Vita di Giovanni Bellini – Biografia e Opere

Giovanni Bellini was probably born in Venice in 1432. His father was the painter Jacopo Bellini, in whose workshop he started the business. Giovanni and Gentile, his brother, left an important mark in art history, but Giovanni is considered one of the most important painters of the Renaissance. Gentile produced limited works, despite the interest aroused by his undoubtedly original style, while Giovanni is the greatest Venetian artist of his time.

The two brothers will collaborate in several works, especially at the beginning. It is, therefore, easy to establish the environment in which Giovanni matured. Furthermore, it must be remembered that the marriage of his sister Nicolosia made him the brother-in-law of Andrea Mantegna, then active in Padua, whose influence he would have suffered.

Giovanni Bellini is remembered as a painter for the first time in 1459. He executed various works alone or in collaboration with his father and brother; most of them have been lost. On 28 August 1479, the Venetian authorities decided to entrust Gentile with the direction of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio restoration works in the Doge’s Palace in Venice. Due to the humidity (the decorations were made on canvas), the paintings deteriorated too quickly. When leaving for Constantinople, Gentile Bellini entrusts the work to his brother Giovanni who will take about thirteen years to carry them out, assisted by various artists, including Alvise Vivarini. But the entire work burned down during the third great fire of Palazzo Ducale, which took place on 20 December 1577.

In the meantime, the artist was painting numerous easel paintings and altarpieces ordered from him by the churches of Venice with sometimes similar subjects, but in any case, always new due to the freshness of poetic sentiment.

Between 1496 and 1506, there was an exchange of letters between Giovanni Bellini and the Gonzagas; this correspondence, which has been preserved, is a precious document for understanding the artist’s character. On 26 November 1496, Bellini let Isabella Gonzaga know, probably following a meeting, that he wished to paint a picture for her studio. Francesco Gonzaga replies by asking him for a view of Paris, but Bellini refuses, saying he does not know this city. It is interesting to note the extent to which art increasingly attached itself to a direct expression of sensations. Bellini’s response was certainly not a mere pretext or a lack of imagination: to paint, he needed to be in contact with nature, with the lights of his city, or with the places he loved. His landscapes are neither heroic nor fantastic, but they are indispensable motifs because his deep religious sense suggests he gathered God’s entire creation in his love for him. It was, therefore, to be excluded that the painter could agree to invent the atmosphere of a Paris of which he knew neither the lights nor the color of the stones and trees.

In 1502, Marquise Isabella asked him for a painting, again indicating the subject. The painter has difficulties, declares himself overloaded with work, and asks for an advance of money and a long time; he adds that he doesn’t like the chosen subject at all, especially since he doesn’t want to appear as an emulator of Mantegna. Bellini’s prevarications lasted until 1504, when the marquise, having lost patience, asked him to return the advance. The painter then sends the painting, apologizing and asking for leniency if the work does not respond to what was expected of him.

The following year the marquise gave him another order and, intermediary Pietro Bembo, the painter, made her say that “the invention … must be adapted to the imagination of him who has to do it, who likes that many signed terms are not given to his style, a habit, as he says, of always wandering as he pleases in the paintings”. One cannot imagine an artist like Giovanni Bellini accepting having a subject’s details defined. He may be humble and not be sure of himself or of the approval of others. Still, he highly claims an absolute and inalienable freedom in the choice of his emotions, a position which brings him singularly closer to modern artists.

Despite all the influences – Mantegna, Antonello da Messina, Piero della Francesca, Giorgione – he only draws from others the elements that suit him and makes them personal. His love for nature and his mysticism communicate intense poetry in his works; the Christ of the Garden of Olives merges his prayer with the sunset, and Christ of the Transfiguration associates nature with his mystical song. When this poem becomes dramatic, the injustice and suffering of all humanity are poured upon the Mother and the Son, very often united in their expression of pain. But above all, the painter’s vision opens up to subsequent developments in taste. The date of his death is later than that of Giorgione’s death and after the composition of some important paintings by Titian. However, it can still be said that the great flowering of Venetian painting of the sixteenth century, which finds its highest expression in Giorgione and Titian, had already been announced by Giovanni Bellini.


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