Self-Portrait by Giovanni Bellini, 1500
Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516) was a Venetian painter whose work reflects the increasing interest in Renaissance styles and themes in Venetian art during the Quattrocento period. He is one of the most well-known Italian Renaissance artists and has been renowned for his innovative pigmentation and ambiance in his paintings.
He has produced numerous works of religious importance and was commissioned for prestigious titles such as conservator to the Doge’s Palace in Constantinople (now Istanbul). His contribution to the Venetian Renaissance has been incalculable. Below are some highlights of his life and career.
Bellini was born into a family of famous artists
Giovanni was the son of Jacopo Bellini, a prominent Venetian painter during the time and the student of Gentile da Fabriano, a leading 15th-century painter. His brother, Gentile Bellini, was also a painter, and the two studied in their father’s studio. Some of Giovanni’s early works were influenced by his father’s Gothic style.
His sister, Nicolosia, married Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna due to the efforts of Jacopo Bellini, who was eager to expand his school of painting and take Mantegna on as his pupil. Giovanni was heavily influenced by Mantegna early on in his career, which can be evidenced in the similarities between the works by each artist.
Early themes of piety
Bellini’s works leading up to 1460 uphold an unprecedented religious intensity and depth. While his subject matter was similar to other artists during the Quattrocento, his work ascribed a different type of levity to religion; while his father’s work focused on the decorative beauty of religion in art, Bellini observed it with notable depth and pathos.
Although he never ventured far from Venice, Bellini was influenced by styles originating outside of the Venetian school. In addition to his exposure to the Paduan school through Mantegna’s work and a childhood visit with his father, he has been linked with Florentine painter and sculptor Donatello, who had lived in Padua.
He also came into contact with Antonello di Messina, a painter who had traveled throughout Northern Europe, notably the Netherlands, and who had studied Flemish artists. This encounter proved to have a large artistic effect on Bellini, as it introduced Northern European Renaissance elements in his work and thus also the Venetian school.
He revolutionized Venetian painting
While Bellini’s early career was influenced by the Gothic style of his father and the rigidity of the Paduan School, which he had seen through the works of Andrea Mantegna, he diverged from his antecedents and created a mature and defining style.
After meeting Antonello di Messina, he dispensed with his use of traditional egg tempera paints, opting instead for rich, slow-drying oil paints. The strict linearity and form of his works began to fall away, and he instead embraced coloration, atmosphere and the use of natural light.
He also mastered perspective, bringing the previously disregarded study of landscape painting into the forefront of the Venetian school. His landscapes, rather than simple one-dimensional renderings, were ardent and complex.
Bellini’s artistic innovation and understanding of form and perspective marked an important shift in the adoption of Renaissance styles in Venetian painting, and Bellini has been referred to as the ‘father’ of Venetian Renaissance painting.
He painted portraits throughout his career
While Bellini was known for his reinvigoration of landscape painting, he also painted portraits throughout his career. His aforementioned mastery of color variation and light was also of use when depicting the human form and clothing, and he was able to capture the subtleties and depth of humanity in his works.
His understanding of the human form was not only present in commissioned portrait work but also in religious-themed compositions on subjects such as Madonna and Child, seen on religious altarpieces and other types of displays.
He taught other famous Renaissance painters
Bellini’s career and school of painting became very successful during his lifetime, as he had solidified the artistic enlightenment and maturity of the Renaissance in Venetian painting. He had several successful pupils, the two most famous being Renaissance painters Giorgione and Titian.
Titian grew to be one of the most celebrated Italian Renaissance painters in history, surpassing his master in recognition. Giorgione, though only six of his paintings are known to survive today, was also renowned for his talent, and he founded the Venetian school of Italian Renaissance painting with Titian during the High Renaissance.
Auctioned pieces by Bellini
Auction House: Christie’s, London, 2010
Price realized: GBP 3,513,250
Image result for bellini the marriage of the virgin adoration of the magi
Auction house: Christie’s, New York, 2019
Price realized: USD 675,000