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Jacopo Bellini

Venetian, c. 1390/1400 - 1470/1471

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Jacopo, son of the tin worker Nicolò Bellini, is mentioned for the first time in 1421, when he was already an established painter, the author of an altarpiece in the Scuola Grande di San Marco in Venice. In his signatures on two lost paintings--a Saint Michael Archangel in the church of San Michele in Padua (1430) and the Crucifixion fresco in the Verona cathedral (1436)--he calls himself a disciple of Gentile da Fabriano, whose workshop he probably frequented during Gentile's stay in Venice from 1408 to 1414. The claim that he was in Florence as an apprentice in Gentile's shop is, however, without foundation.

Jacopo's earliest surviving works are probably the figures of saints in the Berlin Gemäldegalerie, recognized as his by Zeri.[1] Datable to the end of 1420s, they show clearly the mark of Gentile's style. The Virgin of Humility with Donor in the Musée du Louvre; the Madonna (no. 582) in the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice; and the Annunciation in Sant'Alessandro in Brescia, completed with a predella in 1444, were probably painted in the early 1430s. These panels, which show his aspiration toward a late Gothic preciousness, also reveal his studies of perspective and investigation of naturalistic effects that run parallel with those of Pisanello. A more sober design, solid forms, and controlled rhythms characterize the Madonna in the Villa Cagnola at Gazzada, probably an effort of the later 1430s, as well as his works of the following decade, such as a Madonna (no. 835) in the Accademia in Venice and another dated 1448 in the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan.

In 1441 Jacopo had the chance to measure his ability as a portrait painter against that of Pisanello; however, his likeness of Lionello d'Este (praised in the sources and even preferred by the patron to Pisanello s painting) has not survived.[2] Toward mid-century Jacopo's art was stimulated by the presence in Padua of Donatello and the innovations of the young Mantegna, who was probably his collaborator on the mosaics begun by Michele Giambono in the Mascoli chapel in the basilica of San Marco in Venice, and who would marry Jacopo's daughter, Nicolosia, in 1453. In this phase of full maturity Jacopo, who by this point was using a refined classical idiom, is to be considered the most progressive Renaissance painter in Venice. He was able to evoke astonishing illusionistic effects with his use of perspective, which was empirically effective even if less correct in its construction than that described by Alberti and used by the Florentine painters. The masterpieces from this period are the two albums of drawings, one in the Louvre, the other in the British Museum. The frontispiece of the latter is dated 1430, which could refer to the execution of its earliest drawings. However, although scholars' opinions diverge on the subject, it seems that the two books include studies executed over a fairly long period, and that the drawings in the two albums, rather than being consecutive, overlap chronologically.

At the beginning of the 1450s Jacopo probably painted the polyptych now divided between Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and a private collection, and executed a lost processional banner for the Scuola di Santa Maria della Carità and paintings for San Pietro di Castello in Venice. The altarpiece for the Gattamelata chapel in the Basilica del Santo in Padua, which Jacopo signed along with his sons Gentile and Giovanni, is probably also from the same decade. Between the late 1450s and about 1465 we can confidently place the Madonnas in the Galleria degli Uffizi and the Accademia Tadini in Lovere, as well as the Penitent Saint Jerome and Christ on the Cross, both in the Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona. Documents mention a series of lost canvases on biblical themes, painted in 1465 for the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista and in 1466 for the Scuola di San Marco in Venice. In January 1479 Jacopo is recorded as still living, but by November of the following year he was dead.

[1] Zeri 1971, 42-49. The figure of Saint Lucy, published by Zeri as of unknown whereabouts, was offered for sale at Finarte in Milan (25 November 1998, lot 14).

[2] Cordellier in Exh. cat. Verona 1996, 393-395.

Artist Bibliography

Ricci, Corrado. Iacopo Bellini e i suoi libri di disegni. 2 vols. Florence, 1908.
Testi, Laudedeo. La storia della pittura veneziana. 2. Il devenire. Bergamo, 1915: 143-298.
Schmitt, Ursula Barbara. "Jacopo Bellini." In Dizionario biografico degli italiani. Alberto Maria Ghisalberti. 56+ vols. Rome, 1960-: 7(1965):708-712.
Eisler, Colin. The Genius of Jacopo Bellini: The Complete Painting and Drawings. New York, 1989.
Degenhart, Bernhard, and Annegritt Schmitt. Corpus der italienischen Zeichnungen, 1300-1450. 2 vols. in 14+ parts. Berlin, 1968-: part 2(1990).
Lehman-Brockhaus, Ursula. "Jacopo Bellini." In The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. 34 vols. New York and London, 1996: 3:647-655.
Boskovits, Miklós, and David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 2003: 88.

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