National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION

Tour: The Feast of the Gods

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This famous canvas, The Feast of the Gods, formed the key element in one of the finest domestic decorative schemes of the Italian Renaissance—the private study of Alfonso d'Este, duke of Ferrara. The duke commissioned the two leading painters from Venice—first Giovanni Bellini and, later, his former pupil Titian—to depict bacchanals or revelries with mythological themes for the study. Begun by 1511, the room in the castle at Ferrara came to be called the Alabaster Chamber after its alabaster sculpture.

Appropriate to the classical theme of Olympian deities enjoying an outdoor banquet, Giovanni Bellini conceived The Feast as an alignment of figures in a dignified, friezelike arrangement across the foreground. In the right corner, an oak bucket bears a parchment with Bellini's signature and the date 1514. After Bellini's death in 1516, much of the background was altered by another painter, Dosso Dossi, a Ferrarese court artist. Bellini's original landscape, visible today only at the right side, consisted of a screen of trees.

Probably in 1529, after he had contributed three of his own paintings to the Alabaster Chamber, Titian repainted the setting in The Feast again, adding the dramatic mountain. The duke may have directed the younger master to harmonize the repainted landscape with Titian's own, more dynamic pictures. The evolution of the design reveals marked changes in taste between the serene art of Bellini, belonging to the fifteenth century, and the more vigorous style that Titian was developing in the sixteenth century.

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