This room contains much of the finest work of Giovanni Bellini, the first and noblest of the great Renaissance painters of Venice, as well as examples of his pupils or school. Bellini lived from 1427 till 1516, and was brother-in-law of Mantegna. His life just covers the great developing period of the Renaissance.
583. Giovanni Bellini, half-length Madonna and Child. This picture is in the earliest manner of the great painter, still betraying some faint traces of Byzantine influence, (especially observable in Our Lady’s face, head-dress, and hands,) as well as something derived from the school of the Vivarini. As yet, Bellini’s art has not succeeded in emancipating itself from conventional trammels. Compare this picture carefully with the great Madonna (by Antonio and Giovanni) in the last room we examined, and with the other Bellini Madonnas in this Hall.
Beneath it, 616, School of Vivarini. Madonna and Child.
Beyond the door, L. 581. Ruined altar-piece by Bartolommeo Vivarini. In the centre, a very wooden Nativity, with the usual features, shed, star, wattled manger, ox and ass, etc. ; in the background an ill-drawn Annunciation to the Shepherds ; on the sides, L. and R., Peter and Paul, (keys and sword;) further L., St. John Baptist, St. Andrew, St. Francis with the stigmata ; further R., St. Jerome, St. Dominic, and probably St. Theodore.
584. Bartolommeo Vivarini. St. Mary Magdalen.
582. Jacopo o Bellini, father of Giovanni and Gentile. Half, length Madonna and Child. Compare this rather wooden specimen of Jacopo, (who was a pupil of the Umbrian Gen-tile da Fabriano,) with the more distinctly Venetian treatment of the same subject we have just seen in 583, noticing how far Giovanni has been influenced in his conception of Our Lady by the mosaics of St. Mark’s.
585. Companion to 584. Bartolommeo Vivarini. St. Barbara with her tower.
(Room to the L., closed, contains some very ugly rococo furniture.)
Beyond the door (no number) *Cosimo Tura of Ferrara. Madonna and Child ; a characteristic specimen of this harsh but powerful Ferrarese-Bolognese master.
588. Mantegna. St. George and the Dragon, with one of his characteristic garlands of fruit and foliage. This may be reckoned among the gems of the collection. Examine it closely for its splendid workmanship and the delicate treatment of its accessories. It is so admirably and minutely touched that if you sit opposite it and look at it through an opera-glass which enlarges considerably, it gains rather than loses by magnifying. A masterpiece of its master.
Next to this, 59o. Antonello da Messina. Madonna, from an Annunciation.
586. Attributed to Antonello da Messina. Portrait of a young man ; rich brown-tinted complexion. This is more probably a Flemish work, and may perhaps be by Memling.
591. Giovanni Bellini. Full-length Madonna, with sleeping Child on her knees. This should be compared with the Madonna by his father, 582, and with his own early work, 583. The graceful drawing of the Child here marks a great advance in art.
The place of honour in the centre of this wall is occupied by *592, Cima da Conegliano, Tobias and the Angel. Altar-piece from the suppressed church of the Misericordia, much injured and restored, but still very beautiful. Cima was one of the greatest of Giovanni Bellini’s pupils, and this may rank even now among his noblest works. In the centre, the Archangel Raphael leads the youthful Tobias, who holds in his hand the fish which was to cure his father’s blindness. Both figures are extremely graceful. To the L. is St. James the Apostle, with his pilgrim’s staff; to the R., St. Nicholas of Myra, holding the three golden balls which are his symbol. Observe in this picture how the attendant saints, who in earlier times stood apart under a separate canopy of the altar-piece, or, if thrown into one panel, were treated as single figures in isolation, now begin to form a concerted group, though they do not yet take any part in a combined action, as is the case in the later treatment known as the Santa Conversazione. (Watch this development hereafter.) Here, the saints, though standing in the same beautiful landscape background with the central figures, are still purely abstract personages, assessors, as it were, of the main scene. The superior position of the Archangel and Tobias is quaintly shown by elevating them on a little mound or hillock. But observe at the same time how landscape is now beginning to assert itself. Though damaged, this picture is still fine. Good colour throughout : excellent draperies.
