There has been little agreement on dating, however, with suggestions ranging from ‘before 1485’ to ‘about 1500’.
Rome. Vatican Pinacoteca.
*Pietà. Wood, 106 x 84.
The surrounding figures are probably Nicodemus, Joseph of Arithmathea and Mary Magdalene. The top of the altarpiece painted for the church of San Francesco at Pesaro. The rest of the altarpiece is in the Museo Civico at Pesaro. The Pietà, already detached from the altarpiece, was looted by French troops in 1797 and taken to Paris. It was placed in the new Vatican Pinacoteca on its return in 1815 and attributed to Mantegna. It was recognised as a work of Bellini in 1871 by Crowe and Cavalcaselle. It was briefly reunited with the rest of the altarpiece for exhibitions held in Pesaro in 1988-89 and in Rome in 2008-9.
Rovigo. Accademia dei Concordia.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 83 x 63.
Signed on the cartellino attached to the marble parapet. There are a good many variants, by Giovanni Bellini or his shop, of this composition, which may date from around the mid-1470s. Several examples (including a particularly close one at Verona) show the Virgin again robed in red rather than the customary blue. Acquired in Venice in 1795 by the Rovigo aristocrat Francesco Casilini and bequeathed to the academy in 1878 by Conte Silvestri. Repaint was removed in a 1949 restoration.
Christ carrying the Cross. Wood, 49 x 27.
Small, devotional, half-length paintings of Christ carrying the Cross first appeared in Northern Italy around the 1480s. There are early examples from the circle of Leonardo at Milan and from the circle of Mantegna at Mantua, and the subject was already popular when it was taken up by Giovanni Bellini’s circle at Venice. There are some fifty versions of this composition, which may date from the early 1500s. One at Boston was attributed to Giorgione at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century but is now classed by the Gardner Museum as a work of Giovanni Bellini’s circle. Another at Toledo (Ohio) was published in 1939 as Bellini’s original but is now classed by the Museum of Art as the work of a follower. In the view of Tempestini (1999), both the Toledo and Rovigo versions were executed in Bellini’s workshop with the master’s participation. A version, with a possible provenance from the Duomo at Murano, was in the Paris collection of Count Wilhelm de Pourtalès in the late nineteenth century. It was sold with an attribution to Giovanni Bellini at Sotheby's. London, in December 2019. Nothing is known of the early history of the Rovigo version, which was acquired by the academy in 1833 with the Casilini bequest.
São Paolo. Museu de Arte.
Madonna. Wood, 75 x 59.
Known as the ‘Willys Madonna’ after its last owner, John N. Willys of Toledo (Ohio) and New York. Acquired in 1957. It may date from the late 1480s. There are several other versions. One in the Chicago Art Institute was once considered an autograph Bellini, but was recognised as a copy with a false signature when cleaned in 1964. Another, formerly at Berlin, was signed by Antonello da Saliba, a relative and follower of Antonello da Messina.
Dead Christ. Wood, 107 x 70.
A very damaged late work (early 1500s), formerly ascribed to Marco Basaiti or Rocco Marconi. Possibly the ‘beautiful picture of the dead Christ’ from the church of San Francesco della Vigna, which Vasari says was given reluctantly to Louis XII after the French king had insistently asked for it. Abrasive cleaning has removed the final paint layers, giving the picture an almost monochromatic appearance. The signature has disappeared from the cartellino. The picture, which once belonged to Charles Eastlake, was acquired for the museum in 1911 by the distinguished curator Osvald Sirén.
Lamentation over the Dead Christ. Wood, 75 x 96.
The dead Christ is supported by the Virgin, while St John holds up his pierced left hand; also present are Mary Magdalene, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. The picture, which is signed on the parapet, was probably produced in Bellini's workshop in the 1490s or early 1500s. One of almost 250 Italian paintings acquired by the Stuttgart museum in 1852 with the Venetian Barbini-Breganze collection.
Toledo (Spain). Cathedral. Sacristy.
Entombment. Wood, 67 x 86.
Signed on the edge of the sarcophagus on the left (a second signature on the right is not genuine). The panel has been enlarged at the sides and the landscape is not original. The central group of the dead Christ, the Virgin and St John is similar to that in the Berlin Lamentation (though the position of Christ’s body is reversed). Tempestini (1999) thinks that the other three figures were added by ‘a collaborator of Cima da Conegliano’.
Toledo (Ohio). Museum of Art.
Christ carrying the Cross. Wood, 50 x 39.
Sometimes identified with 'the painting of Christ with the cross on his back, up to his shoulders, by the hand of Zuan Bellino' recorded by Marcantonio Michiel in 1527 in the palazzo of Taddeo Contarini at Venice. There are many other versions. One at Rovigo is also sometimes considered autograph. Another, published in 1927 by Bode as a masterpiece by Bellini, was formerly in the Paris collection of Count Wilhelm de Pourtalès and later with his descendants in The Hague, Poland and Switzerland. (It was sold at Sotheby's, London, in December 2019 for £795,000.) A well-known version in the Gardner Museum at Boston was acquired with an attribution to Giorgione and is now catalogued simply as 'circle of Giovanni Bellini'. From the early nineteenth century, the Toledo picture was in the collection of the Marquis de Brissac and other aristocratic Paris collections. It was discovered shortly before the War, published (by George Martin Richter in the September 1939 Burlington Magazine) as Bellini’s original, and acquired by the museum in 1940. Presently classed by the museum as the work of a follower.
Tulsa. Philbrook Art Center.
Portrait of a Bearded Man. Wood, 14 x 11.
The young man's abundant brown hair is curled inwards in a style that was popular in the Veneto around the mid-1480s. This little portrait panel came from the Palazzo Serbelloni at Milan, where it was attributed in old inventories to Antonello da Messina. After its acquisition in 1950 by Samuel H. Kress, it was catalogued as a work of Giovanni Bellini by Wilhelm Suida, and this attribution was supported by Berenson and Pallucchini (among others). Fritz Heinemann dissented, however, calling the portrait 'close to Basaiti' in his monumental 1962 Giovanni Bellini e I Belliniani. The Bellini attribution has been retained by the Kress Foundation and the Philbrook Center, but the panel appears to have been largely ignored in the more recent literature on the painter.
Turin. Galleria Sabauda.
Annunciation; Birth of the Virgin. Canvas, 113/112 x 152.
