National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS

Image: Artistic Exchange: Europe and the Islamic World

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Giovanni Bellini
Venetian, c. 1430/1435 - 1516
Venetian, c. 1490 - 1576
The Feast of the Gods
1514/1529, oil on canvas, 170.2 x 188 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Widener Collection
Image: Giovanni Bellini and Titian
The Feast of the Gods, 1514/1529
Widener Collection

In Venetian painter Bellini's recreation of a mythological drinking party, two prized bowls, one held by a nymph and the other placed on the ground, accurately represent contemporary Chinese porcelain from the Ming dynasty. During the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, Chinese porcelains were exported in large quantities to Iran, Syria, and Egypt. Large serving dishes, like the ones Bellini painted, suited the cuisine and communal meals of the eastern Islamic world. Similarly impressive pieces were sent as diplomatic gifts from the sultans of Egypt to the Venetian government in 1490, 1498, and 1508. At that time, most Chinese porcelain reached Italy via Egypt and Syria. The more simply decorated bowl balanced on the satyr's head, on the other hand, appears to be Persian or Syrian earthenware decorated to look like Chinese blue-and-white porcelain. Genuine pieces were so scarce that Venetians also prized imported imitations.

Compare the Chinese blue-and-white bowls in The Feast of the Gods with the Ottoman fritware bowl from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in the Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition.

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