Art of The Berlin Galleries – Venetian And Lombard Sculpture, And Venetian Paintings

In the next cabinet we find sculpture by Tamagnini, Laurana, and Bambaja, while the room acquires colour from three large Venetian paintings and from ceiling decorations of mythological subjects, by Paolo Veronese, which at one time served in the Palazzo Pisani in Venice.

There are two early examples of great importance of Giovanni Bellini. His ” Death of Christ ” (28) was painted about 1460, when Giovanni moved from Padua to Venice and there tried to represent in colour what Donatello in Padua had cast in bronze. He painted this subject more than ten times, but this earliest is one of the finest, only surpassed by the famous Pieta in the Brera of Milan. In its pale tempera colours it does not correspond with the master’s later works in oil, and yet it is suffused with the soulful meaning of all his work. Mantegna’s pathos results sometimes in exaggerated drawing of the form, here the catastrophe of the heroic body of Christ, sunk together and held up by two childish looking angels with soft-feathered wings, is marked with the highest nobility upon which the peace of death is resting. Blood gushes from the wounds, heavily hangs the huge left hand in the small fingers of the angel-boy, and the head has fallen backwards upon the shoulders of his genii.

Opposite this Pieta hangs the “Resurrection ” (1177A) which at one time formed the altarpiece in a mortuary chapel. The early Easter morning dawns rosy red over the mountains, and the ethereal body, holding a flag with the cross, is seen rising heavenward ; but not yet in the floating manner of the next century, but as if solidly standing on some invisible support. Below is the open cave in the side of the hill where two watchers are still asleep, and two of the guard, awakened, stand stupefiedly gazing upwards at the strange apparition. The women are approaching in the distance, still unaware of the miracle wrought.

Dürer, who met Giovanni Bellini in Venice, wrote : ” I am much attached to him. He is very old, but still the best in painting.” This judgment given while Titian was in his prime deserves the greatest consideration, for Dürer was too broad in his feeling to take a partial view of the art of another painter. We may not at once subscribe to this opinion, for most of the works we have of Bellini are mainly the things he did to live by — the great work of his life went up in the conflagration of the Ducal Palace. And yet, the versatility of his art, from his early days until his latest known work of 1513 and 1514 — the altarpiece in San Giovanni Crisostomo in Venice and the “Bacchanal ” belonging to the Duke of Northumberland — shows itself to have been a continuous growth, an unceasing evolution. He was endowed with profound and grandly balanced feeling, the expression of which appeals to large and noble sympathies. He had a dignity and serenity peculiarly his own ; he endowed his art with a character of moral beauty which, without actually spiritualizing the things of this world, displayed their noblest and most edifying side. As to his fundamental types of Christ, the Virgin, and the Apostles, they were irrevocably fixed in his imagination, their distinguishing character being a melancholy gravity. As for the Virgin, we see that she is entirely absorbed with the presentiment of her sufferings, and is already the Mother of the Seven Sorrows; she was a prophetic type to which the artist constantly adhered. Other artists have surpassed him in colour, drawing or composition, as a painter Giovanni Bellini was a great master.

Beautiful as these two works of Giambellini may be, they do not surpass the beauty of an altar-piece (20) in four parts, three upright panels and a lunette, by the Pseudo-Basaiti, or Andrea Busati, of whom we saw a Pieta in the last cabinet. He is to be recognized by the silver light that gleams through his colours. This work is riper than Bellini’s Easter morning. In three arched panels stand three holy men, John the Baptist, St. Jerome, and St. Francis, towering against the sky which domes over a realistic landscape, full of atmosphere. In the lunette above we see the half-figures of three holy women, the Virgin, holding the Child, in the centre against the red back of a throne, flanked by St. Catharine of Siena and St. Veronica against the blue sky in which white cumuli float. Nothing is happening, all is quiet, restful, worshipful, but there is such freshness in the rich landscape, such quiet dignity in the pose of the figures, such beautiful colour-harmony, that it might well be called the finest Venetian Quattrocento painting in the museum. The exquisite charm of this perfect gem leaves an indelible impression.

We note also an early ” Madonna and Child ” (17), by Cima de Conegliano, and a ” Madonna with musical Angels ” (40), which must belong to the school of Alvise Vivarini. Neither the colour, the drawing, nor the types concede a pure Venetian origin; the angelheads remind of Mantegna, while the landscape points to the neighbourhood of Verona.

( Originally Published 1912 )

The Art of The Berlin Galleries:Rooms 41, 44, 43. Venetian Paintings Of The 15th CenturyRoom 42 – Venetian And Lombard Sculpture, And Venetian PaintingsRoom 39—collection James SimonRoom 45 – Florentine Paintings Of The 16th CenturyThe Spanish PaintingsThe French PaintingsThe English PaintingsThe German PaintingsThe Dutch And Flemish PaintingsThe Royal National GalleryRead More Articles About: The Art of The Berlin Galleries