Two of nine surviving paintings from a large cycle painted for the Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista at Venice. Two of the other paintings were formerly owned by the American poet, publisher and art dealer Stanley Moss (sold at Christie's, New York, in May 2019). The remaining five are all in a private British collection. The cycle is recorded by Vasari, who says that it 'gave greater fame to Jacopo Bellini because of the assistance of his sons'. Two recent articles – the first by Joseph Hammond in the August 2016 Burlington Magazine and the second by Antonio Mazzotta in the April 2018 Burlington Magazine – discuss the surviving canvases, which, in their very damaged state, had been previously almost ignored by art historians. Mazzotta focuses on the attribution of the Turin canvases, which were freed of nineteenth-century repaint in 1986 and can therefore be more reliably assessed. He finds stylistic features to suggest that they 'are among the earliest surviving works of Giovanni Bellini, painted when he was still in his father's workshop'. Circumstantial evidence is cited to support an early dating of around 1452-53. (In 1453, the Scuola paid Jacopo Bellini the considerable sum of twenty ducats to be used as a dowry for his daughter Nicolosia, and the Scuola's new albergo was completed the same year.) The stylistic parallels Mazzotta draws between the Turin canvases and early works of Giovanni Bellini are suggestive. But as there are no certain examples of Giovanni's work of so early a date, the evidence seems insufficient for attributing to him the major role in what is likely to have been a workshop collaboration with his father, his brother Gentile and possibly other assistants.
Tyntesfield House (near Bristol).
Virgin and Child with St John. Wood, 85 x 64.
This panel, signed by Bellini on the cartellino attached to the parapet, was probably produced in his workshop in the 1490s. The assistant responsible might have been Niccolò Rondinelli, who signed three versions of the composition. The figure of the Baptist was possibly painted by Bellini himself. The picture was purchased from a London dealer in 1880 by Anthony Gibbs, the son of the merchant, William Gibbs, who built Tyntesfield House. It was originally excluded from the National Trust's acquisition of the house and its contents in 2002, but was accepted by the Government in 2004 in lieu of inheritance tax. It was initially placed on loan with the Bristol City Art Gallery, but was returned in 2013 to the anteroom at Tyntesfield, where it had hung for more than a century.
Urbino. Galleria Nazionale.
Virgin and Child with SS. John the Baptist and Elizabeth. Wood, 70 x 90.
Very damaged and abraded. There is another, signed, version in Frankfurt.
*Madonna and Child Blessing (dark background; no. 583). Wood, 79 x 63.
An early work, probably painted in the 1460s and related in design to the Madonna with the Greek Inscription in the Brera. (The icon-like Accademia and Brera Madonnas both come from government offices, and one wonders whether they were commissioned by officials as replicas of, or replacements for, venerated older images.) The Accademia painting hung in the offices of the Magistrato del Monte Nuovissimo in the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi in Venice. It was transferred to the gallery in 1812. In poor condition and much repainted.
*Madonna and Child Blessing (landscape background; no. 594). Wood, 78 x 60.
Signed on the parapet. The pose of the Child, standing frontally on the parapet in the act of benediction, resembles that in the Madonna by Jacopo Bellini at Lovere. It was used again by Giovanni Bellini in a large altarpiece painted for the Chapel of St Catherine in the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (destroyed by fire in 1867). The picture has been dated between 1475 and 1485, and entered the Accademia with the collection of Girolamo Contarini in 1838. It is possibly the ‘beautiful Our Lady by the hand of Giovanni Bellini’ bequeathed by Taddeo di Gentile Contarini to his kinsman Gerolamo in February 1578.
*Virgin and Child Enthroned (no. 591). Wood, 120 x 63.
The Virgin is seated on a marble throne, hands folded in prayer before the sleeping Child. The picture, an early work of the late 1460s or early 1470s, was probably originally the centre panel of a triptych or polyptych. It hung in the offices of the Magistrato della Milizia del Mare in the Doge’s Palace, and was transferred to the Accademia in 1812.
*Virgin and Child with a Choir of Cherubs (no. 612). Wood, 77 x 60.
Similar scarlet cherub heads appear in the Coronation of the Virgin at Pesaro, while the poses of the Mother and Child are like those in the Madonna of the Pear at Bergamo. From the Scuola di Santa Maria della Carità.
*‘Madonna degli Alberetti’ (no. 596). Wood, 74 x 58.
Painted in 1487. Bellini’s earliest signed and dated work (though he had by this time been active for twenty-five or thirty years). This beautiful picture takes its name from the two small trees in the background, which may symbolise the Old and New Testaments. Given to the Accademia by Girolamo Contarini in 1838. Badly restored in 1902. The Virgin’s mantle is especially damaged.
**San Giobbe Altarpiece (no. 38). Wood, 471 x 258.
The Madonna and Child are enthroned beneath the coffered barrel vault of a Renaissance chapel. At their feet, two angels play large lutes and one a small fiddle (rebec or giga). To the left of the throne, St Francis displays his stigmata, the aged naked Job adores the Christ Child, and the head of John the Baptist is seen in profile between the two. A graceful nearly nude St Sebastian stands on the right, with St Dominic (in profile reading) and the Franciscan bishop St Louis of Toulouse standing behind. This great altarpiece – Bellini’s largest surviving work – was originally over the second altar of the right, dedicated to St Job, on the right-hand side of the church of San Giobbe, where its stone frame remains in situ. It was hung high, so that the figures would have been seen around the spectators’ eye-level. It is the first of Bellini’s large altarpieces to take a more modern form, without subcompartments or predella. The magisterial composition may derive from Antonello’s San Cassiano Altarpiece of 1475-76. Bellini’s altarpiece is not documented. It was probably commissioned by the Scuola di San Giobbe through Marco Cavallo (whose coat-of-arms is on the column bases). Art historians have suggested datings ranging from 1478-80 (when a terrible outbreak of plague could have occasioned the commission) and 1487-89 (when the altarpiece is mentioned in Sabellico’s De Urbis Situ). Vasari attests to its contemporary fame (it ‘was not only praised for its great beauty then, when newly seen, but has also been praised constantly since’). It was much imitated, both in its basic form and in detail, by other Venetian artists well into the sixteenth century. Along with the altarpieces on either side (Marco Basaiti’s Christ in the Garden over the first altar and Carpaccio’s Presentation over the third altar), it was moved to the Accademia in 1815, when more than 50 cm was cut from the arched top. The colours have darkened.
*Virgin and Child with Two Female Saints (no. 613). Wood, 58 x 107.
