Surname of a father and his two sons, painters who worked principally in Venice. Their works exemplify the main currents of north Italian painting in the 15th century.
Jacopo; b. Venice, early 15th century; d. there, 1470 or 1471. He was probably trained in Florence by Gentile da Fabriano and his few autograph Madonnas (Venice, Accademia; Florence, Uffizi) show the influence of the international style in their soft modeling and delicate colors. The quiet poses, impassive faces, and bulky forms give them monumental dignity. Interesting aspects of Jacopo's work are revealed in two large volumes of his drawings (London, British Museum; Paris, Louvre). These contain studies of animals and costumes, compositional sketches, copies of antique monuments and inscriptions, and highly finished narrative compositions set in elaborate architectural perspectives. The books combine humanist preoccupations with the medieval tradition of model books.
Gentile; b. Venice, 1429; d. there, 1507. His early works (organ doors, Venice, San Marco) reveal his contact with Paduan art. The low vanishing point, elaborate "antique" architecture, and harsh plasticity are typical also of his brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna. In 1479 Gentile traveled to Constantinople, where he portrayed Sultan Mohammed II (London, National Gallery). In this and in portraits of Venetian nobility he suggests character with precise lines and minute detail. Gentile is perhaps best remembered for a series of huge canvases depicting miracles that take place in panoramic Venetian cityscapes crowded with colorful processions (Venice, Accademia; Milan, Brera).
Giovanni; b. Venice, c. 1430; d. there, Nov. 20, 1516. Although also influenced by Paduan art ("Transfiguration," Venice, Correr), he early demonstrated his extraordinary gift for unifying a composition through rich and subtle use of color. By the 1470s Giovanni was painting on a monumental scale works that explore the possibilities of delicate oil glazes while retaining the crystal clarity of earlier works ("Coronation of the Virgin," Pesaro; "St. Francis," New York, Frick). From the 1480s Giovanni's gradual loosening and softening of the color achieves greater effects of atmospheric luminosity, and the figures develop breadth and monumentality. He left a notable series of half-length Madonnas (Bergamo; Venice, Accademia) and altarpieces of the Madonna and saints (Venice, Accademia; Frari, 1488; and San Zaccaria, 1505). In these altarpieces the Madonnas are enthroned under hemispherical church apses. The architecture defines and unifies the space in which the figures are harmoniously arranged. Giovanni's work thus spans the era from mid–15th-century experimentation to the classic phase of the High Renaissance. His paintings are among the most beautiful and profound of the Venetian Renaissance.
Bibliography: l. dussler, Giovanni Bellini (Vienna 1949). v. goloubew, Les Dessins de Jacopo Bellini au Louvre et au British Museum, 2 v. (Brussels 1908-12). g. gronau, Die Künstlerfamilie Bellini (Leipzig 1909). f. heinemann, Giovanni Bellinie i Belliniani, 2 v. (Venice 1962). p. hendy and l. goldscheider, Giovanni Bellini (New York 1945). m. meiss, Giovanni Bellini's St. Francis in the Frick Collection (Princeton 1964). r. pallucchini, Catologo illustrato della mostra di G.B. (Venice 1949); Giovanni Bellini (Milan 1959). l. planiscig, "Jacopo und Gentile Bellini," Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien NS 2 (1928) 41–62. g. robertson, "The Earlier Work of Giovanni Bellini," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 23 (1960) 45–59. m. rÖthlisberger, "Studi su Jacopo Bellini," Saggi e memorie distoria dell'arte 2 (1958-59) 41-89.
[l. a. anderson]