Venice Academy – Room V – Sala Dei Belliniani

CARLO CRIVELLI, who has two, mutilated specimens of his work in the room called Sala dei Belliniani, is supposed to have been born some-where near 1440. Though he always signed him-self a Venetian, he has nothing in common with the painters whose works at once stamp them as Venetian. There is no relation observable between him and Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, or Tintoretto. His works, however, do show the influence of Squarcione and the Vivarini. ” Crivelli’s special achievement,” as a critic has justly observed, was to perpetuate in a more modern form all that was best in the Byzantine tradition.”

He left Venice early and settled for the rest of his life, it is believed, in the Marches, a district with no large cities, and thus away from the influence of the art already changing greatly under Mantegna and the Bellini. Like the Byzantines and early Venetians, his use of gold was prodigal, and up to the end of his career he built out in relief gold ornaments, bits of architecture, brocades, etc. He painted principally large anconas of often ten panels and sometimes with a predella added. They generally consist of a Virgin and Child in the centre, supported by four saints, two on a side. Above these are more panels of half-length figures, the central one here usually being the Pietà. In general, it may be said that from almost the beginning to the end of his artistic career he changed comparatively little; it was seldom that he painted a composition of connected and related figures, though in his later years he sometimes disregarded the many panelled piece, and began to group his figures of saints around the Madonna and Child without any intervening framework. Up to the last he did not often succeed in portraying any very great depth of emotion, but he could express dignity, a certain exquisite poise of manner, and a gentle grace. In his later age his brocades, architectural adjuncts, and hangings, all become more and more elaborate. He studied his flowers and fruit from nature, and in almost all his compositions used them with fine decorative effect. In the scenes painted with outdoor surroundings he often introduced animals, also carefully and painstakingly studied from life. In fact, in all his accessories he shows a keen regard, a sharp eye for reality. He always painted in tempera, but he used it with a perfection which has never been surpassed.” He did not, apparently, know much about chiaroscuro, his tones are almost as flat as a Japanese painter’s, and they are as fresh and clear to-day as if they had been applied yesterday.

He was, as he has been often called, a reactionary. He did not belong to the march of time. He remains, as it were by choice, archaic in his subjects, in his types, in his treatment, in his point of view. His figures are long, often ill-constructed, he does not keep proper proportions between figures on the same plane, he has limited ideas of anatomy, of perspective. Within his own lines, however, he was a really great master. His decorative qualities are many and charming, his feeling is simple, sweet, and strong.

His two round-topped wooden panels in this room originally each held two saints. In the first are St. Jerome and St. Augustine, in full canonicals. St. Jerome, dressed as a cardinal, is at the right, holding two books, on the top of which is a model of a church. Standing looking at him, at the left and slightly behind, is Augustine, or Gregory, as he has also been called, in papal robes. Above is a six-winged cherub, and below, on the ground at the left, and only half in the picture, a conventionalized lion.

In the other panel, part of the painting is rubbed off, leaving only half of the figure of St. Peter. He is reading from a book, while St. Paul looks over his shoulder. The latter is dressed in red and green, and has his left hand on a sword. On the floor are two books. Over their heads, also, is a six-winged cherub. Both panels have gold backgrounds. They were originally in S. Domenico, Camerino, but until recently had been in possession of the Marchese Servanzi Colli at S. Severino. Apparently they were once the out-side panels to a large altar-piece. They are in Crivelli’s usual style, and were evidently painted at about the middle of his career.

The four saints, Roch, Sebastian, Emidio, Bernard of Siena, with a brocaded hanging behind each, are probably by Vittore Crivelli, brother of Carlo, but vastly inferior artist to him.

A Pietà and a Crucifixion in this room have been ascribed to Donato Veneziano, who is thought to have been either a pupil or assistant of Bellini, or else a mere imitator of his manner.

The Pietà, if by him, is at best, it is claimed, only a copy of one in the Berlin Museum now attributed to Bellini. It is on canvas in oil, and the figures are half-length. Jesus is shown sitting on the tomb supported by Mary and John. Much of it has been repainted.

The Crucifixion is better executed, and critics have doubted whether Donato ever was responsible for it, even in its original estate. Mary Magdalen is kneeling at the foot of the cross, at the right are St. John and St. Bernard of Siena, at the left, the Madonna and St. Francis. Jerusalem is seen in the background between two trees, with mountains in the distance. The colours are bright, and it is painted in a high key.