The saints are traditionally identified as Catherine and Mary Magdalene, though they have none of their traditional attributes. The picture is remarkable for its Leonardesque chiaroscuro, the figures luminous against the dark background. Close in style to the Frari Triptych of 1488. The same model seems to have served as the Virgin. There is a variant with different saints, signed but probably by Bellini’s workshop, in Madrid. Bequeathed by Felicita Renier in 1850.
*Virgin and Child with St Paul and St George (no. 610). Wood, 66 x 88.
Signed on the parapet. The St George is probably a donor portrait. The design of the Madonna and Child virtually repeats that of the Madonna degli Alberetti, also in the Accademia, which is dated 1487. It is thought that this painting may be a little later, and that the Virgin and Child was executed by an assistant (possibly Francesco di Simone da Santacroce or Niccolò Rondinelli). There is a replica at Budapest in which St Catherine replaces St George. Bequeathed by Felicita Renier in 1850.
*Four Allegories. Wood, 34/32 x 22.
The four small pictures, painted on thin hardwood panels, probably decorated the same piece of furniture – possibly a restello (a large mirror with racks for holding toilet articles such as combs and brushes). Just conceivably, as Crowe and Cavalcaselle suggested, they are the panels with zeste figurete done by Bellini to decorate the restello mentioned by the painter Vincenzo Catena in his will of 15 April 1530. The subjects are all more or less obscure. One panel shows a woman in a narrow boat. She balances a large sphere on her knee and is surrounded by children, two of whom have fallen into the water. The subject has been variously interpreted as Melancholy (on the strength of a resemblance to an engraving by Dürer), Fortune, Inconstancy, Charity or Venus. A second panel has been variously called Truth, Prudence or Vanity. It depicts a naked woman standing on a pedestal in a niche. She holds a mirror and points to a reflection of a haggard face. Small boys with trumpets stand on the plinth of the pedestal, and another boy beats a drum. A third panel shows a man with a pot belly (Sloth, Lust or Bacchus?) riding in a chariot pulled by children. He offers a dish of fruit to an athletic warrior (Perserverance, Self-Denial, Virtue or Mars?) holding a shield and spear. The composition is loosely based on a drawing by Jacopo Bellini. The fourth panel is perhaps the most enigmatic of all, and has been variously called Envy, Sloth, the Unmasking of Shame, False Prophecy and the Burden of Sin. It shows two men carrying an outsized sea shell, out of which tumbles a naked man entwined with a snake. Bellini's signature is inscribed on the plinth in the bottom left corner.
A fifth panel – presenting Fortune as a blindfolded harpy – has always been exhibited with the others, but does not appear to have belonged to the original series. It is slightly smaller (29 x 17) and painted on fir rather than hardwood. It was ascribed by Roberto Longhi to Andrea Previtali. All five panels entered the Accademia with the Contarini collection in 1838.
*Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist and a Female Saint (no. 881). Wood, 54 x 76.
The picture ('Giovanelli Sacra Conversazione') is smaller than one would expect from reproductions. The figures are set against a vast panorama, with a harbour town (perhaps Ancona) to the left, a shepherd with his flock and a village nestling among rolling hills to the right, and blue mountains (perhaps the Dolomites) in the far distance. Painted in bright, fused, contrasting colours. Signed on the parapet. As with many of Bellini’s later works, the attribution was once doubted, in spite of the signature. Several alternative candidates were proposed: Andrea Previtali (Crowe and Cavalcaselle), Vincenzo Catena (Morelli and Berenson) and the Pseudo-Basaiti (Gronau). The Bellini attribution was reinstated in 1927 by Roberto Longhi, and it has rarely been questioned since. The panel is usually assumed to have been painted around 1504, on the grounds that the figure of the Baptist is repeated in the Marriage of St Catherine, dated that year and signed by Previtali, in the National Gallery, London. Recorded from 1706 in the Giovanelli collection, housed in the family's palazzo at San Felice. Donated to the Italian State in 1925 by Prince Giovanelli in lieu of export duty on a painting he had sold to the dealer Joseph Duveen.
Head of the Redeemer. Wood, 33 x 22.
A fragment of an unidentified altarpiece, probably representing the Transfiguration (or possibly Baptism). Another small fragment contains a cartellino with Bellini’s signature. Acquired by the Accademia in 1838 with the collection of Girolamo Molin.
*Pietà (no. 883). Wood, 65 x 87.
Signed on the rock on the left. A late work, close in style (and almost identical in size) to the Madonna in the Meadow in the National Gallery, London. It was badly restored in 1866 by its former owners, the Martinengo family, and in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was often ascribed to Bellini’s workshop. Some of the repaint was removed in 1953. Several details of the town in the background resemble actual buildings in Vicenza (the Cathedral and the tower of the Palazzo dei Signori) and Ravenna (San Vitale and Sant’Appollinare Nuova). The sprouting tree trunk on the left is a symbol of the Resurrection that appears in several other paintings by Bellini. Acquired in 1934 from the Donà della Rosa collection.
*Deposition (no. 166). Canvas, 444 x 312.
St Philip Benizi, wearing the black habit of the Servite Order, stands to right of the kneeling group of Joseph of Arimathea, the Virgin, supporting the dead Christ, and the Magdalen. The female saint standing to the left has been variously identified as Monica, Martha or Mary Cleophas. The pair of rabbits crouching on the rocks behind probably symbolise the Resurrection. The huge picture – almost fifteen feet high – came from the church of Santa Maria dei Servi, where it stood over the altar of the Barber's Guild (first on the right). The church, at Cannaregio, was closed in 1812 and largely demolished by 1821. The picture was described by Boschini (1664) as a work of Rocco Marconi. Some critics have believed it to be a late work of Bellini, though executed partly by assistants. Others (including Goffen (1989) and Tempestini (1999)) have preferred the old attribution to Rocco Marconi. Heavy repaint, dating from 1830 and affecting both the figures and landscape, was removed in a 1964 restoration. The foreground is badly abraded.
Annunciation. Two canvases, each 224 x 106.
From the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli at Venice. The elaborate marble panelling of the church is imitated in the decoration of the Virgin’s chamber. Originally the outer shutters of the organ, which stood on the left wall of the presbytery. One of the inner shutters, representing St Peter, is also in the Accademia; the other, representing St Paul, is lost. They were probably painted in about 1489, when the church was consecrated. Boschini (1664) ascribed them to Pier Maria Pennacchi, a painter from Treviso. It is possible that the composition at least is by Bellini, under whose name the panels are now catalogued.