593. Alvise Vivarini. St. Clara more probably a portrait of a nun in the character of the saint, her patron.
594. Giovanni Bellini. Half-length Madonna and Child, the latter standing (as often) on a parapet ; landscape back-ground. Probably an early work. Compare this with the other examples.
595. Five little allegories by Giovanni Bellini ; probably panels from a decorative chest. These dainty and charming cameos should be closely examined for their exquisite almost classical painting. They are masterpieces in little. No satisfactory explanation of their subjects has yet been offered.
596. Giovanni Bellini. Half-length Madonna and Child, known as the Madonna of the Two Trees, one of the most beautiful which he ever painted. Compare it with 594 and the other examples. This may be numbered among the loveliest things in the collection. The strong columnar neck and dignified matronly character of Our Lady in this characteristic Venetian work should be closely observed, and mentally contrasted with the girlish ideal Florentine type, as well as with the intellectual character of the Lombard Madonnas. The Child in this picture is extremely charming and sweetly infantile.
597. Cima da Conegliano. Madonna and Child, with characteristic landscape background of Cima’s own country. He loved scenery, and is one of the founders of landscape art. Note, as time advances, the freer and more unconventional attitudes given to the Child, and the removal of his clothing, seen in several pictures of the Bellini age in this Gallery. (Perhaps a copy.)
598. Boccaccio Boccaccino, a Cremona painter (1495 to 1518.) Jesus among the Doctors ; the Christ with youthful features and wavy hair; the Doctors evidently intended to represent respectively a Pharisee and a Sadducee.
End wall : 599. School of the same. Christ washing Peter’s feet, a good transitional picture.
*60o. Boccaccio Boccaccino. Madonna and Saints ; his masterpiece. A little to the L., Our Lady holds the Child on her lap ; further L., St. Catharine, (a most graceful figure, beautifully robed,) holds out her hand to receive the mystic ring from the hands of the infant Christ whose bride she is. On the R., St. Rose, holding the palm of her martyrdom. These two female figures are exquisitely and touchingly rendered. To the extreme R., St. Peter with his keys, and St. John Baptist with his cross of reeds. The background is formed by a charming mountain landscape, with a lake and city. Observe in this delicious idyllic work how the assemblage of saints attendant on the Madonna has ceased to be symmetrical, and lost all memory of the early arrangement in rows ; the figures are here thrown into that sort of concerted composition which is known as a “Santa Conversazione.” Compare with 592, Cima’s Raphael and Tobias, and earlier examples. Linger long on this tender picture.
Over the door : 601. Paolo Zoppo. St. James, with his staff as pilgrim.
603. Cima da Conegliano. Half-length Madonna and Child, with St. John and St. Paul ; the latter may always be known by his bald head, pointed beard, and sword. Be-hind the Madonna, a curtain, on either side of which peeps out a landscape. This type of half-length Madonna, with curtain, parapet, and open background, is highly characteristic of the Venetian school of the Bellini period. Our Lady’s features are redolent of the Venetian ideal : they may be traced afterwards in Titian and his followers. This is an admirable picture, beautifully rendered.
R. wall: 6o5. Boccaccio Boccaccino. Madonna, between St. Simeon and St. Jerome. Beneath it,
604. Cima. Deposition from the Cross. The dead Saviour is supported by Joseph of Arimathea ; on the other side are Our Lady as the Mater Dolorosa, and St. John ; at the ends, another Mary and Mary Magdalen.
606 and 608. Antonio Vivarini. A fine early Annunciation in two panels, badly repainted. As usual, the angel L. and Our Lady R. The action almost always takes place in a loggia. Our Lady’s face is already characteristically Venetian.
