Giovanni Bellini was initially taught by his father Jacopo Bellini whose icon-like method and manner influenced his early work. When Giovanni’s sister Nicosia married Andrea Mantegna in 1453, close relations between Venice and Padua were established, and Giovanni began to explore the physical and special representation of the Early Renaissance. Under Mantegna’s influence his style assumed temporarily a certain calligraphic precision: Transfiguration (c 1460).
The visit of Antonello da Messina to Venice in 1475/76 seems to have liberated Giovanni’s innermost talents. Without abandoning the rational structure and interaction of form and space, his colors gain in luminosity and depth; modulation of tone increasingly replaces the dividing outline, light floods the canvas. The landscape, as can be seen in many of his representations of the Virgin and Christ and the Pietà, achieved a quality that marks Bellini as the most important Italian landscape painter of the Early Renaisance. His ability to endow his figures with an expression of quiet contemplation while fully conveying movement and human anatomy, remains a secret that raises him above all his contemporaries.
The great works of his late art, in particular his portrayals of the Sacra Conversazione, already cross the border from Early to High Renaissance in the way artistic freedom and convention merge. As teacher of Giorgione and Titian, Giovanni, whom Dürer on his second visit to Venice from 1505 till 1507 still called the greatest painter of his time, was of immeasurable significance for Venetian art in the 16th century. More than 200 of his works survived till our days, among them 50 images of Madonna with Infant.
GIOVANNI BELLINI (1430-1516) is generally assumed to have been the second son of Jacopo by his wife Anna; though the fact that she does net mention him in her will with her other sons has thrown some slight doubt upon the matter. At any rate he was brought up in his fathers house, and always lived and worked in the closest fraternal relation with Gentile. Up till the age of nearly thirty we find documentary evidence of the two sons having served as their fathers assistants in works both at Venice and Padua. In Giovanni's earliest independent works we find him more strongly influenced by the harsh and searching manner of the Paduan school, and especially of his own brother-in-law Mantegna, than by the more graceful and facile style of Jacopo. This influence seems to have lasted at full strength until after the departure of his brother-in-law Mantegna for the court of Mantua, in 1460. The earliest of Giovanni's independent works no doubt date from before this period. Three of these exist at the Correr museum in Venice: a Crucifixion, a Transfiguration, and a Dead Christ supported by Angels. Two Madonnas of the same or even earlier date are in private collections in America, a third in that of Signor Frizzoni at Milan; while two beautiful works in the National Gallery of London seem to bring the period to a close. One of these is of a rare subject, the Blood of the Redeemer; the other is the fine picture of Christ's Agony in the Garden, formerly in the Northbrook collection. The last-named piece was evidently executed in friendly rivalry with Mantegna, whose version of the subject hangs near by; the main idea of the composition in both cases being taken from a drawing by Jacopo Bellini in the British Museum sketch-book. In all these pictures Giovanni combines with the Paduan severity of drawing and complex rigidity of drapery a depth of religious feeling and human pathos which is his own. They are all executed in the old tempera method; and in the last named the tragedy of the scene is softened by a new and beautiful effect of romantic sunrise color. In a somewhat changed and more personal manner, with less harshness of contour and a broader treatment of forms and draperies, but not less force of religious feeling, are the two pictures of the Dead Christ supported by Angels, in these days one of the masters most frequent themes, at Rimini and at Berlin. Chronologically to be placed with these are two Madonnas, one at the church of the Madonna del Orto at Venice and one in the Lochis collection at Bergamo; devout intensity of feeling and rich solemnity of color being in the case of all these early Madonnas combined with a singularly direct rendering of the natural movements and attitudes of children
Doge Leonardo Loredan. “His first works…” writes Vasari of Giovanni Bellini, “… were certain portraits, which met with great praise, in particular one which depicts Doge Leonardo Loredan”. This picture was painted in 1501, when the Doge (who was proud of his Roman descent) took office, or shortly thereafter. It can indeed be considered one of the greatest achievements of Venetian painting, and not just in the field of portraiture. Tutto spirito (all intellect) was the verdict passed on it even by contemporaries. "Thin, tall of stature, of no great fortune, choleric, but as a ruler clever and wise”, was how Leonardo Loredan (1438-1521) was described by one contemporary. He was Doge until 1521, and in the 12 or so years following the painting of this portrait, he was to guide the Republic through the War of Encirclement waged by the League of Cambrai.
See: Giovanni Bellini. Doge Leonardo Loredan.
Giovanni Bellini. by G. Robertson. Oxford. 1968.
Giovanni Bellini. Old Italian Masters. by V. Lazarev. Moscow 1972. (in Russian)
The Art of the Italian Renaissance. Architecture. Sculpture. Painting. Drawing. Könemann. 1995.
Painting of Europe. XIII-XX centuries. Encyclopedic Dictionary. Moscow. Iskusstvo. 1999. (in Russian)
Otto Pacht, Margareta Vyoral-Tschapka, Michael Pacht. Harvey Miller, 2003.
Giovanni Bellini (Artist's Library, No. 2.) by Roger Eliot Fry. Ursus Press, 1995.
Giovanni Bellini by Rona Goffen. Yale University Press, 1989.
Giovanni Bellini by Anchise Tempestini. Gallimard, 2000.
The Cambridge Companion to Giovanni Bellini (Cambridge Companions to the History of Art) by Peter Humfrey. Cambridge University Press , 2003.
Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting by David Alan Brown, Sylvia Ferino-Pagden. Yale University Press, 2006.