Four Triptychs. Each panel about 127 x 48; lunettes 60 x 166.
The four triptychs were painted for a series of altars endowed in 1460-61 for the church of the Carità (now incorporated into the Accademia). The frames are lost, and the individual panels were at one time divided between the Accademia, the Brera, the Correr Museum and Vienna (a lunette of God the Father and the Annunciation, returned in 1919). Eleven of the panels show single figures of saints in full length; a twelfth shows the Nativity. Traditionally assigned to Alvise Vivarini, it is likely that the altarpieces were commissioned from Jacopo Bellini and executed in part by Giovanni and possibly Gentile Bellini. They are catalogued as ‘Giovanni Bellini and workshop’. Giovanni Bellini is documented as having painted an altarpiece of St John the Evangelist for the Carità in 1468-71. This altarpiece is now lost, apart from the predella (now at Berchtesgaden Castle in Bavaria).
*Martyrdom of St Mark. Canvas, 362 x 771.
This huge canvas was painted for the albergo of the Scuola Grande di San Marco. It was commissioned on 4 July 1515 and finished after Bellini’s death by Vittore Belliniano, his former chief assistant, who signed and dated it 1526. Bellini was probably responsible for the general composition and part of the execution, while Belliniano appears to have painted most of the scene of St Mark’s martyrdom on the right. In Ridolfi’s day, the picture had been removed to the Doge’s Palace. It was taken to Vienna by the Austrians and returned in 1919 as part of the reparations after the First War. Two other paintings for the intended cycle – the Preaching of St Mark in Alexandria by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini and St Mark baptising St Annianus by Giovanni Mansuetti – are now in the Brera. Previously on deposit at the former Scuola Grande di San Marco (now the Ospedale Civile), the Martyrdom of St Mark was recently returned to the Accademia after restoration.
Venice. Correr Museum.
Crucifixion. Wood, 54 x 30.
A very early work, once ascribed to Mantegna and (by Crowe and Cavalcaselle) to Ercole de’ Roberti. The attribution to Giovanni Bellini was made in 1897 by Giovanni Morelli. Datings range from the early 1450s to the mid-1460s. The three figures are closely related to those in a drawing of the Crucifixion in Jacopo Bellini’s Paris sketchbook. Cleaning in 1946 revealed the mourning cherubim in the sky. The unusual inscription, written in coarse Greek letters at the top of the cross, means ‘Jesus King of the Confessors’. From Teodoro Correr’s collection, which was bequeathed to the City of Venice in 1830.
*Transfiguration. Wood, 134 x 68.
The central panel of an altarpiece – probably a Gothic polyptych. It originally had an arched top showing God the Father and cherubim (part of one red cherub is still just visible). An early work, showing marked influence from Mantegna, to whom it was once ascribed (his false initials are still visible on the rock, bottom right). Sometimes identified with a Transfiguration by Bellini that hung over the high altar of San Salvatore (where Titian’s Resurrection now hangs). However it has also been suggested, on the basis of a quotation from the Book of Job on the cartellino, that the altarpiece may have been painted for the church of San Giobbe. It was possibly painted in or shortly after 1457, when the Transfiguration was made a Feast of the Church to celebrate the Christian victory over the Turks at Belgrade, but some critics put it a little later (1460-65). From Teodoro Correr’s collection.
*Dead Christ. Wood, 64 x 50.
The date of 1499 and Dürer’s initials on the parapet are a later addition. The panel is of the same early period as the Transfiguration. The landscape with Jerusalem in the distance is very much in Mantegna’s style (compare his Adoration of the Magi in the Metropolitan Museum, New York), while the source for the group of the dead Christ supported by two putti seems to have been the bas-relief cast by Donatello in 1449 for the high altar of Sant’Antonio at Padua. From Teodoro Correr’s collection. The cherubim in the sky were revealed by restoration in 1946. There was another restoration in 1993.
‘Frizzoni Madonna’. Canvas (transferred from panel), 52 x 42.
Damaged by the transfer to canvas in the nineteenth century, and the colour has deteriorated. The background is repainted. Until recently, it was always accepted as an authentic damaged work – a little later than Giovanni Bellini’s other paintings in the Correr Museum, but still comparatively early (1460s or early 1470s). However, the attribution was doubted by Jaynie Anderson (1990) and by Tempestini (1999), who describes it as ‘weak in draughtsmanship’. The picture takes its name from its last owner, the Milanese art historian Gustavo Frizzoni, who gave it to the Correr Museum in 1919.
Doge Pietro Orseolo and Dogaressa Felicia Malipiero. Wood, 20 x 37.
The names of the praying couple are inscribed on columns of the loggia. Pietro Orseolo (Peter Urseolus) was Doge of Venice from 976 until 978, when he abdicated to become a Camaldolese monk. He is venerated as a saint. Felicia Malipiero, his wife, was equally devout. The little painting is thought to be the only surviving panel from the predella of a polyptych painted for the church of San Giovanni Battista on the Giudecca. Recently restored, it has been attributed by the museum to Giovanni Bellini's workshop.
Venice. Palazzo Ducale.
Pietà. Canvas; lunette, 115 x 317.
St Mark and St Nicholas kneel at the sides. Probably from the Cappella di San Niccolò of the Doge’s Palace (which was destroyed in about 1525). The unusually low viewpoint suggests that it was hung high up on the wall. Signed by Giovanni Bellini on the scroll in front of the sepulchre, which Zanetti (1771) says once gave the date of 1472. However both the attribution and the date have sometimes been doubted. (Hendy ascribed the picture to Gentile Bellini, while another theory is that Giovanni finished a work started by Gentile and added his own signature.) Some critics (eg. Tempestini (1999)) that accept the attribution to Giovanni Bellini think it must be earlier than 1472. The picture – probably Bellini’s earliest work on canvas – is very damaged. It was enlarged and ‘modernised’ in 1571 by Paolo Farinati, who added an extensive landscape. These additions were removed in a restoration of 1948. There was another restoration in 1993. The composition may ultimately derive from Jacopo Bellini, by whom there is a sketch in Paris of broadly similar design.
Venice. Galleria Querini-Stampalia.
*Presentation in the Temple. Wood, 80 x 105.