607. Alvise Vivarini, the last of his school. Our Lady enthroned, with Franciscan saints ; altar-piece painted for the Franciscan church of San Francesco at Treviso. In the centre, Our Lady sits enthroned on a lofty pedestal ; her features are somewhat insipid. In the foreground stand the four great Franciscan saints, from L. to R., as follows :St. Louis of Toulouse, St. Antony of Padua, St. Francis, St. Bernardino of Siena. The pinched, ascetic features of the last-named are characteristic of his conventional type. Behind these four Franciscans, stand the parents of Our Lady, St. Joachim, holding the dove of his offering, and St. Anna. The arches at the back and the long line of the saints convey faint reminiscences of the earlier formal arrangement in niches. This is considered Alvise’s master-piece ; it well illustrates the harm done to such pictures by seeing them in a gallery, divorced from their primitive ecclesiastical surroundings, in which they were full of symbolical meaning. On the whole, the keynote here is asceticism.
610. Giovanni Bellini. Altar-piece, with Our Lady and two saints. This is one of Bellini’s finest pictures ; it is a typical Venetian half-length Madonna, with curtain and parapet. Our Lady’s face may be reckoned among the loveliest that Bellini ever painted ; the Child is charming in his infantine grace. To the L. stands St. Paul with his sword, its hilt and scabbard, exquisitely enamelled : to the R., St. George, in a splendid helmet and glancing armour, grasping his lance or pennant with the red cross. These two faces are obviously portraits, probably of the donors, represented under the guise of their patron saints, for which the features of St. Paul, a characteristic Venetian senator of his period, are excellently adapted. St. George is less happy ; he looks more like a staid lawyer or statesman, than the romantic and adventurous knight of the legend. Admirably drawn, patiently wrought, gloriously coloured.
611. Cima. The Incredulity of St. Thomas. An altar-piece painted for the Scuola of the Masons in Venice, St. Thomas being the recognised patron of the building trades. The action takes place in an arcade, from which is seen a distant view of Cima’s favourite mountains. To the R. stands a sainted episcopal figure, usually explained as St. Magnus, the holy bishop of Altinum, but more probably St. Nicholas, the patron saint of merchants and the middle classes. (Compare the figure with the undoubted St. Nicholas holding the three balls, in the opposite altar-piece by the same artist.) Fine bold outlines ; vivid and pure colour ; great and grave religious sincerity. This is considered to be Cima’s masterpiece. A picture by him very like it, but without the St. Nicholas, is in the National Gallery in London.
612. Giovanni Bellini. Madonna with the red cherubs, a characteristic and silvery early specimen. Beneath it,
613. Giovanni Bellini. Half-length Madonna and saints. To the L., St. Catharine ; to the R., St. Mary Magdalen. The figures are lighted from below, being intended for a lofty altar-piece.
614. Bartolommeo Vivarini. A didactic picture for the Magistrato di Cattaver. In the centre, Christ enthroned, bearing a book inscribed with the command to do justice and judge truly the sons of men ; to the L., St. Augustine ; to the R., St. Francis, probably in compliment to the magistrates of the moment, whose namesakes these may most probably have been. In the background a Renaissance loggia, with festooned garlands, and the arms of the two donors. Saints and escutcheons combined would tell the names of the benefactors at once to a contemporary Venetian.
615. Bartolommeo Vivarini. An early Madonna and saints, in the old “tabernacle” altar-piece style, from the suppressed church of Sant’ Andrea della Certosa, (the Carthusian monastery.) In the centre is a lovely enthroned Madonna with a sleeping Childcompare with the Cosimo Tura and the Bellini. To the L., St. Andrew, the patron of the church, and St. John the Baptist : to the R., St. Dominic and St. Peter. I think these figures have been misplaced in reframing, and that Peter and Andrew ought to occupy the next niches to Our Lady. Much repainted.
Now, return to the far end of this room, and enter the little compartment beyond it.