Italian Painting – Venetian School


THE earliest existing color work in Venice is in the form of mosaics, and dates from the beginning of the decoration of the Cathedral of San Marco (about 1070 A.D.). No existing paintings were wrought until about the middle of the fourteenth century. Then the art was thoroughly Byzantine in character. It differs little from the early Florentine (Gothic Period) save that it shows a greater feeling for color.

Characteristics.— Slight evidence of study of antique. Subjects, religious and portrait. Full of devotional spirit and sentiment until after Giovanni Bellini. Later work (High Renaissance) marked by gorgeous effects of color and beauty of line. Ideal figures appear ; devotional spirit becomes sub-ordinate ; physical beauty is preeminent. The portrait is a prominent feature. Pure landscape painting is practised.

Niccolò Semitecolo (about 1350) produced some of the earliest existing paintings, and may be studied in the Academy, Venice.

Antonio Vivarini (was painting 1440) was evidently influenced by Fabriano (see Roman School, p. 69), who was invited to Venice in 1420 to decorate a hall in the Ducal Palace. His works abound with gilt stucco embossments and gold decorations.

Representative works :

“Adoration of the Kings.” Berlin Museum. Four Saints.” National Gallery, London. Altar-piece. S. Pantaleone, Venice.

Bartolommeo Vivarini ( 1499) was a brother of Antonio. His works show much independence and originality. In them we see the beginnings of the sense of color so important in this school. There is a certain grandeur in his figures, a breadth1 in draperies and a fulness of color that are far in advance of anything preceding him. Like his brother, he used many gold ornaments, and often painted on a gold ground.

His paintings are in tempera, but possess much of the force of oil.

Representative works :

” St. Augustine.” Church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, Venice. Two altar-pieces. Church of the Frari, Venice. Altar-piece. Museum, Naples.

Carlo Crivelli (was painting 1468–1495) shows evidence of having been under the influence of Squarcione (Paduan School). He was an earnest painter, and is somewhat remarkable by reason of the fact that some of his works are unmistakably rude, unattractive, and even repellent, while others, especially his Madonnas, are full of tender feeling.

Characteristics. — Figures lean and poorly drawn, faces often contorted with disagreeable expression.

He used gold backgrounds and much gold in details. His method of painting is a delicate hatching.’

Fruit, flowers, and birds are freely introduced without regard to any natural effect.

Representative works :

Altar-pieces. Cathedral and San Domenico, Ascoli.

Four Saints. Academy, Venice.

Annunciation.” National Gallery, London.

” Enthroned Madonna,” Three Saints.” Brera Gallery, Milan. ” Entombment.” Vatican Gallery, Rome.

Jacopo Bellini (1400?–1464) was pupil of Gentile da Fabriano (Roman School) and an artist of greater merit than he has formerly been considered. This has been proved by a recently discovered sketchbook (now in the Louvre, Paris), which is filled with most interesting and notable sketches (pen drawings) that show him to have been an enthusiastic student of the antique, of perspective, anatomy, and the human face. His drawing is exceptionally fine; his color, soft and clear.

Most important works :

“Crucifixion.” Gallery, Verona. ” Madonna.” Academy, Venice.

“Madonna.” Tadini Gallery, Lovere. All these pictures have been much injured by restorations.

Sketchbooks in Louvre, Paris, and British Museum, London.

Gentile Bellini (1426?–1507), son as well as pupil of Jacopo Bellini, went when young from Padua to Venice, and gained great honor in that city. When in 1479 Sultan Mahomet applied to Venice for a good painter, Gentile was sent to Constantinople, where he made a portrait of the Sultan, beside executing several other commissions. Re-turning to Venice he painted a series of large pictures in the Council Hall of the Ducal Palace, representing scenes in Venetian history, all of which were destroyed by the great fire of 1577. His existing works are rare.

Characteristics. — Gentile Bellini has set before us the contemporary life of Venice as has no other artist or historian. He represented the architectural Venice of his day and against it pictured processions and masses of people clad in rich costumes and painted in a careful, exact manner with full, warm, harmonious color. These he rendered with great individuality of expression and action.

After his return from Constantinople he often introduced oriental costumes which must have been carefully studied. Most important works :

” Procession of Corpus Domini in Square of St. Mark’s” and ” Miracle of the True Cross.” Academy, Venice.

Sermon of St. Mark (finished by Giovanni after his brother’s death). Brera Gallery, Milan.

Portraits. Academy, Venice; Louvre, Paris.

Giovanni Bellini (1428–1516) came when young from Padua to Venice, where he spent the remainder of his long life. He was taught by his father and became a greater painter than either his father or brother. He was a continually growing artist, and painted his best pictures when aged.

Mantegna (Paduan School) was his brother-in-law and friend, and some of his earlier pictures can hardly be distinguished from those of that master, while his later ones are filled with the perfection of beauty that marks the High Renaissance. He attained high rank as a portrait painter. He had many pupils, among them Giorgione and Titian. It was during his lifetime that Antonello da Messina introduced the use of oil painting to Italy. Giovanni learned this from Antonello, and in return taught him all that ever gave him any reputation as a painter.

His best and all his latest works are painted in oils.

Characteristics. — Subjects are mostly religious, and often have landscape backgrounds, for which he evinced great love.