Once ascribed to Mantegna, and attributed to Giovanni Bellini by Berenson (1916). It is nearly a replica, with the addition of two figures, of a painting by Mantegna in Berlin. The outlines of the central figures correspond exactly with those of the Berlin picture, suggesting that Bellini carefully traced Mantegna's version or reused Mantegna's cartoon, but the costumes and colours are different. It has been claimed that the Berlin painting is a votive picture for the marriage or betrothal of Mantegna and Nicolosia Bellini (who are identified as the background figures on either side), while the version in Venice is a devotional group portrait of the Bellini family (in which portraits of Giovanni and Gentile Bellini take the place of Mantegna’s portrait, the elderly Jacopo is in the centre, and Nicolosia and the mother are on the left). Goffen (1989) rejects both this (romantic) interpretation of the subject and the attribution of the painting (which she describes as ‘a very inferior work’). But most other opinion accepts the picture – which has suffered from abrasion – as an autograph early Bellini (1460s or 1470s). The two versions of the Presentation in the Temple were shown side by side in exhibitions held in 2018 at the Galleria Querini-Stampalia and the National Gallery, London.
Venice. San Francesco della Vigna. Cappella Santa.
‘Dolfin Sacra Conversazione’. Wood, 90 x 145.
The Virgin and Child with SS. Sebastian and Jerome, Francis and John the Baptist, who present the donor dressed as a pilgrim. Signed and dated 1507. The donor’s portrait was repainted later in the sixteenth century. Commissioned by Jacopo Dolfin, whose will of February 1506 stipulated that his chapel should be provided with a chalice and paten, engraved with his coat-of- arms, and with an altarpiece by Giovanni Bellini. Probably executed with substantial workshop assistance (Tempestini (1999) saw the hand of Andrea Previtali in the saints on the left).
Venice. Frari. Sacristy.
Centre panel (184 x 79): Virgin and Child enthroned with two musical angels (one with a small lute and the other with a flageolet, recorder or duct-flute); side panels (115 x 46): St Nicholas of Bari and St Peter on the left; St Benedict (with a Bible open at Ecclesiasticus) and St Mark on the right. The Latin inscription on the mosaic on the vault reads: ‘Secure gateway to Heaven, guide my mind, lead my life, may everything I do be entrusted to your care’. The composition of this lovely and well-preserved altarpiece, which is signed and dated 1488 on the base of the throne, essentially follows that of Mantegna’s San Zeno Altarpiece of thirty years earlier. The magnificent gilded frame, surmounted by dolphins and winged mermaids holding flaming torches, was carved by Jacopo da Faenza – whose name is inscribed (in reverse) on the back with the date 15 February 1488 (1489 on the modern calendar). The altarpiece remains in situ on the altar of the sacristy chapel, endowed in 1478 by the three sons of Pietro Pesaro and Franceschina Tron (who died that year and was interred in the sacristy). The name saints of the three brothers (Niccolò, Benedetto and Marco) and their father are represented in the side panels.
Venice. San Giovanni Crisostomo. Right altar.
*Altarpiece. Wood, 300 x 185.
Within an arch, with Byzantine decoration and Greek letters, St Jerome is seated on a rock, his large book resting on the branch of a fig tree. St Christopher stands on the left. The bishop saint on the right was formerly identified as Augustine of Hippo because of the inscription (De Civitale Dei) on the book he is holding. However, the inscription is probably a later addition, and the saint, whose robe is embroidered with images of St Francis, is almost certainly the Franciscan Louis of Toulouse. The Greek inscription on the underside of the arch is from Psalms (13:14). Bellini’s last large altarpiece, signed and dated 1513. It still hangs in the funerary chapel of the merchant Giorgio Diletti (d. 1503), who left 200 ducats to pay for the altarpiece in his will of 1494. Jerome was the name saint of Girolamo Armano, Diletti’s friend and a fellow member of the Scuola Grande di San Marco, which was responsible for the chapel. Louis was the name saint of the parish priest, Ludovico Talenti, who drew up Diletti’s will. St Christopher is the patron saint of merchants. A statue of St Anne was nailed to the centre of the painting in 1733 and later replaced by one of St Anthony, which was removed after 1815. The picture, which was restored in 1976, is abraded in parts but preserves much of its rich colouring.
Venice. SS. Giovanni e Paolo. Second altar, right side.
*Altarpiece of St Vincent Ferrer. With frame, 408 x 326.
The centre panel shows Vincent Ferrer, dressed as a Dominican friar, standing on a cloud, holding an open Bible in one hand and a flame in the other. He is given a halo, although he had not yet been canonised. The side panels depict St Christopher, crossing the river with the Christ Child on his shoulders, and St Sebastian, tied to a tree and shot with arrows. The upper panels represent a Pietà (the dead Christ supported in the tomb by two angels) between half-length figures of the Angel and Virgin of the Annunciation. The predella contains five scenes from the life of St Vincent. A lunette, representing the Eternal Father, is missing. Old writers gave a remarkable variety of attributions to the altarpiece. Francesco Sansovino (1581) ascribed it to Giovanni Bellini, Ridolfi (1648) to Alvise Vivarini, Boschini (1674) to Bartolomeo Vivarini and Zanetti (1771) to Carpaccio. Among modern critics, Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1871) proposed Lazzaro Bastiano and Berenson (1894) Francesco Bonsignori. The attribution to Giovanni Bellini was revived by Longhi (1914), and has usually been accepted since, except for the predella, which has sometimes been ascribed to the Paduan miniaturist Lauro Padovano (who is known to have collaborated with Bellini on an altarpiece, now lost, for Santa Maria della Carità). The altarpiece was probably executed shortly after 1464, when a payment was made for unspecified work on the altar of the Scuola of St Vincent. It is likely to have been Bellini’s first major independent commission. The splendid carved and gilded frame is original (though somewhat repaired). With its round arches and classical pilasters, it was probably one of the earliest Venetian frames in the new Renaissance style. The centre panel of St Vincent seems to have served originally as the door of a cupboard holding relics of the saint. The altarpiece was fully restored (paintings and frame) in 1995.
Bellini’s altarpiece of St Catherine, painted in the mid-1470s for the first altar on the right of the church, was destroyed by fire in 1867. It was the earliest of his sacra conversazione altarpieces of the Madonna and Saints. Its appearance can be roughly reconstructed from engravings, a watercolour copy (now known only from a black-and-white photograph) and some sketches by the art historian Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle.
Venice. Madonna dell’Orto. First chapel left.
Madonna. Wood, 75 x 50.
