BELLINI, the name of a family of craftsmen in Venice, three members of which fill a great place in the history of the Venetian school of painting in the 15th and early in the i6th century. I. JACOPO BELLINI (C. 1400—C. 1470) was the son of a tin smith or pewterer, Nicoletto Bellini, by his wife Franceschina. When the accomplished Umbrian master Gentile da Fabriano came to practise at Venice, where art was backward, several young men of the city took service under him as pupils. Among these was Jacopo Bellini, who followed his teacher to Florence, where the progress made, alike in truth to natural fact and in sense of classic grace and style, by masters like Donatello and Ghiberti, Masaccio and Paolo Uccello, offered him better instruction than he could obtain even from his Umbrian teacher. By 1429 Jacopo was settled at Venice and married to a wife from Pesaro named Anna, who bore her husband two sons, Gentile and Giovanni (though some evidences have been thought to point rather to Giovanni having been his son by another mother), and a daughter Nicolosia. In 1436 Jacopo was at Verona, painting a Crucifixion in fresco for the cathedral (destroyed by order of the archbishop in 175o, but the composition, a vast one of many figures, has been preserved in an old engraving) . About 144o he must have paid a visit to the court of Ferrara, where there prevailed a spirit of free culture and humanism most congenial to his tastes. His relations with the house of Este, which seem to have begun with a portrait of Leonello d'Este, son of the reigning marquis Niccolo III., ap pear to have been kept up, and among Jacopo's extant drawings are several that probably belong to the scheme of a monument erected to the memory of the marquis Niccolo ten years later. He was also employed by Sigismondo Malatesta at the court of Rimini. In 1453 he received a grant from the confraternity for the marriage of his daughter Nicolosia with Andrea Mantegna, a marriage which had the effect of transferring the gifted young Paduan master definitively from the following of Squarcione to that of Bellini. In 1456 he painted a figure of Lorenzo Giustiniani, first patriarch of Venice, for his monument in San Pietro di Cas tello, and in 1457, with a son for salaried assistant, three figures of saints in the great hall of the patriarch. His activity can be traced in documents down to Aug. 147o, but in Nov. 1471 his wife Anna describes herself as his relict, so that he must have died some time in the interval.
The materials which have reached posterity for a critical judg ment on his work consist of four or five pictures only, together with two important and invaluable books of drawings. These prove him to have been a worthy third, following the Umbrian Gentile da Fabriano and the Veronese Pisanello, in that trio of artists who in the first half of the 15th century carried towards maturity the art of painting in Venice and the neighbouring cities. Of his pictures, an important signed example is a life-size Christ Crucified in the archbishop's palace at Verona. The rest are al most all Madonnas; two signed, one in the Tadini gallery at Lovere, another in the Venice academy ; a third, unsigned and long ascribed in error to Gentile da Fabriano, in the Louvre, with the portrait of Sigismondo Malatesta as donor; a fourth, richest of all in colour and ornamental detail, in the Uffizi at Florence. Plausibly, though less certainly, ascribed to him are a fifth Ma donna at Bergamo, a warrior-saint on horseback (San Crisogono) in the church of San Trovaso at Venice, a Crucifixion in the Museo Correr, and an Adoration of the Magi in private possession at Ferrara. But an abundance of drawings and studies are pre served in two precious albums in the British Museum and the Louvre. The former, which is the earlier in date, belonged to the painter's elder son Gentile, and was by him bequeathed to his brother Giovanni. It consists of 99 paper pages, each covered on both sides with drawings made with a lead point, an instrument unusual at this date. Two or three of the drawings have been worked over in pen ; of the remainder many have become dim from time and rubbing. The album at the Louvre, discovered in 1883 in the loft of a country-house in Guienne, is equally rich and better preserved, the drawings being all highly finished in pen, probably over effaced preliminary sketches in chalk or lead. The range of subjects is much the same in both collections, and in both extremely varied, proving Jacopo to have been a craftsman of many-sided curiosity and invention. Jacopo's influence on the development of Venetian art was very great, not only directly through his two sons and his son-in-law Mantegna, but through other and independent contemporary workshops of the city, in none of which did it remain unfelt.
