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701
BELLINI

palace at Verona. The rest are almost 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, recently acquired from private hands for the Uffizi at Florence. Plausibly, though less certainly, ascribed to him are a fifth Madonna 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. Against this scanty tale of paintings we have to set an abundance of drawings and studies preserved 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 ninety-nine paper pages, all drawn on both back and front 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. He passes indiscriminately from such usual Scripture scenes as the Adoration of the Magi, the Agony in the Garden, and the Crucifixion, to designs from classic fable, copies from ancient bas-reliefs, stories of the saints, especially St Christopher and St George, the latter many times repeated (he was the patron saint of the house of Este), fanciful allegories of which the meaning has now become obscure, scenes of daily life, studies for monuments, and studies of animals, especially of eagles (the emblem of the house of Este), horses and lions. He loves to marshal his figures in vast open spaces, whether of architecture or mountainous landscape. In designing such spaces and in peopling them with figures of relatively small scale, we see him eagerly and continually putting to the test the principles of the new science of perspective. His castellated and pinnacled architecture, in a mixed medieval and classical spirit, is elaborately thought out, and scarcely less so his groups and ranges of barren hills, broken in clefts or ascending in spiral terraces. With a predilection for tall and slender proportions, he draws the human figure with a flowing generalized grace and no small freedom of movement; but he does not approach either in mastery of line or in vehemence of action a Florentine draughtsman such as Antonio Pollaiuolo. 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 (1429-1430-1507), the elder son of Jacopo, first appears independently as the painter of a Madonna, much in his father’s manner, dated 1460, and now in the Berlin museum. We have seen how in the previous year he and his brother assisted their father in the execution of an altar-piece for the Santo at Padua. 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 condition. They represent four saints, colossal in size, and designed with much of the harsh and searching austerity which characterized the Paduan school under Squarcione. In December of the same year Gentile bound himself to execute for the great hall of the same company two subjects of the Exodus, to be done better than, or at least as well as, his father’s work in the same place. These paintings have perished. For the next eight years the history of Gentile’s life and work remains obscure. But he 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. This was evidently intended to be a permanent employment, and in payment the painter was to receive the reversion of a broker’s stall in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi; a lucrative form of sinecure frequently allotted to artists engaged for tasks of long duration. In continuation of this work Gentile undertook a series of independent paintings 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 Mahommed 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. The former part of the sultan’s proposal the senate declined, with the latter they complied; and 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 Constantinople 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, now one of the treasures, despite its damaged condition, of the collection of the late Sir Henry Layard; an exquisitely wrought small portrait in water-colour of a scribe, found in 1905 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 preserved in the Städel Institute at Frankfurt; such copies may have been made for the use of Gentile’s Umbrian contemporary, Pinturicchio, who introduced figures borrowed from them into some of his decorative frescoes in the Appartamento Borgia at Rome.

A place had been left open for Gentile to continue working beside his brother Giovanni (with whom he lived always on terms of the closest amity) in the ducal palace; and soon after 1480 he began to carry out his share in the great series of frescoes, unfortunately 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. The subjects allotted to Gentile, in addition to the above-mentioned presentation of the consecrated candle, were as follows: the departure of the Venetian ambassadors to the court of Barbarossa, Barbarossa receiving the ambassadors, the pope inciting the doge and senate to war, the pope bestowing a sword and his blessing on the doge and his army (a drawing in the British Museum purports to be the artist’s original sketch for this composition), and according to some authorities also the gift of the symbolic ring by the pope to the victorious doge on his return. These works received the highest praise both from contemporary and from later Venetian critics, but no fragment of them survived the fire of 1577. Their character can to some extent be judged by a certain number of kindred historical and processional works by the same hand which have been preserved. Of such the Academy at Venice has three which were painted between 1490 and 1500 for the Scuola of St John the Evangelist, and represent certain events connected with a famous relic belonging to the Scuola, namely, a supposed fragment 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 firmness 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