Two pictures by Mansueti are in this room, the Virgin and Child with Saints and the group of Five Saints. The first shows the Madonna seated in the centre, the baby Christ in her arms. He is blessing the donor, who, kneeling at the left, is being presented by St. Peter. The latter is in a green robe, and has his hand on the shoulder of the donor. At the right are two other saints, one in the foreground three-quarters turned to the left, dressed in a green robe and red mantle, the other, farther back, also in a green robe, holding an open book. There is a landscape background, with a village on the shore of a river at the left.

In the other panel, St. Sebastian is in the centre, Sts. Francis and Roch at the right, Sts. Gregory and Liberale at the left. The scene is in a pillared corridor, or loggia, with a tiled floor. Bound to one of the pillars is Sebastian, nude save for a brown loin-cloth, his arms tied over his head, the death-dealing arrows still sticking into him. Behind the five is stretched a red drapery with green border. All the figures, with the possible exception of Gregory, are standing with their weight thrown firmly on one leg, St. Roch on his left, St. Francis on his right, St. Liberale on his left again, St. Sebastian on his right. This brings the position of the feet and legs of these figures, already too much on a line, in curiously similar angles, and adds to the artificiality of the picture. In spite of this, however, there are much earnestness and dignity in the figures of the saints them-selves, and in the composition as a whole.

About the same age as Bastiani, probably, was Bartolommeo Montagna, a Brescian by birth, but who seems to have got his training mostly in Venice, and who lived and worked in Vicenza, a neighbouring city of Padua, as early as r470. He is the most noted, with best reason, of all the Vicentines. It is thought that he studied under, or was influenced by, Carpaccio and Bellini, and also by Mantegna, to whom, however, he probably owes less than has been generally supposed. As a colourist Montagna stands high; his palette was rich if rather dark, with full, bright, clear tones, and his pictures have, as has been noted, a ” gem-like ” effect in their shimmering brilliance of col-our. His figures often have a noble expressiveness, and at times he achieves an almost Mantegnesque grandeur of form and composition; his treatment of drapery is simple and unusually free from intricate, unimportant folds; his landscape backgrounds show poetic fancy and originality, though overminute in detail. His earlier pictures have far more traces of archaisms than his later, and he seems to have gained greatly from his contact with the famous Venetians of his day. Toward the end, his figures grow leaner, more angular, and harder. Of this class are the two in the Academy, both of which are in this room. They were painted for the Church of S. Rocco in Vicenza.

The Madonna and Child with St. Jerome and St. Sebastian has figures of almost life-size. The Madonna is seated on a throne of Romanesque design inlaid with rich marbles, placed in the centre between two arches forming the background of a portico, or loggia, also inlaid with coloured designs on a gold ground. She sits in full face, dressed in the Venetian costume of the time, her dress red with gold-embroidered borders, her corsage light, and mantle dark green. Her head is bent gracefully a little toward her left shoulder, her eyes turned to her right, and she has a contemplative sweetness of expression joined to much dignity of carriage. Supported by her hand and arm, the nude baby Christ stands on her right knee. His figure is carefully and well drawn, but his position is unchildlike in its swing and poise. At the left of the picture, bound by his hands to a column, and pierced by his arrows of martyrdom, is St. Sebastian, nude save for the cloth about his loins. His body is almost in profile, his face, lifted, gazing heavenward, is turned three-quarters to the spectator. It is a splendidly modelled head and of an elevated type. On the right is St. Jerome, an old, white-bearded man, heavily robed and bearing a large, closed volume. He is looking out of the picture. The anatomy here is correct, draperies well and flowingly treated. Sebastian is the best modelled and most interesting figure.

Jesus between St. Roch and St. Sebastian is a large, square picture. Jesus, nude except for his loin-cloth, stands in the centre of the composition, displaying his wounds. St. Sebastian is at the left, arrow-pierced, as usual. St. Roch is at the right, in green tunic, red mantle, brown boots with yellow tops, his staff on his left shoulder, his hat on his back. Both saints have hands met prayerwise, adoring the Saviour. Behind Jesus is a red drapery, and in the background is a wall of coloured marbles.

