The early work of Giovanni Bellini (c 1430-1516) derives much from his father, Jacopo (c 1400-70/1) and like his brother, Gentile, he was much influenced by Mantegna who married their sister Nicolosia in 1454. The chronology of his works is difficult because he became the main teacher of his generation, the main source of new ideas and forms, with a large workshop of pupils and assistants. "OP.IOH.BELL" is not only a signature, but a trade-mark, the sign of the workshop rather than the artist. His pupils included Giorgione, Titian, Palma Vecchio and Sebastiano del Piombo. Durer reported from Venice in 1506 that Bellini was "very old, but still the best in painting". He became the greatest of the Venetian Madonna painters, evolving a succession of designs of imaginativeness and versatility for official commissions, such as the votive offerings of the Doges, large altarpieces and small devotional works.He frequently included landscapes as a background, and in the "Agony in the Garden", painted in emulation of Mantegna's similar work (both in the National Gallery, London), he combined observation of nature with poetic feeling, but the naturalistic details are never allowed to overwhelm the figures. In 1479, he became chief painter to the Venetian State, a position he held until his death, despite Titian's attempts to displace him. His official work included portraits of the Doges - the "Doge Leonardo Loredan" (in the National Gallery, London) is the finest of these - and his portraits, many of which adopt the Flemish type of the three-quarter view against a landscape background, are simple, sensitive and compelling. This book describes the life and work of Giovanni Bellini.
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