II. GENTILE BELLINI (C. 1429-1507), the elder son of Jacopo, first appears independently as the painter of a Madonna, much in his father's manner, dated 146o, and now in the Berlin museum. In July 1466 we find him contracting with the officers of the Scuola of St. Mark as an independent artist to decorate the doors of their organ. These paintings still exist in a blackened condi• tion. They represent four saints, colossal in size, and designed with much of the harsh and searching austerity which character ized the Paduan school under Squarcione. Gentile must have risen steadily in the esteem of his fellow-citizens, since in 1474 we find him commissioned by the senate to restore, renew, and when necessary replace, the series of paintings, the work of an earlier generation of artists, which were perishing from damp on the walls of the Hall of the Great Council in the ducal palace. In continua tion of this work Gentile undertook a series of independent paint ings on subjects of Venetian history for the same hall, but had apparently only finished one, representing the delivery of the consecrated candle by the pope to the doge, when his labours were interrupted by a mission to the East. The sultan Mohammed II. had despatched a friendly embassy to Venice, inviting the doge to visit him at Constantinople and at the same time requesting the despatch of an excellent painter to work at his court. Gentile Bellini with two assistants was selected for the mission, his brother Giovanni being at the same time appointed to fill his place on the works for the Hall of the Great Council. Gentile gave great satisfaction to the sultan, and returned after about a year with a knighthood, some fine clothes, a gold chain and a pension. The surviving fruits of his labours at Contantinople consist of a large painting representing the reception of an ambassador in that city, now in the Louvre; a highly finished portrait of the sultan himself, one of the treasures, despite its damaged condition, of the collection of the late Sir Henry Layard, and now in the National Gallery, London ; an exquisitely wrought small portrait in water-colour of a scribe, found in 1go5 by a private collector in the bazaar at Constantinople and now in the collection of Mrs. Gardner at Boston ; and two pen-and-ink drawings of Turkish types, now in the British Museum. Early copies of two or three other similar drawings are in the Stadel Institute at Frankfort.
A place had been left open for Gentile to continue working be side his brother Giovanni in the ducal palace ; and soon after 148o he began to carry out his share in the great series of frescoes, un fortunately destroyed by fire in 1577, illustrating the part played by Venice in the struggles between the papacy and the emperor Barbarossa. These works were executed not on the wall itself but on canvas (the climate of Venice having so many times proved fatal to wall paintings), and probably in oil, a method which all the artists of Venice, following the example set by Antonello da Messina, had by this time learnt or were learning to practise. They received the highest praise both from contemporary and from later Venetian critics, but no fragment of them survived the fire of-1577, though a drawing in the British Museum purports to be the artist's original sketch for the subject of the pope bestow ing a sword and his blessing on the doge and his army. Their character can to some extent be judged by a certain number of kindred historical and processional works by the artist which have been preserved. Of such the Academy at Venice has three which were painted between 1490 and 1 Soo for the Scuola of St. John the Evangelist, and represent certain events connected with a famous relic belonging to the Scuola, namely, a supposed frag ment of the true cross. All have been much injured and re painted; nevertheless one at least, showing the procession of the relic through St. Mark's Place and the thanksgiving of a father who owed to it the miraculous cure of his son, still gives a good idea of the painter's powers and style. Great accuracy and firm ness of individual portraiture, a strong gift, derived no doubt from his father's example, for grouping and marshalling a crowd of personages in spaces of fine architectural perspective, the severity and dryness of the Paduan manner much mitigated by the dawning splendour of true Venetian colour—these are the qualities that no injury has been able to deface. They are again manifest in an interesting Adoration of the Magi in the Layard collection at the National Gallery, London, and reappear still more forcibly in the last work undertaken by the artist, the great picture, now at the Brera in Milan, of St. Mark preaching at Alex andria ; this was commissioned by the Scuola of St. Mark in March, 1505, and left by the artist in his will, dated Feb. 18, 1507, to be finished by his brother Giovanni. Of single portraits by this artist, who was almost as famous for them as for processional groups, there survive one of a doge at the Museo Correr in Venice, one of Catarina Cornaro at Budapest, one of a mathematician at the National Gallery, another of a monk in the same gallery, signed wrongly to all appearance with the name of Giovanni Bellini, besides one or two others in private hands. The features of Gentile himself are known from a portrait medallion by Camelio, and can be recognized in two extant drawings, one at Berlin supposed to be by the painter's own hand, and another, much larger and more finished, at Christ Church, Oxford, which is variously attributed to Bonsignori and A. Vivarini.