The two nude figures are capitally modelled and constructed. As a composition the introduction of the gaily dressed figure of St. Roch gives the scene a curiously one-sided appearance.

A very quaint work by Lazzaro Sebastian, called Bastiani, is not without some charm and feeling, and with a certain decorative quality in the placing and arrangement of the curious composition. It is a round-topped panel, the upper part pretty well filled by the branches and leaves of a flowering tree, in the midst of which sits St. Anthony of Padua. His seat is a board fastened across the upper limbs, his footstool the crotch of the tree made by the lower and bigger branches. He is in full face, and his right hand is lifted as if he were expounding with emphasis something from the book which, now closed, he holds upright on his left knee. The trunk of the tree divides the panel into two even parts. On the left, sitting on a low stone coping, is a cardinal, looking up to the saint in the tree, his right hand lifted. On the right, St. Bonaventura is reading from a large book. The background is of low-lying hills. The careful workmanship of the leaves, the delicate attention to detail, and the curious archaic attributes are reminiscent, perhaps, of Andrea Vivarini.

There are three pictures by Carpaccio in this room, none equal to his Ursula series or to his great Presentation, only one indeed even approaching the heights he reached in those. This is the Meeting of Joachim and Anna, which has been both praised and condemned by the critics. The drapery of the figures is undoubtedly heavy, clumsy, and overvoluminous ; the landscape background, with its carefully indicated detail, shows traces of the early school, and as a composition there is little connection between the four figures. Nevertheless, it is also true, as others have eagerly noted, that the faces of the four saints are rarely pure and radiant, the execution of the hands remarkably excellent, with both pathos and beauty in the greeting of the two clasping each other so tenderly.

In the foreground, in the centre, stands Joachim, with his arms about Anna. They have just met, and while her head is bowed almost to his shoulder, his is bent toward her, deepest interest and affection showing in every feature. The two are clad in the bright colours Carpaccio loved, but there is nothing garish or hard in his juxtaposition of varying shades. Joachim’s robe is green, his tunic red, his heavy cloak gray, embroidered with gold. Under Anna’s tremendously heavy, full, red mantle is seen a blue dress with yellow sleeves. At the right, near her, stands Ursula with her martyr’s palm and a tall banner. She is clad in gown of blue, a yellow underskirt, and a rose-toned mantle. On her golden hair is a crown, and she stands in a contemplation that has apparently nothing in connection with this meeting between the Virgin’s parents. Her face is pale and earnest, her whole expression one of suffering gentleness. St. Louis of France, who stands in profile at the other side of the principal group, is a sturdy, full-chested, beardless youth in a purple robe, a mantle of blue and gold brocade, and an ermine cape. In his right hand he holds his sceptre. If there is a slight woodenness in his figure, his face, at least, is more nearly worthy of the man who painted the Presentation. The panel was taken from S. Francesco in Treviso.

The Crucifixion of a Thousand Christians on Mt. Ararat is entirely unworthy of the painter whose name signs it.

A lunette in this room, called the Transfiguration, is generally supposed to be by Pier Maria Pennacchi, though the new catalogue of the Academy ascribes it to his brother Girolamo. It is painted in tempera, and was a part of an altar-piece no longer in existence, which was executed for the Church of S. Margarita of Treviso. The influence of Squarcione can be felt in the rigidity of the three figures and in the angularity of the folds of the voluminous draperies. Jesus, in a heavy white tunic and mantle, stands in the centre in full face, his hands lifted in blessing. He is on a rocky mound supposed to represent Mt. Tabor. On a slightly lower level, adoring him, are Moses and Elias. Moses is at his left, in a red robe, dark yellow mantle, and turban wound about his head. On the Saviour’s right is Elias, dressed in red and gray, with a yellow turban. The robes of the two are flying as if caught in a high wind. The whole picture is coarsely executed. There is some at-tempt at characterization in the faces, but it is not highly successful.

Pier Maria Pennacchi, born in Treviso in 1464, studied with Bellini, and in his early pictures shows the influence of Squarcione. Some of these are so angular and rude in drapery that they have been given to German masters. His later works are, however, very Bellinesque.