The picture originally hung over an altar endowed by Luca Navagero for his tomb in the right aisle. Navagero died in 1488, but the picture seems to be at least ten years earlier (perhaps roughly contemporary with the Lochis Madonna in Bergamo). It was stolen in March 1993. The empty frame still remains on the altar, where a reproduction of the painting is displayed. There are other versions at Berlin and in the Kimbell Museum, Fort Worth.
Venice. San Salvatore. Chapel left of high altar.
Supper at Emmaus. Canvas, 260 x 375.
Probably a product of Bellini’s workshop (and not by Carpaccio as sometimes claimed). It was probably commissioned by Girolamo Priuli for his residence, the Lippomano Palace at Santa Fosca. Donated to San Salvatore after his bank failed in November 1513 and he was forced to take sanctuary in San Pietro in Castello. The original version of the picture is probably recorded in an engraving by Pietro Monaco, which is inscribed with Giovanni Bellini’s name and the date 1490. This version was in the collection of Giorgio Cornaro in Vasari’s day. It was destroyed by fire in Vienna. The San Salvatore picture is described as a work of Giovanni Bellini in Francesco Sansovino's 1581 guidebook (Venetia: Città Nobilissima et Singolare).
Venice. San Zaccaria. Second altar left.
**Virgin and Child with Four Saints. Canvas (transferred from panel), 500 x 235.
The Madonna is enthroned beneath the apse of a Renaissance chapel. The curious mask-like crowned head on the back of the throne has been variously supposed to represent God the Father, King David and King Solomon. The angel seated on the step plays a seven-stringed lira da braccio. To the left stand Saints Catherine of Alexandria (with broken wheel and martyr’s palm) and Peter (with key and book); to the right are Lucy (holding either a lamp or a dish with her eyes) and Jerome (engrossed in his Vulgate Bible). Dated 1505. It is last of Bellini’s great Sacre Conversazioni. The perfect balance of the composition and the warm harmony of colour create a mood of the utmost solemnity and tranquillity. The picture was painted for the San Girolamo altar in the church, the exact location of which is now uncertain. It was taken to Paris at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and there transferred to canvas, retouched and reduced in height by about 75 cm. (There were originally three more rows of tiles at the bottom and the arched top has been largely removed.) It is remarkable, in the circumstances, that the picture preserves its luminous colour. Repaint and thick layers of varnish were removed in a recent restoration. The architectonic marble frame is probably original, and may have been designed by Mauro Coducci, the architect of the church.
Madonna and Child. Wood, 77 x 57.
An early work by Bellini (or his studio), related in design to the Madonna with the Greek Inscription in the Brera and other early Madonnas at Amsterdam and Berlin. There is a signed variant at Rovigo, in which the pose of the Child is a little different, and there are other variants in which the Child is seated or sleeping rather than standing. Once in the Casa Tiepolo in Venice; acquired by the museum from the Galleria Bernasconi in 1871.
Vicenza. Santa Corona. Fifth altar on left.
*The Baptism. Wood, 410 x 265.
The three young female attendants on the left, radiantly dressed in long robes and trailing Christ’s garments over their shoulders, are usually called angels. They have no wings, however, and it has been suggested that they could represent the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity. The sprouting tree trunk in the bottom right corner symbolises the Resurrection and the palm tree, growing above the rock tomb, in the right distance Victory or Paradise. The parrot, perched on a branch in the foreground, is a rare bird in Renaissance art; it might refer to the Birth of Christ (as Panofsky suggests) or to the Church (or be merely decorative). The landscape has been compared (by Roberto Longhi) to a painting by Cézanne, the brown-green hills and grey-blue-violet mountains beyond appearing flat and near in the waning evening light. Signed on a cartellino on the rocky riverbank on which the Baptist stands.
This great late altarpiece still stands on the altar of 1501-2 for which it was painted. The altar, dedicated to the Baptist, was founded by Count Palatine GianBattista Graziano Garzadori in fulfilment of a vow made on the banks of the river Jordan during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Garzadori’s coat-of-arms and inscriptions recording his vow appear on two piers. In his will of 1522, he asked to be buried, with his wife and children, in pilgrim’s garb before the altar. There is a general (but not close) resemblance to an earlier altarpiece of the Baptism painted in 1494 by Cima for the church of San Giovanni in Bragora, Venice. While the picture appears to be well preserved, it has suffered from lifting of the paint layer (the left side has been particularly affected) and from cracking along the vertical joins in the panel. There were restorations in 1935 and 2006-7; another was announced in May 2021. There is a workshop or school replica (without the God the Father but with a Knight of St John as donor) in the little church of San Giovanni di Malta at Venice.
Vienna. Kunsthistorisches Museum.
*Young Woman with a Mirror. Wood, 62 x 79.
This lovely picture, signed and dated 1515 on the letter on the ledge, is Bellini’s latest dated work, painted just a year before his death. (The Saint Dominic in the London National Gallery bears the same date.) The young woman dresses her hair, holding the hand mirror to see the back of her head in the round mirror on the wall. She is sometimes interpreted as Venus, but she may rather represent an ideally beautiful woman of the type of Titian’s Woman with a Mirror (Louvre). The mirror may be a vanitas motif, alluding to the transience of youth and beauty. The glass vessel on the window ledge is a sponzarol – a receptacle for a sponge used to apply or remove make-up. One of a superb group of Venetian pictures from the Duke of Hamilton’s collection acquired by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm after the English Civil War.
Presentation in the Temple. Wood, 64 x 82.
Giovanni Bellini’s earliest treatment of this subject is possibly the well-known painting in the Querini-Stampalia Gallery at Venice. Much later, probably in the 1490s or early 1500s, he developed two distinct compositions for the Circumcision and the Presentation. The Circumcision is known in many versions, the best known of which is in the National Gallery, London. The Presentation is also known in many versions. (Two, in the Correr Museum and at Padua, are signed by the minor Trevisan painter Vincenzo dalle Destre.) The painting at Vienna (which was originally rectangular but has been cut to an oval) has sometimes been supposed to be Bellini’s original, but is now usually regarded as a good quality product of his workshop. There were old attributions to Francesco Bissolo and Vincenzo Catena. The two background heads (one of a woman wearing a headscarf and the other of a bearded man) also appear in the Uffizi Lamentation. Recorded at Vienna since 1765.
Washington. National Gallery of Art.
*Madonna (no. 1939.1.352). Wood, 54 x 43.
