The book I am writing argues that, to be properly understood, Bellini’s pictures from the last decade and a half of his life must be divided into two separate categories. Those he undertook during his final years constitute a distinct group that differs significantly from his previous works in style, support, subject matter, and mood. Bellini did not choose the subjects of his last paintings, which were stipulated by patrons; but in a period in which he relied more and more on assistants, his decision to undertake and personally conceive and execute the last works points to a special commitment on his part to their creation. Taken as a group, the final pictures reveal an artist driven to excel still further, to explore new territory, and, in a burst of creativity, realize his final achievement.
According to my fellowship proposal, during June – September 2012 I was to begin writing my book. Every scholar knows that new ideas often occur in the process of writing, and I expected that to be the case, particularly as I had begun working on the project more than a decade ago. But I decided first to review the notes and bibliographic materials I had gathered and filed away over the years. As I sifted through these, culling, highlighting, and rearranging them, I began to realize that my present understanding of Bellini’s last works — and thus the concept for the book — were actually quite different from what I had proposed to CASVA a year earlier. For that reason I chose to reorganize my material and to refine the concept — a hypothesis that seeks to explain why Bellini painted his last pictures and how, personally conceived and executed, they differ from his vast studio production. Thanks to the review process, the arguments to be advanced in the book are, I believe, more persuasive. The Feast of the Gods (National Gallery of Art, Washington; partly repainted by Titian), dated 1514, and the other works that followed it in rapid succession can be shown to display a greatly expanded range of subject matter and a new degree of inventiveness and creative energy.
David Alan Brown returned to his position as curator of Italian and Spanish paintings at the National Gallery of Art.