Bellini Family Venetian Painters
Jacopo Bellini and his sons Gentile and Giovanni were among the most famous and successful artists of the Italian Renaissance. Working separately and together, they made important contributions to Renaissance painting in Venice. The Bellinis developed new techniques and strongly influenced later generations of Italian painters.
Jacopo Bellini. Jacopo Bellini (ca. 1400–1470) began his career as the pupil of Gentile da Fabriano, a renowned painter from central Italy. From Fabriano, Jacopo learned how to represent light in paint. By studying the theory of perspective* of architect Leon Battista Alberti, Jacopo learned how to add depth to his paintings. His altarpiece the Annunciation (early 1400s) reveals his interest in both light and perspective. Jacopo was also a skilled portraitist. Few of his paintings have survived, but those that still exist show him to be the most advanced Venetian painter of his generation.
Among Jacopo Bellini's most important works are two bound volumes of drawings produced between the mid-1430s and the mid-1460s. Highly prized in their day, the volumes show the inventive process of a Renaissance artist at work. The drawings include real and imagined views of nature, objects from ancient Greece and Rome, and religious subjects. In many cases, the artist combines grand architecture, figures in action, and scenes of the Venetian landscape. After Jacopo's death, one volume went to each of his sons.
Jacopo's influence on other artists is as noteworthy as his own work. He shared his interests in perspective and classical* art with his son-inlaw Andrea Mantegna, an artist from Padua, and with the Florentine sculptor Donatello. Jacopo also had an impact on the next generation of Venetian painters. He trained his sons Gentile and Giovanni and later worked with them. Gentile's paintings resembled Jacopo's bound drawings, and Giovanni continued his father's experiments with light and landscapes.
Gentile Bellini. The lesser known of Jacopo Bellini's sons, Gentile (ca. 1429–1507) worked with his father and brother on altarpieces and a number of projects. His contemporaries held him in high esteem. After Holy Roman Emperor* Frederick III granted him a knighthood in 1463, Gentile received his most important assignment—redecorating the Chamber of the Great Council in Venice. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed his work in 1577.
In 1479 the Venetian government sent Gentile on a diplomatic mission to Constantinople. While there, he painted a portrait of Mehmed II, the ruler of the Ottoman Empire. Upon his return to Venice, Gentile completed a number of large paintings that have become his best-known works. These include numerous portraits and detailed pictures of buildings, clothing, and customs. His precise style features strong, straight lines.
Giovanni Bellini. Giovanni (ca. 1431–1516) began his career in his father's workshop. His religious paintings and landscapes have made him one of the greatest Venetian painters and the most famous member of the Bellini family.
Giovanni revolutionized painting in Venice by adopting oil painting techniques developed in the Netherlands. Unlike the fresco* techniques that were popular in Italy, the Netherlandish process mixed colors with oil. By applying the mixture in very thin layers, an artist could create a smooth, glassy image with a feeling of depth. In Coronation of the Virgin, Giovanni used a similar technique. He may have been introduced to this new process by Piero della Francesca, a painter from Tuscany. In any case, the technique enabled him to experiment further with his father's specialties, light and perspective.
Giovanni excelled in every category of painting. He also tried out new styles throughout his career. In his altarpiece for San Giobbe church in Venice (late 1400s), he used perspective to paint his figures as if they were in a chapel of the church. To the observer, it appeared that the Madonna and several saints had gathered in a nearby room. In 1479 he went to Venice to work on historical narrative* paintings with his brother Gentile in the Chamber of the Great Council. There he produced his lifelike portrait Doge Leonardo Loredan (ca. 1501). Later works, such as The Drunkenness of Noah (ca. 1514) and Nude Woman Holding a Mirror (1515), show Giovanni's flexibility as an artist.
By about 1490, the demand for Giovanni's religious paintings had become enormous, and his workshop was one of the largest and best organized of the Renaissance. Giovanni trained or directed numerous painters of the next generation. Many of them, known as the "belliniani," practiced his style. Others, such as Venetian painters Giorgione and Titian, developed distinct personal styles and became the great artistic pioneers of the 1500s.
- * perspective
artistic technique for creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface
- * classical
in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome
- * Holy Roman Emperor
ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, a political body in central Europe composed of several states that existed until 1806
- * fresco
mural painted on a plaster wall
see color plate 6, vol. 1
- * narrative