III. GIOVANNI BELLINI (c. 1430-1516) is generally assumed Iii. GIOVANNI BELLINI (c. 1430-1516) is generally assumed to have been the second son of Jacopo by his wife Anna; though the fact that she does not mention him in her will with her other sons has thrown some slight doubt upon the matter. Until the age of nearly thirty both sons served as their father's assistants in works at Venice and Padua. In Giovanni's earliest independent works, we find him more strongly influenced by the harsh and searching manner of the Paduan school, and especially of his own brother-in-law Mantegna, than by the more graceful and facile style of Jacopo. This influence seems to have lasted at full strength until after the departure of Mantegna for the court of Mantua in 1460. The earliest of Giovanni's independent works no doubt date from before this period. Three of these exist at the Correr museum in Venice : a Crucifixion, a Transfiguration, and a Dead Christ supported by Angels. Two Madonnas of the same or even earlier date are in America, one at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, the other in the Johnson Collection, Phila delphia ; a third, that of Signor Frizzoni is now in the Museo Correo at Venice; while two beautiful works in the National Gallery of London seem to bring the period to a close. One of these is of a rare subject, the Blood of the Redeemer; the other is the fine picture of Christ's Agony in the Garden, formerly in the Northbrook collection. The last-named piece was evidently executed in friendly rivalry with Mantegna, whose version of the subject hangs near by; the main idea of the composition in both cases being taken from a drawing by Jacopo Bellini in the British Museum sketch-book. In all these pictures Giovanni combines with the Paduan severity of drawing and complex rigidity of drapery a depth of religious feeling and human pathos which is his own. They are all executed in the old tempera method ; and in the last named the tragedy of the scene is softened by a new and beautiful effect of romantic sunrise colour. In a somewhat changed and more personal manner, with less harshness of contour and a broader treatment of forms and draperies, but not less force of religious feeling, are the two pictures of the Dead Christ supported by Angels, in these days one of the master's most frequent themes, at Rimini and at Berlin. Chronologically to be placed with these are two Madonnas, one at the church of the Madonna del Orto at Venice and one in the Lochis collection at Bergamo; devout intensity of feeling and rich solemnity of colour being, as in the case of all these early Madonnas, combined with a singularly direct rendering of the natural movements and attitudes of children.
