Sunday, January 26, 2014

Bellini, Giovanni

Agony in the Garden
c. 1465
Tempera on wood
81 x 127 cm
National Gallery, London, UK

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane while three of his disciples - Peter, James and John - sleep. An angel reveals a cup and a patten, symbols of his impending sacrifice. In the background, Judas approaches with the Roman soldiers who will arrest Jesus. This painting is closely related to 'The Agony in the Garden' (probably slightly earlier in date), by Bellini's brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna. The two pictures both probably derive from a drawing by Giovanni's father, Jacopo Bellini. In Giovanni Bellini's version, the treatment of the dawn light is particularly noteworthy. (National Gallery)

Both works were for long considered to be by Mantegna. However, the dramatic way in which the two painters approach the subject is different: Mantegna's harsh and embossed in the dark contrast of strong colours; Bellini's more subtly lyrical and humanly resigned.

Giovanni Bellini (c. 1430-1516) was an Italian Renaissance painter born in Venice, Venetian painter, founder of the Venetian school of painting. He raised Venice to a center of Renaissance art that rivaled Florence and Rome. He brought to painting a new degree of realism, a new wealth of subject-matter, and a new sensuousness in form and color. Through the use of clear, slow-drying oil paints, he created deep, rich tints and detailed shadings. His sumptuous coloring and fluent, atmospheric landscapes had a great effect on the Venetian painting school. Little is known about his family. His father was a pupil of one of the leading 15th-century Gothic revival artists. He probably began his career as an assistant in the father's workshop.

Bellini became one of the greatest landscape painters. His ability to portray outdoor light was so skillful that the viewer can tell not only the season of the year but also almost the hour of the day. He lived to see his own school of painting achieve dominance and acclaim. His influence carried over to his pupils, two of whom became better known than he was: Giorgione and Titian. His younger contemporary, the German painter Albrecht Durer, wrote of Bellini in 1506: "He is very old, and still he is the best painter of them all." Bellini died in Venice in 1516.

Bellini's historical importance is immense. In his 65-year evolution as an artist, he brought Venetian painting from provincial backwardness into the forefront of Renaissance and the mainstream of Western art. Moreover, his personal orientations predetermined the special nature of Venice's contribution to that mainstream. These include his luminous colorism, his deep response to the natural world, and his warm humanity.