Christ Before the Doctors, in this room, usually given to Girolamo, the nephew of Pier Maria, is in the new catalogue ascribed to Pennacchi the Elder. Girolamo, besides being a painter, was at one time architect for Henry VIII. The picture just mentioned shows a decided technical advance over the lunette of the Transfiguration, both in its treatment of form and drapery, but especially in its compositional construction.

On a high marble seat, or throne, within an arched recess, sits the boy Christ, in full face, one hand resting on his knee, the other raised, pointing heavenward. He is looking downward to the doctors who are clustered about the base of the throne. There are eight of these, four on each side, and their gestures and movements indicate with great spirit the intensity of their questions. Farther forward, on each side of the columns supporting the arch of the recess, are two saints of the Roman Church, on the right Augustine and Ambrose, on the left Jerome and Gregory. They, too, are listening to the discussion, thus making the whole composition more homogeneous.

The Supper at Emmaus in this room, by Marco Marziale, shows clearly the painter’s affinity with the German school. It has little to recommend it except its conscientious attention to detail and a portraitlike quality in all the heads save that of Jesus. The table is set in a low-raftered room, hardly large enough for the company. Opposite the spectator sits Jesus, his perfectly inane, flat face far less interesting than any one of the earnest, intent countenances of the two men at either end, the host at the right, or even the Ethiopian standing beside him. The elaborate working out of the pattern on the hanging against the walls, the brocade of the host’s, the stripes of the negro’s costumes, the many folds of robes, cloth, and curtains, make the picture interesting as an example of what German influence on the Italian mind can do in art. But it is far below the level of the ordinary attainments of the Venetian painters of Marziale’s day.

Scarcely anything is known of this Marco Marziale except that he lived in Venice toward the beginning of the sixteenth century, and, as is evident from this one work, that he was largely influenced by German art canons. Whether he and Marco Bello, whose Madonna and Child with St. John is also in this room, are the same, is not definitely settled, though many critics incline to that belief. Works by Marco Bello are extremely rare in any collection. It is thought that he was a follower of Giovanni Bellini, and his best work is the Presentation at Rovigo, which is only a copy of that by Bellini at Castle Howard. The one canvas in this room, the Madonna and Child, is feebly executed, with little to recommend it except a certain harmony of colour.

Basaiti has several works here, the most noted, perhaps, being the Scene at Gethsemane. Jesus and his disciples are shown to the observer through a Roman archway which forms the sides and upper part of the composition. In front, on each side of the arch, stand two saints, on the right St. Dominick and St. Mark, only the upper part of the latter being visible ; on the left, St. Francis, reading, and behind him St. Louis of Toulouse, whose head alone can be seen. They are standing on a tiled flooring, arid over their heads swings an altar-lamp. Beyond, through the arch, is a rocky mount.

At the base lie the three sleeping disciples, arranged in a pyramidal grouping, with one stretched out flat in front on his back, the two others behind him half-sitting, half-lying. Above, on a projecting ledge, Jesus kneels, an ill-constructed, unimpressive figure. At his right grows a scraggy, leafless tree. Above is an angel, flying with ex-tended arms. In the distance castles mass against the sky, and on the road to the mount come the betrayer and his crowd.

The best parts of this composition are the figures of the saints without the arch. They are carefully if rather rigidly drawn, and have a reality and actual personality that perhaps only Bellini and Carpaccio could, at that day, have surpassed.

St. George and the Dragon, by the same painter, has little of the power or beauty or poetry of Mantegna’s St. George, but, like the saints in the Gethsemane scene, it has a certain rude naturalness, that, joined to the conscientious rendering of de-tail, makes it of real interest, and invests even its archaism with an air of plausibility.

A rather fat and cotton-woolly white horse, but still rearing on his hind legs with considerable action, is slightly back of a dragon which is stretched out across the foreground. It is a regular fairy-story dragon with its long, twisted, scaly tail, backbone rising in sharp points, wicked claws, wings near its griffin head. St. George, almost in profile, holds his horse firmly in his left hand, his sword lifted high in his right. He is in full armour except for his head, which is bare, his long, loose, parted hair adding to the youthfulness of his face. It is a rather immobile face, expressing no particular emotion of any kind. At the right, clasping a tree, is the rescued princess, in dress and type of face quite of Basaiti’s time and city. Filling the middle distance, somewhat too near for perspective accuracy, are an arched bridge, castellated hills and towers, and beyond, high broken mountains. As usual, Basaiti’s overinsistence upon the details of his landscape backgrounds brings them too. prominently into his composition.

