Thursday, December 23, 2010

Bellini's Last

Giovanni Bellini's last major surviving work is an altarpiece for a side altar in San Zaccaria in Venice. He completed it in 1505 when he would have been in his eighties. It is possible that Albrecht Durer saw this painting newly completed, or being finished, during his second trip to Italy. The current frame is not original. So far as I know, this is the only Bellini altarpiece where the perspective is not consistent with our eye-level looking at the altar.


The painting in its current setting in San Zaccaria, Venice





The painting in its current frame, a later extension of the painting to fit the current frame was removed in the early 1980s.









The Madonna and Child





Saints Peter and Catherine






Saints Lucy and Jerome





The angel playing an early violin.



Bellini's work at its best is about harmony. It is about agreement brought about not by imposing uniformity, but through reconciliation. People and things retain their individual integrity, but opposites become reconciled into complements. Two young women saints are each paired with an older male saint. Bright colors, even opposite colors, are reconciled into an over-all soft golden tonality. The Virgin's brilliant blue and red has its opposite counterpart in the angel's brilliant orange and green. Glimpses of the outdoors on either side, with a fig tree on the left and a small laurel on the right screening the sky, complement the indoor apse where the saints gather. The placement of the Madonna and Child where an altar would be located clearly alludes to the idea of Christ's real presence in the Sacrament, and His abiding presence with all the faithful. God, the Virgin Mary, the saints in their compassion for us, agree to meet us in our world of time and space. The altar becomes a kind of threshold where the two worlds meet. Bellini conceives his painting as a kind of door, or window, where the sacred company appear to us to hear our prayers. All the figures seem turned inward as they appear to listen to the angel's music. The angel plays, listening intently to the notes. Indeed, the relations of color, of proportion, and form in this painting are almost musical.

This painting implies a vision of larger harmonies, between humanity and nature, humanity and God, between the spiritual and the material, of a reconciliation among Christian believers. Bellini's vision of humane harmonious spiritual community existed only in his art. All of Europe was riven with religious conflict that would culminate in the Reformation soon after Bellini's death.

Ruskin once said of this painting that it is beyond all description and above all praise.

2 comments:

Grandmère Mimi said...

Oh, Doug, the altarpiece is gorgeous! And Bellini was in his 80s? He never, as they say, lost his touch, or his eyesight, apparently.

Ruskin once said of this painting that it is beyond all description and above all praise.

Amen to that.

It is about agreement brought about not by imposing uniformity, but through reconciliation. People and things retain their individual integrity, but opposites become reconciled into complements.

Rowan should read those words.

Thank you. The post is a lovely Christmas present.

muratiskender said...

heartfelt ditto on the preceding....

Incidentally I can't reach your artwork through Facebook... Is there a reason for this or just a temporary glitch?