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Bellini was widely revered and lived a long, prosperous life. Although his greatest works were destroyed in a fire in 1577 or lost over the years, many other exquisite examples exist, such as the San Giobbe Altarpiece, The Doge Leonardo Loredan and Feast of the Gods.
Dead Christ Supported by Two Angels
Dead Christ Supported by Mary and Saint John Evangelista
Born into a family of painters, Bellini and his older brother, Gentile, received superior training from their father, Jacopo. Jacopo Bellini was one of the fathers of Renaissance painting in Venice and was greatly revered for his skill. He strove to ensure that his sons would become distinguished painters as well and, it is said, often pitted them each other.
Despite this competitive atmosphere, no evidence suggests that the Bellini brothers were rivals, but rather, they are often described as great friends.
Considered to be a quiet, family-oriented and industrious man - though something of a procrastinator - Bellini was also a devout Christian.
In 1453, Bellini's sister Nicosia was married to the painter Andrea Mantegna, one of his father's pupils. Mantegna's unique painting style, which involves a sculptural approach to landscapes and figures, would eventually influence Bellini's own style.
Apart from his professional relationship with his father, brother, and brother-in-law, little more is known about Bellini's personal and family life. However, it is known that he eventually married a woman named Ginevra who gave birth to a son, Alvise.
Bellini received the bulk of his early training from his father, and his work has been documented as early as the 1450s, when he painted Dead Christ Supported by Two Angels and another entitled Dead Christ Supported by Mary and Saint John Evangelista. Bellini painted these works using tempera, a type of fast-drying paint comprised of pigment and a binder material, such as raw eggs.
It was also during this time that Bellini began to cast his figures with more perspective and in a sculptural way, as his brother-in-law, Mantegna, was wont to do. Mantegna's influence on Bellini is most apparent in Bellini's painting Agony in the Garden.
Agony in the Garden
Oil Paints and Altars:
Bellini adopted the use of oil paints when Sicilian painter Antonello da Messina, who is credited with disseminating oil paints throughout Venice, came to see his work in 1474. Unlike tempera, oil paints allow for pigments to be blended together simply and seamlessly, resulting in a canvass saturated with freely flowing, vivid colors. Oil paints also give paintings depth through subtle, though rich, gradations - an effect that tempera cannot provide.
Bellini enthusiastically incorporated this new painting technique into his works, thereby greatly contributing to the richly colored, flowing style that became a hallmark of the Venetian painters. Oil paints helped propel Bellini's talent into the more luminous and detailed direction he is known for.
In 1479, Bellini took his brother, Gentile's, place as the conservator of the paintings in the Hall of the Great Council of the Doge's Palace, where he continued work on a project to paint a number of great historical scenes. The Palace was the seat of government in the Venetian Republic and the home of the chief magistrate, or Doge.
While employed at the Palace, Bellini worked to repair a number of damaged or dulling paintings created by his predecessors, and completed either six or seven new images. These paintings, regarded as Bellini's greatest works and famous throughout Europe, were destroyed in a fire that ravaged the Doge's Palace in 1577.
The last fifteen years of Bellini's life were perhaps the busiest time of his career. Knowledge of Bellini's impeccable use of light, landscape detail and ability to capture emotional subtleties was no secret and he received commission after commission to paint portraits, scenes from mythology and exquisite altarpieces.
Bellini's work from his later years is said to have defined a stylistic transition into the Italian High Renaissance, a time marked by unparalleled artistic creativity. Works such as Madonna of the Meadow, are revered for the serene faces of their subjects, light effects and religious sentiment.
Always yearning to improve his skill, Bellini would eagerly experiment with new techniques and themes taught to him by younger painters, such as his pupils, Giorgione and Titian. In a departure from his usual religious figures, he painted his first nude woman, Young Woman Holding a Mirror, less than a year before his death.
The German painter, Albrecht Dürer, visited Bellini and was so impressed with the aging artist's skill, saying, "He is very old, and still he is the best painter of them all."
Bellini is interred at the Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo in Venice, one of the traditional burial sites of the powerful doges.
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