The Child, held by the Virgin, steps over her arm onto the parapet. This sombre panel, subdued in colour and devoid of decoration, is probably comparatively early (mid-1470s?). Worn and retouched. The execution has sometimes been ascribed to Bellini’s workshop, but David Alan Brown (in the 2003 catalogue of the early Italian paintings at Washington) argued that it is probably by the master himself. Apparently discovered by Berenson early in the twentieth century in the Casa Maniago at Spilimbergo (near Udine). Purchased by Duveen in 1916, and one of twenty-four paintings sold by him to Samuel H. Kress in 1937.
Madonna (no. 1946.19.1). Wood, 72 x 53.
The Virgin gives a piece of symbolic fruit (cherry or small apple?) to the Child, who lies back on her mantle, spread over the parapet. The inscription ‘IDEM/Z.B.’ on the parapet presumably refers to Zuan Bellino (Bellini’s name in Venetian dialect), but is probably not original. The picture was probably painted in the 1480s. It appears in a painting, dated 1651, by David Teniers of Italian pictures in Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s Gallery at Brussels. It was rediscovered, in very poor condition, in 1922, when it came up for sale in London with an attribution to Bernardino Zacchetti (a Renaissance painter from Reggio Emilia). It was acquired the same year by Ralph Booth of Michigan. He had it restored in 1928, and parts (including the Virgin’s cheek and neck, her blue robe and the sky) are heavily retouched. Given by Booth to the National Gallery in 1947.
*Saint Jerome Reading. Wood, 49 x 39.
Only the ‘s’ of the signature is now visible. The date of 1505 is puzzling, as the style seems to be that of an earlier work. (A theory that the picture was started many years before, and the finishing touches and the date added in 1505, is not supported by technical analysis, which shows no evidence of discontinuity in the execution.) It was attributed to Marco Basaiti by Berenson in the 1890s, when it was in the Benson collection in London. After the Benson collection was sold to Duveen in 1927, the picture passed to Clarence H. Mackay of New York and then to Samuel H. Kress, who gave it to the National Gallery in 1939. The animals, birds and plants scattered throughout the picture have been given various symbolic interpretations. For example, the two rabbits in the centre could represent meekness or lasciviousness and the squirrel on the ledge to the right tenacity or intellectual pride.
**Feast of the Gods. Canvas, 170 x 188.
The painting shows an episode from Ovid’s Fasti. Priapus tries to seduce the sleeping nymph Lotis (right). The braying of Silenus’s ass (left) will waken her. The other gods at the feast include the boy Bacchus (drawing wine from a cask), Mercury (with caduceus), Jupiter (with eagle), Cybele, Pan (with pipe), Neptune (with trident), Ceres and Apollo. The first in a series of bacchanalian subjects painted for Alfonso d’Este to decorate his studio (the Camerino d’Alabastro) in the Castello at Ferrara. The picture is signed and dated 1514, and Bellini is documented as having received a final payment of eighty-five golden ducats on 14 November of that year. The series of bacchanalian scenes was continued by Titian – two of whose pictures are now in Madrid and one, the Bacchus and Ariadne, in London. Titian also completed Bellini’s picture according to Vasari. Titian in fact appears to have repainted a finished landscape background to bring it into better harmony with his own pictures. The tree trunks on the right appear to be all that remains of Bellini’s original background, which consisted of a continuous band of trees. (The bright green leaves and the pheasant in the upper right corner do not appear to have been painted by either Bellini or Titian, and are thought to belong to an earlier alteration to Bellini’s picture carried out by the Ferrarese court artist Dosso Dossi.) After Pope Clement VIII ousted Cesare d’Este from Ferrara in 1598, his nephew Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini removed the Bacchanals to Rome. After passing by inheritance into the Borghese collections, the Feast of the Gods was purchased by Vincenzo Camuccini in 1797 and remained at Rome until his death in 1844. It entered the collection of the 4th Duke of Northumberland, at Alnwick Castle, in 1856. There it remained until 1922, when it was acquired by Joseph Widener of Philadelphia, who bequeathed his collection to the National Gallery in 1942. Very thick discoloured varnish and a good deal of early nineteenth-century overpaint were removed in the late 1980s.
Infant Bacchus. Canvas, 48 x 37.
According to classical poets, Bacchus appeared in winter as a young boy, pretty as a curly-haired girl. The figure, wreathed in ivy and holding a pitcher of wine, is similar to the Bacchus, drawing wine from a cask, in Bellini’s Feast of the Gods. Possibly the ‘little Bacchus with his vase in his hand by Giorgione’ seen by Ridolfi (1648) in the house of Bartolo Dafino in Venice. First certainly recorded only in 1892, when it was sold at Christie’s (as a work of the obscure Veronese painter Niccolò Giolfino) with the estate of Frederick Richards Leyland. It was bought by the London merchant banker Robert Benson and attributed by Bernard Berenson to Basaiti. The Benson collection was acquired en bloc in 1927 by Duveen, who sold the Bacchus to Kress in 1949.
*Continence of Scipio. Canvas, 75 x 356.
The famous story of the continence (magnanimity) of Scipio Africanus is told in Livy's History of Rome (Book XXVI). After his capture of the city of Carthago Nova (Cartagena), the Roman general refused to take advantage of a beautiful Spanish princess who had been brought to him as a hostage. He is shown seated in judgement on a throne with his troops behind him on the left. The princess's parents, at the head of the procession of captives on the right, offer Scipio gold as a ransom, which he refused. The princess stands behind her parents with her Celtiberian financé Allucius. The abbreviated Latin inscription on the plaque has been translated as: ‘It is more shameful to be ruled by Venus than to be conquered by arms’. The picture imitates a frieze of white sculpted figures against a background of coloured marble. It was part of a series of grisaille canvases intended for the camerino of Francesco Cornaro (who claimed descent from the clan of Scipios) in his palazzo (now Corner-Mocenigo) at San Polo. The series was commissioned in 1505 from Mantegna, who prepared four canvases but completed only one, which is now in the National Gallery, London. The commission was presumably transferred to Bellini after Mantegna’s death in 1506. The remaining two of the projected four canvases were either never completed or are lost. The execution of the Continence of Scipio is often ascribed at least partly to Bellini's workshop, but the canvas has suffered considerable damage. Acquired by Sir Francis Cook of Richmond from Sir J. Charles Robinson in 1873, and by Kress from Conte Contini Bonacossi in 1949. Given to the National Gallery in 1952.