His figures possess much dignity and serenity ; his best Madonnas are really majestic as they lift the ” column of their throats ” and hold forth the Divine Child to the worship of the world.

His earlier works show a certain hardness ; the drapery is angular ; the anatomical joinings evident in hands and feet. In his later works all these defects disappear.

His color is true Venetian, flooded with golden light. He paid great attention to the detail of costumes and also of landscape, picturing with fidelity the undulating forms of distant hills and all the minutia of weeds and stones in the fore-ground.

Most important works :

” Madonnas.” San Zaccaria and Church of the Frari, Venice. These are his masterpieces.

” Madonna and Child with St. George and St. Paul.” Academy, Venice.

” St. Jerome.” S. Giovanni Crisistomo, Venice.

Altar-piece. ” Coronation of the Virgin.” San Francesco, Pesaro.

” Doge Barbarigo introduced to Madonna by St. Mark and St. Augustine.” S. Pietro Martire, Murano.

” Baptism of Christ.” S. Corona, Vicenza.

Portrait. National Gallery, London.

Antonello da Messina (1445?-1493), born in Sicily, has probably received much more notice on account of his alleged introduction of oil painting into Italy than from his painting, though his portraits really deserve high rank. Vasari’s account of this is now generally discredited by authorities. He says : “Antonello degli Antoni, a young painter of Messina, commonly called Antonello da Messina, saw, in the possession of King Alphonso I of Naples, a picture of the Annunciation by John van Eyck (Flemish School), and being struck with the beauty of the impasto’ set out immediately for Bruges in order to discover by what means it was produced. He obtained the secret from John van Eyck, and remained several years in Flanders, until he had mastered the process ; then returned to Italy, where he gathered about himself a numerous school, and spread a general knowledge of his method.”

It is now thought probable that Antonello gained a knowledge of Flemish methods of using oils from Flemish painters who came to Italy, and afterward introduced its use into the Venetian School.

Characteristics. — His early work is marked by Flemish characteristics, being very minute and labored, and possessing the red color that predominates in the Van Eyck pictures ; his later is strongly influenced by Giovanni Bellini.

Representative works :

St. Sebastian.” Gallery, Dresden.

” Salvator Mundi.” National Gallery, London.

Portraits in Trivulzio Collection, Milan ; Borghese Gallery, Rome ; Naples Museum (here ascribed to Giovanni Bellini) ; Berlin Museum ; and Louvre, Paris.

Vittore Carpaccio (dates of life unknown ; was painting from 1490–1522) is one of the most eminent of the contemporaries or the followers of the Bellini, and combines many of the delightful characteristics of both brothers. Like Gentile Bellini, he was a story-teller, but while the former delighted in picturing historic tales, Carpaccio reveled in those of a legendary and poetic character. He treated even his historic paintings in an imaginative way. He is in many points inferior to the Bellini brothers, but is extremely quaint and fascinating.

Characteristics.—Composition is formal and stately. Drawing is often faulty; his figures are short-bodied; his faces usually homely and earnest. Some few, however, as in the Life of St. Ursula, are thoroughly charming. He followed Giovanni Bellini’s habit of introducing into his Madonna pictures little boy-angels playing on musical instruments.

He was also fond of introducing animals, such as dogs, monkeys, and birds (especially parrots).

Most important works :

Series of nine large pictures (scenes in Life of St. Ursula). Academy, Venice.

” Presentation in Temple.” Academy, Venice.

Series of Pictures. Scuola of San Giorgio dei Schiavoni, Venice. Death of the Virgin.” Gallery, Ferrara.

” Enthroned Madonna.” National Gallery, London.

Cima da Conegliano (Giovanni Battista Cima, 1517 ?) was a follower of Giovanni Bellini.

He limited himself wholly to the representation of devotional subjects, such as the Holy Family and saints, and these he treated with a singular impressiveness.

His figures of male saints are especially grand ; his Madonnas, though pleasing, often lack character.

Like Giovanni Bellini and Carpaccio, he had the habit of introducing little boy-angels playing on musical instruments.

His landscape backgrounds rival those of Giovanni Bellini in the careful rendering of detail. He often introduced the hills of Conegliano and its rock crowned with castellated towers.

His early work is in tempera ; his later in oils. Representative works:

” Baptism of Christ.” S. Giovanni in Bragora, Venice.

“‘St. John Baptist and Four Saints.” S. Maria del Orto, Venice.

” Pietà.” Academy, Venice.

Two Altar-pieces. Gallery, Parma.

St. Peter Martyr. Brera Gallery, Milan.

“Incredulity of St. Thomas.” National Gallery, London.

Alvise Vivarini (1503 ?) was also under the influence of Giovanni Bellini and produced noble works which have long been unrecognized, having passed under the names of other masters.

His subjects are religious and portrait.

Representative works :

Altar-piece. Academy, Venice.

Altar-piece (probably his best work). Berlin Museum. Altar-piece. ” St. Ambrose Enthroned surrounded by Saints” (finished after Vivarini’s death by his pupil, Basaiti). SS.

Giovanni e Paolo, Venice.

Other names of some importance belonging to this time are Andrea Previtali (1480?-1525 ?); Catena (Vincenzo di Biagio, 1531), who painted especially fine portraits ; Pier Francesco Bissolo (1464—1528); and Giovanni Mansueti (1450 ?).

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