Benedetto Diana, who has several works in this room, was born toward the middle of the fifteenth century, and died, probably, about 1525. He is known principally as an assistant to Carpaccio and Mansueti while working in S. Giovanni Evangelista, in which place he painted the picture now in the Academy, called the Brethren Distributing Alms, a picture with not one scrap of its original surface left. Diana was also the fellow worker with Lazzaro Bastiani on the standards for the Piazza S. Marco. Crowe and Cavalcaselle say of him that ” his forms are weighty and more coarsely materialistic than Carpaccio’s or Mansueti’s ; his draperies are muffled, and of the texture of blankets; his touch heavy and fluid like that of Savoldo.” He displays in his tempera work ” a chocolate colour, full of vulgar accent and exaggeration in the outlines of limbs and body, boldly incorrect in drawing, and broken in drapery, with a coarse wildness pervading the features and a hard, raw touch.” In his oil works, as seen in the half-length Madonnas and saints in the Academy, he has some of the same effects, added to which are ” dull, horny, and high surface tones.” Curiously enough, while his earlier work shows marked Squarcionesque attributes, his later has not infrequently been taken for Catena’s.

It is to this latter painter that Diana’s Madonna and Child with Sts. Jerome and John the Baptist, in Room 5, was formerly ascribed. They are all half-length figures, behind them a landscape back-ground with low-lying hills. The Virgin is sitting in the centre, turned three-quarters to the left, draped in a mantle covering head, shoulders, and arms. At the right is St. Jerome, also heavily draped, head and all, holding an open book. At the left is St. John, hair and beard wild and ragged, eyes lifted skyward.

Certainly St. John is portrayed with vigour and intensity, and Jerome does not lack character. But they are far from the spontaneous, natural creations of Bellini, nor have they the unstudied simplicity of Carpaccio. The head of the Madonna is commonplace, though it has a primitive dignity of mien.

The Virgin with Four Saints, according to Crowe and Cavalcaselle, shows strongly the influence of Squarcione in the heavy forms and angular types. On the other hand, Burchardt in his ” Cicerone ” says that it is a picture remarkable for the earnestness of expression, plastic character of the figures, and freshness of colour.

The Madonna, dressed in a lilac robe and blue mantle lined with yellow, is shown seated, in full face, on a throne against a green background. The baby Jesus, on her left knee, is looking toward the right at St. Justina, who, in a red robe and green mantle and a head-wrap of gray and white, holds in her right hand the handle of a poignard which is thrust into her breast. In front, in the foreground, with her vase of ointment, is Mary Magdalen, dressed in a blue robe, mantle of rose colour, and head-dress of blue and white. At the left are St. Jerome, as cardinal, reading, and St. Benedict, or Bernard, in a white surplice and richly decorated dalmatic, holding his cross. A guinea-hen, a trunk of a tree, and two pieces of wood are in front, with two placards attached to one of the pieces of wood, bearing Benedetto’s name and those for whom the picture was painted.

Of the four pictures by Bissolo, in this room, the Coronation of St. Catherine is the largest, and generally considered; his best example. The figures are life-size, and Eastlake remarks that in general design they recall certain characteristics of the school of Florence. A large part of the picture is devoted to the landscape background, which has a luminous, sympathetic quality about it.

In the centre, Catherine, in the white robes of a nun, kneels in profile, her hands crossed on her breast. Jesus stands before her, lifting the crown of thorns from her head, preparatory to replacing it with the golden one which he holds in his left hand. He is dressed in a curiously inharmonious combination of peacock blue and crimson. At his left stands Peter, in a gray robe and lilac mantle, carrying his key of office and a book, and at the right are Sts. Paul and James. Back of Catherine kneels Mary Magdalen, dressed in a rose-toned robe and a green mantle, her hands joined in prayer. The angel leading the little Tobias with his fish is at the left again. Above, in the sky, surrounded by cherubs, is the Almighty, shown, as usual, only to the waist, His arms outstretched in blessing.

This has been greatly retouched, but it has something of the feeling of devotion and calm religious fervour characteristic of the early Bellinesque school.