Portrait of a Man in Red (no. 29). Wood, 32 x 27.
The young man wears a red jacket and a black hood, which falls over his shoulders. The background – a deep blue sky filled with clouds – is somewhat abraded. As with almost all the portraits attributed to Bellini, there are no inscriptions or emblems to identify the sitter. Antonellesque, and usually dated about 1480. From the collection of Count von Ingenheim at Ober-Rengersdorf, near Dresden. Acquired by Andrew Mellon in 1930 from Duveen.
*Portrait of a Man in Black (no. 293). Wood, 33 x 27.
Signed in tiny italic letters on the parapet. The young sitter, in a black tunic and cap, appears serious and thoughtful. Datings range from ‘1480-85’ to ‘about 1500’. First recorded in the possession of Barthod Georg Niebuhr, who was Prussian ambassador to the Papal Court in Rome from 1816 to 1823. It passed by inheritance to a Mrs J. M. Tod of London, where it was sold in 1931. Acquired by Kress in 1935 through Contini Bonacossi.
*Portrait of a Man in Black (no. 365). Wood (transferred to a new support), 30 x 20.
Signed in Roman capitals on the parapet (the number ‘44’ must be an old inventory number). The curly-haired man is dressed – in black beret and black tunic with white collar – identically to the sitter in no. 293. Usually dated around 1490-1500. Somewhat worn and retouched (especially the sky and tunic). Once in the collection of Lord Alfred Charles de Rothschild at Halton, near Tring (Herts); acquired by Kress in 1937.
‘Portrait of a Condottiere’. Canvas (transferred), 49 x 35.
The bull-necked sitter is dressed in a blue hat and sumptuous red and gold brocade cloak. He was once thought to be the famous condottiere Bartolommeo Colleoni, and was later called either Giacomo Marcello, capitano generale of the Venetian Republic in the early 1480s (of whom Michiel records a portrait in the Casa Marcello in 1525), or Bartolommeo d’Alviano, another prominent Venetian captain (of whom Vasari records a portrait by Giovanni Bellini). He was more convincingly identified in 1980 (by Sculz) as Giovanni Emo, whose sculptured effigy (attributed to Antonio Rizzo) is in the Museo Civico at Vicenza. Emo, who served as a Venetian ambassador on many overseas missions, died in 1483 when, as provveditore generale in the war with Ferrara, he fell off his horse. The picture has experienced multiple transfers, and is worn and retouched. Formerly ascribed to Gentile Bellini or Alvise Vivarini, it was attributed to Giovanni Bellini by Baron von Hadeln in 1927. Robertson (1968) describes it as a ‘Venetian copy of a Paduan original’, Goffen (1989) ascribes it to Giovanni Bellini’s shop and Tempestini (1999) omits it from his catalogue. It was acquired in Italy by Sir Abraham Hume in 1786 from a physician, Pellegrini, and then passed by inheritance to the Earls Brownlow of Ashbridge, Berkhamstead. Acquired by Kress in 1936.
Virgin and Child with St Peter and a Female Saint. Canvas (transferred), 76 x 51.
The twice-transferred picture is abraded and retouched, and has been cut down at the sides. The Virgin and Child resemble those in the Frari Triptych of 1488. The female saint has been variously identified as Clare, Helen and Margaret. With Bellini’s name on the parapet, the picture was accepted as autograph by most of the earlier writers, but the execution is now usually ascribed partly or wholly to Bellini’s studio. David Alan Brown (2003) catalogues it as the work of a follower. From the collection of Walter Wysard at Pangsbourne, Bucks; then the Thompson collection, Illinois; acquired by Kress from Duveen in 1941.
Orpheus. Wood (transferred to canvas), 48 x 81.
Orpheus, seated in a woodland clearing, charms the animals by playing his lira da braccio. Circe, seated on a rock behind him, waves her wand to transform men into beasts. In the left foreground are Pan, with a goat's legs and hindquarters, and a nymph. This charming (but rather damaged) picture may have belonged to Charles I of England. It was sold by Ugo Bardini (heir of the famous Florentine dealer Stefano Bardini) to the immensely wealthy American businessman Peter Widener, who bequeathed his large art collection to the National Gallery in 1942. For a time, it was generally regarded as a late work of Bellini (being accepted as such in the monographs by Gronau (1930), Gamba (1937) and Hendy and Goldscheider (1945) and in Berenson's 1958 Lists). Subsequent attributions to the young Giorgione and youthful Andrea Previtali failed to win support. The picture is still occasionally reproduced as by Bellini, but the National Gallery calls it simply 'Venetian'. It is usually dated around 1510-15.
Worcester (Massachusetts). Art Museum.
Virgin and Child (no. 1912.46). Wood, 60 x 44.
The Child holds a round object (pomegranate?). There are a number of other versions of this composition. One in the National Gallery, London, is signed by Giovanni Bellini. Another, also in the National Gallery, is signed by the Cremonese painter Francesco Tacconi and dated 1489. The Worcester painting is badly damaged and much restored. It was previously owned by Baron Michele Lazzaroni – a Paris collector/dealer with a reputation for radically restoring the works of art that passed through his hands. Acquired by the museum from a New York dealer in 1912 as a work of Bellini. It was subsequently attributed to various of Bellini's pupils and followers (Rondinelli, Rocco Marconi, Bissolo and Previtali), but it is now generally called simply a work of Bellini's studio.
Virgin and Child (no. 1940.66). Wood, 84 x 63.
Probably, like the foregoing, a studio work of the late 1480s or 1490s. It appears to have been damaged by abrasive cleaning. A false signature was removed from the parapet in 1948. Previously in English private collections, it was acquired in 1928 by the wealthly Massachusetts newspaper man Theodore T. Ellis from the art historian and dealer Robert Langton Douglas. Bequeathed to the museum by Ellis's widow in 1940. There is another version (signed but probably also a studio work) in the National Gallery, London, and also a variant in the Fogg Art Museum at Cambridge (Massachusetts).
Zagreb. Strossmayer Gallery.
Bishop Saint; St Benedict. Wood, each 109 x 42/43.
The bishop saint is usually identified as Augustine of Hippo and occasionally as Nicholas of Bari. The heads appear to be portraits. Probably side panels from a triptych or polyptych painted in the 1480s. Some workshop participation is likely. Donated in 1867 by the gallery’s founder, Bishop Josip Juraj Strossmayer.