Study Of Art – Painting In The Fifteenth Century : Venice.


Antonio Vivarini. d. 1470.

Bartolommeo Vivarini. fi. 1450-1499.

Alvise Vivarini. fi. 1461-1503.

Antonio Vivarini of Murano is best known by the large altarpieces painted in cooperation with a northern artist, perhaps from Cologne, Johannes Alemannus, with whom he was associated from 1440 to 1447. His independent work shows the influence of Gentile da Fabriano and Pisanello.

Bartolommeo Vivarini, a younger brother, worked with Antonio after 1450, introducing the severe and sculpturesque style of Padua, while retaining the form of the Byzantine altarpiece in many parts, and using also the gilded gesso in relief for his ornaments. The altarpiece of St. Augustine in SS. Giovanni e Paolo, painted in 1473, is majestic but unbeautiful.

Alvise Vivarini, called also Luigi, the son of Antonio, entered the studio of his uncle Bartolommeo and painted for several years in the Muranese manner. In 1464 he entered into a competition with Giovanni Bellini and Carpaccio for the decoration of S. irolamo, Venice. This is the first mention of a rivalry that came to an open challenge in Alvise’s letter to the Signoria in 1488, offering to prepare a canvas for the Grand Council Hall on the same terms as were granted to the Bellini, then at work there, and guaranteeing satisfaction. He was given the commission at once, and in 1492 he appears regularly enrolled in the employ of the city at five ducats a month. He had also adopted the ” Bellini method,” and was painting in oils. Two of his most important altarpieces are now in Berlin. An unfinished canvas in the Ducal Palace was completed after his death by Giovanni Bellini.


No. 322. Annunciation.

Academy, Venice.

Tempera on wood; painted by Lorenzo Veneziano in 1371. This is the central panel of a large ancona of five compartments, each of the two at either side again divided, with two standing saints below and two in half length above, the whole enclosed in an elaborately carved and gilded Gothic frame with painted figures in niches and quatre-foils. The central panel above contains a God the Father in glory. The backgrounds are gold, the colors rich. We see here the splendor and the dependence upon Byzantine tradition which characterized Venetian painting until the middle of the fifteenth century.

No. 325. Adoration of the Kings.

Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin.

Tempera on wood, 5 feet 7 inches by 3 feet 7 inches. Much moulded gesso with gold embossing is used. Painted by Antonio before his association with Johannes Alemannus. The central group is very similar to that in the Adoration of the Magi by Gentile, 112. The resemblance to an Adoration by Pisanello, also in Berlin, is even more marked. The glory over Mary’s head and in the sky recall that in Pisanello’s altarpiece, 316. The skillful foreshortening of the horses and the use of gold embossed ornaments are also characteristics of Pisanello’s work.

No. 326. Coronation of the Virgin.

S. Pantaleone, Venice.

Tempera on wood, with gilded relief ornamentation; 8 by 5 1/2 feet, signed by Johannes and Antonio and dated 1444. Painted for the Chapel of the Holy Nail; a similar picture, much injured, is in the Academy.

This unusual conception of Paradise has no counter-part outside of Venice. The stalls, in which saints, patriarchs, and prelates are seated, are arranged to simulate an apse. The figures of the evangelists and church fathers at the foot of the throne are curiously stunted, but the putti with instruments of the Passion are painted with more ability. Many of the saints with their symbols may be identified.

No. 327. SS. Girolamo and Gregorio.

Academy, Venice.

Tempera on canvas, figures life size. Signed ” 1446 Johannes Alemannus, Antonius de Murano, p.” It was painted for the Scuola S. Maria della Carita, now converted into the ‘Academy of Fine !Arts, where it still remains. The entire picture, of great size, shows the Madonna and Child enthroned beneath a high baldachino held by four little angels, one of whom appears in this detail of St. Jerome and St. Gregory standing at the left. The two other Fathers of the Church, Augustine and Ambrose, stand at the right; the background is an elaborately carved screen. The expression of face, the venerable beards, the richly embroidered and jeweled mantle and miter are Byzantine in origin. The carved wood-work shows the northern influence.

No. 328. Madonna and Child.

Poldi-Pezzoli, Milan.

Tempera on wood, figures life size, somewhat restored. This is thought to be the central panel of an altar-piece once in S. Moïse, Venice. It closely resembles the Madonna in the central panel of the altarpiece just described, 327. The first impression is of a very archaic work; study shows great beauty and skill in the modeling of the Child’s form, in the face and neck of the Madonna. The carved throne and the elaborate crown still show the influence and possibly the hand of Johannes, though the work is in the name of Antonio. Compare with early Florentine and Sienese Madonnas enthroned, noting the monumental character of the Venetian altarpiece.

No. 329. St. Mark with Saints.

Frari, Venice.

Oil on wood, panels 4 feet 10 inches in height; in the original frame. Signed and dated by Bartolommeo in 1474; formerly in the chapel of the Cornaro family. St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice, occupies the place of honor; the saints are John the Baptist and Jerome at the left, Paul and Nicholas at the right. There is no gilded relief, and the new medium of oil, introduced in 1472 by Antonello, is used. St. Mark’s throne, with its heavy garlands and the stately saints suggest Bartolommeo’s study in Padua. The little musicians of Venetian art are seated on the steps of the throne. Note the lack of proportion between the side and central panels.

No. 355. Madonna with Six Saints.

Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin.

Oil on wood, figures life size, undoubtedly the picture painted by Alvise Vivarini for S. Maria, Belluno, his finest work. Variously dated 1485 and 1501.

The architectural setting adds great dignity; the saints (George, Peter and Catherine, the Magdalen, Jerome and Sebastian) are no longer on separate panels of the ancona, but are grouped about the throne, building up the composition. The throne is still elaborately carved, but with Renaissance ornament.

With this picture should be studied the following by Bartolommeo Montagna, a painter of Vicenza who studied in Venice under Alvise.

No. 321. Madonna Enthroned, with Saints and Angels.

Brera, Milan.

Oil on canvas, figures life size. Painted in 1499 by Montagna for a chapel in S. Michele, Vicenza. The saints are Andrew and Monica, Ursula and Sigismund.

Compare setting, composition, sentiment, and character study with 355. That one was taken from the other, or both from a common pattern, seems certain. The vases suggest the influence of Padua, the arches open to the sky that of the Bellini.

Compare this picture and 355 with Bellini’s altar-pieces in the Frari and S. Zaccaria, 338-341.

No. 356. Santa Chiara.

Academy, Venice.

On wood, 4 feet 10 inches by 1 foot 2 inches, painted by Alvise probably 1490-1493. This panel with its companion, now in Vienna, came from the altar in the suppressed church of S. Daniele, Venice. St. Clara, the close friend and advisor of St. Francis, founded the companion organization for women in Assisi, the Claressans (Poor Clares).

Alvise has pictured her here with so much of individuality and determination of character that one could believe it the portrait of some energetic prioress of his own acquaintance.