The Dead Body of Jesus with Two Angels is weakly ineffective and badly drawn. The body of the crucified one is half-sitting on a board lying across his sepulchre, half-leaning against the angel standing behind him, his legs still in the coffinlike tomb. At the other side is the other angel, lifting one of the Saviour’s arms. There is little or no weight expressed in the supposedly inert body, and no appreciable pressure on the angel upholding it. The poor drawing and construction of the figures are not atoned for by a certain insipid sweetness in the expression of the angel faces, nor even by a feeling of tender piety that envelops the whole scene.

The Presentation in the Temple and the Virgin and Child with Saints have figures of half-length, as is so often the case with Bellini. In both pictures the Madonna’s face is portrayed with much refinement and sweetness of expression, and, in the latter, the babe is drawn with great grace and charm. In this one, too, a young girl, at the left of the Madonna, holding a basket with two doves, is even lovelier and more attractive than the Virgin. She has a round, girlish face that is full of a tender light not often found in later Venetian works. Simeon, too, is an earnest, interesting type, with rugged, severely cut features.

The painter of these, Pier Francesco Bissolo, is said to have been born in Treviso, from which place he went to Venice, where he worked under Bellini. He acquired great facility in imitating his master, and, undoubtedly, finished many of his pictures. Some of his own works have, indeed, passed for those of Bellini. Crowe and Cavalcaselle say of him that ” he was of a soft and tender fibre, like Sassoferrato, very careful and conscientious, and, amongst Venetians, a sort of Spagna. . . . he was apparently affected by the ex-ample of Catena; and the first specimens of his industry are akin to Vincenzo’s in the small character of the personages and a hard, high texture of colour. The tones of flesh are dry and empty, yet clouded so as to lose precision. The landscape is sharp in tint, yet undefined in contours.”

Before the end of his career, Bissolo shows certain Giorgionesque and Palmesque traits in his works. At times he takes a composition of Bellini, adds a figure or two, or changes the relative positions of one or another, much to the detriment of its compositional integrity, and signs it frankly with his own name, quite as if such execution was the usual and honourable custom of artists !

Little is known of another painter represented in this room, Rocco Marconi, who is called a pupil of both Bellini and Palma Vecchio, except that he was born in Treviso and that he worked at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries. He is especially noted for his beautiful, transparent colour, which has been praised as being at times almost more beautiful than Giorgione’s. At his best he was capable of really noble expression and of fine feeling, though frequently his canvases were overcrowded with figures and showed an almost primitive method of composition, and his types were weak and ineffective.

The new catalogue of the Academy gives him only one of the three pictures that have always been attributed to him, — the unimportant canvas of Jesus between Two Saints. The Woman Taken in Adultery, Professor Pietro Paoletti di Oswaldo claims to be a copy, and says that the famous Descent from the Cross was probably only completed by Marconi. Berenson, Lafenestre, and most modern critics, however, still consider him to be the author of all three.

Of these three, the Descent from the Cross is by far the best. It is a large picture, which originally had an arched top, and it now measures about eleven feet high by eight wide. A tall wooden cross fills the centre of the composition, and at its foot sits Mary, in full face, dressed in a greenish blue mantle, with a white linen head-veil. She supports the head of her crucified Son on her knees, his body lying stretched out on a white cloth embroidered in gold. At the right kneels Mary Magdalen, her arms outstretched, clad in a beautiful robe of rose figured with black and a green mantle, over which falls her fair hair. Joseph of Arimathea kneels at the left, his hands clasped, and behind him is a saint in nun’s garb, and opposite, a monk. Back of this group are seen two rabbits in the underbrush, and, on a roadway running along a high cliff, men in Oriental costume. In the distance is a village on the banks of a river, with hills massing high on either side.

This is by far the most effective and the most affecting of all Marconi’s works. The Madonna’s face is pretty rather than noble, the Magdalen’s grief, as usual with even greater painters, some-what theatric, though she is marvellously beautiful. The figure of Christ is splendidly drawn and modelled, and has a serene, calm dignity in death that has not been too many times surpassed by any of the men of the Renaissance. The scheme of colouring throughout is replete with a softened richness of harmony that makes the whole picture a veritable gem of the Venetian school. The figures are life-size.