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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Jacopo Bellini (c.1400-c.1470)

( Originally Published 1955 )

The head of an artist family that dominated Venetian painting in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Though less known than his famous sons Gentile (see) and Giovanni (see), he doubtless transmitted certain interests and elements of style to them and to his son-in-law Andrea Mantegna. Jacopo was the son of a plumber of Venice and received his artistic training from Gentile da Fabriano. In 1436 he painted a Crucifixion (later destroyed) for a chapel in the cathedral of Verona, and in Ferrara in 1441 he painted a portrait of Lionello d'Este that the patron preferred to one done at the same time by Pisanello. The year 1443 finds him back in Venice, and in 1453 marrying his daughter Nicolosia to Mantegna. In 1460 he and his two sons signed an altarpiece (now lost) for the Gattamelata Chapel of San Antonio, Padua, and in 1466 he collaborated with them again in a decoration (lost in a fire,1485) for the Scuola di San Marco. The only other significant evidence of his activities as a painter are the four extant paintings signed by him: a Crucifixion (Verona museum) and three half-length Madonnas (Venice Academy, the Brera, and the Tadini Gallery at Lovere). The Brera Madonna is dated 1448. The Crucifixion is considered early, paralleling in style the work of Fra Angelico (1436-65). Of the considerable group of half-length Madonnas that have been attributed to Jacopo the most important is in the Uffizi. Their most notable feature is their rich color, laid on in separate strokes suggesting miniature mosaic work. Far more important than the paintings for an understanding of Jacopo's talent are the two sketch books by him that are preserved in the Louvre and in the British Museum. Without these, Jacopo would certainly be considered a minor figure. The drawings are in pen and ink and silverpoint, one group being on paper and the other on vellum. They embrace an extraordinarily wide variety of subjects and motifs, and reveal a keen interest in secular life and classical antiquity that never would have been suspected from the paintings. Jacopo was evidently fascinated by architecture and by the problems of perspective and foreshortening. These interests, and his manner of rendering mountainous landscape, relate the drawings to the style of Mantegna. They are essentially -still Gothic, however, and their dependence on Gentile da Fabriano is equally apparent. Many of the drawings appear to be well-developed compositions of traditional subjects, as though projects for paintings. In this and in their emphasis on architecture they differ from the drawings of Pisanello, which are often compared with them.

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