Jacopo Bellini – the founder of the Venetian Renaissance

Madonna and child
Madonna and child

Jacopo Bellini (circa 1400 – 1470) – Venetian painter of the 15th century, the father of two famous painters, one of the founders of the Renaissance in Northern Italy. Bellini’s paintings are pretentious and graceful, but at the same time as realistic as possible – on his canvases, saints and great martyrs appear as ordinary people with lively human emotions on their faces. Jacopo Bellini’s work has left a deep mark on the history of Italian culture. Unfortunately, we know little about his biography, and of the works of art, only fifteen large works and two small sketchbooks have survived to this day.

Jacopo Bellini. Madonna and revered child
Madonna and revered child

Biography of Jacopo Bellini

Jacopo Bellini was born at a time when no one thought that biographies would ever be of interest to descendants. The alleged place of birth is Venice, where he lived most of his life. Historians indicate the year of birth as 1400, although it may have been chosen approximately for the sake of a “round” date. My father was a tinker – a traveling merchant. There is no information about the mother and how the first years of the boy’s life went.

Jacopo Bellini went to study with Gentile da Fabriano, one of the most famous representatives of International Gothic in Italy, in the 1920s, and very quickly the student surpassed his teacher. Already in 1424, he opened a workshop and worked in it until his death, immediately he taught his sons – Giovanni and Gentile, who later became famous painters. His wife, the mother of the boys, was named Anna and this is the only thing we know about her.

Jacopo Bellini. Madonna and the blessing child
Madonna and the blessing child

Bible stories – the main theme of the paintings

The main theme of the master’s works was biblical motives, images of saints, including the Madonna and Child, which is absolutely typical for that time. Another thing is interesting – without deviating from the Gothic luxury and pretentiousness, the artist strove for spatial realism, paying special attention to details, postures of people, landscapes in the background and filling biblical subjects with earthly content. And although in the works written on the walls of Italian cathedrals, he could not always allow himself liberties, but he freely experimented with sketches.

Two albums of drawings have survived to this day, named after the location of London and Paris. It is thanks to them that we know that the creator was keenly interested in architecture, painted equestrian monuments and monuments, made “volumetric” sketches of nature and animals, and created decorative items.

Lamentation for Christ
Lamentation for Christ

He traveled around the country and always took a pencil and paper with him. Jacopo Bellini was one of the first to paint genre paintings depicting the daily life of Venice.

Most of his works were lost, a significant part burned down in fires in churches and cathedrals, on the walls of which it was painted, many were simply not spared time. But the legacy that the author passed on to his sons is enormous. He raised two talented artists, each of whom developed their own style. Died Jacopo Bellini in Venice, presumably in the year 1470-1471.

Saint Anthony, abbot of the monastery, and Saint Bernardio of Siena
Saint Anthony, abbot of the monastery, and Saint Bernardio of Siena

The most famous paintings by Jacopo Bellini

Albums with drawings of the master are signed by his hand, but with large works it is not so simple. Some of them were created with the help of students, some belong to the brush of the painter himself.

Among the most famous paintings by Jacopo Bellini, the authorship of which is not always established, one can distinguish:

  1. “Madonna and Child with Admirer Leonello d’Este” (presumably 1440) is a common theme for Bellini’s paintings. Stored in the Louvre.
  2. Madonna and Child (1465) is a depiction of Our Lady and Child today in the Los Angeles City Museum.
  3. “Lamentation of Christ” (date unknown) – in the master’s drawings, biblical characters come to life, seem close to ordinary people.
  4. “Horseman” (date unknown) – in his sketches there are also mythical motives, images of fictional creatures;
  5. “Crucifixion” (date unknown) – the work is kept in the artist’s homeland, in the Venetian art gallery.
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