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Giovanni Bellini

Painter, illuminator and draughtsman

Born
ca. 1430 / 1435 in Venice
Died
1516 in Venice

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Biography

Giovanni Bellini was born into a Venetian artist family as the illegitimate son of Jacopo Bellini. He doubtless received his training - as a panel painter, draughtsman and miniaturist - in his father's workshop. By 1459 Giovanni maintained his own household, and his first reliably documented work, which he signed along with his father and his brother Gentile, dates from the following year. This is the 'Pala Gattamalata' in S Antonio in Padua. Between the 1470s and 1516, the year of his death, continuous commissions in Venice are documented. After 1479 and the departure of his older brother Gentile for Constantinople, Giovanni was repeatedly engaged on important commissions from the Republic of Venice, which also named him the Serenissima's official painter in 1483. His high esteem is also confirmed by his membership in a number of the Venetian scuole. Beginning in the 1490s Giovanni Bellini was awarded increasing numbers of commissions from neighbouring princely families, notably from Isabella d'Este and Francesco Gonzaga. In a letter to Willibald Pirckheimer from 1506, Albrecht Dürer described Bellini as "very old ... but still the best in painting". In addition to altarpieces, paintings of the Madonna for private devotions and portraits make up a large part of Giovanni Bellini's oeuvre. Along with Antonello da Messina, he is of extraordinary importance in Venetian painting for his development of the 'sacra conversazione'. He shrewdly adapted to the swiftly changing expectations of the art market during his lifetime by using his workshop, in which Giorgione and Titian both worked for a time, for the virtual mass production of pictorial compositions which were reproduced in full or half figures. During his long career Bellini was equally skilful in adapting his art to the most varied influences: from his father, Jacopo, who still worked in the International Gothic style, to his brother-in-law Andrea Mantegna and even his pupils and followers Giorgione and Titian.

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