The above-named works, all executed in tempera, are no doubt earlier than the date of Giovanni's first appointment to work along with his brother and other artists in the Scuola di San Marco, where among other subjects he was commissioned in 1470 to paint a Deluge with Noah's Ark. None of the master's works of this kind, whether painted for the various schools or confra ternities or for the ducal palace, have survived. To the decade following 14 7o must probably be assigned a Transfiguration now in the Naples museum, and also the great altar-piece of the Coronation of the Virgin at Pesaro. After 1479-8o very much of Giovanni's time and energy must have been taken up by his duties as conservator of the paintings in the great hall of the ducal palace. Besides repairing and renewing the works of his prede cessors he was commissioned to paint a number of new subjects, six or seven in all, in further illustration of the part played by Venice in the wars of Barbarossa and the Pope. Not a trace of these survived the fire of I5 7 7 ; neither have any other examples of his historical and processional compositions come down. Of the other, the religious class of his work, including both altar pieces with many figures and simple Madonnas, a considerable number have fortunately been preserved. They show him grad ually throwing off the last restraints of the 15th–century manner; gradually acquiring a complete mastery of the new oil medium introduced in Venice by Antonello da Messina about 1473, and mastering with its help all, or nearly all, the secrets of the perfect fusion of colours and atmospheric gradation of tones. The old intensity of pathetic and devout feeling gradually fades away and gives place to a noble, if more worldly, serenity and charm. The enthroned Virgin and Child become tranquil and commanding in their sweetness; the personages of the attendant saints gain in power, presence and individuality; enchanting groups of singing and viol-playing angels symbolize and complete the harmony of the scene. The full splendour of Venetian colour invests alike the figures, their architectural framework, the landscape and the sky. The altar-piece of the Frari at Venice, the altar-piece of San Giobbe, now at the academy, the Virgin between SS. Paul and George, also at the academy, and the altar-piece with the kneeling doge Barbarigo at Murano, are among the most conspicuous ex amples. Simple Madonnas of the same period (about 1485-90) are in the Venice academy, in the National Gallery, at Turin and at Bergamo. An interval of some years seems to separate the last named altar-pieces from that of the church of San Zaccaria at Venice, which is perhaps the most beautiful and imposing of all, and is dated 1505. Another great altar-piece with saints, that of the church of San Francesco de la Vigna at Venice, belongs to I 507 ; that of La Corona at Vicenza, a Baptism of Christ in a land scape, to 1510 ; to 1513 that of San Giovanni Crisostomo at Venice, where the aged saint Jerome, seated on a hill, is raised high against a resplendent sunset background, with SS. Christo pher and Augustine standing facing each other below him, in front. The examples which remain of Giovanni's activity in the interval between the altar-pieces of San Giobbe and of Murano and that of San Zaccaria, consist of one allegorical picture in the Uffizi at Florence, the subject of which is an illustration of a French mediaeval allegory, the Pelerinage da l'dme by Guillaume de Guilleville, and a set of five other allegories or moral emblems, on a smaller scale and very romantically treated, in the academy at Venice. To these should probably be added, as painted towards the year 1505, the portrait of the doge Loredano in the National Gallery, the only portrait by the master which has been preserved, and in its own manner one of the most masterly in the whole range of painting.
The last ten or twelve years of the master's life saw him be sieged with more commissions than he could well complete. Al brecht Diirer, visiting Venice for a second time in 1506, reports Giovanni Bellini as still the best painter in the city, and as full of all courtesy and generosity towards foreign brethren of the brush. In 1507 Gentile Bellini died, and Giovanni completed the picture of the "Preaching of St. Mark" which he had left un finished. In 1514 Giovanni undertook to paint a Bacchanal for the duke Alfonso of Ferrara, but died in 1516, leaving it to be finished by his pupils; this picture is now at Alnwick.
Both in the artistic and in the worldly sense, the career of Giovanni Bellini was upon the whole the most serenely and un brokenly prosperous, from youth to extreme old age, which fell to the lot of any artist of the early Renaissance. He lived to see his own school far outshine that of his rivals, the Vivarini of Murano; he embodied, with ever growing and maturing power, all the devo tional gravity and much also of the worldly splendour of the Venice of his time ; and he saw his influence propagated by a host of pupils, two of whom at least, Giorgione and Titian, surpassed their master. Giorgione he outlived by five years; Titian, as we have seen, challenged an equal place beside his teacher. Among the best known of his other pupils were, in his earlier time, Andrea Previtali, Cima da Conegliano, Marco Basaiti, Niccolo Rondinelli, Piermaria Pennacchi, Martino da Udine, Girolamo Mocetto; in later time, Pierfrancesco Bissolo, Vincenzo Catena, Lorenzo Lotto and Sebastian del Piombo.