Dear Friends,

I had planned to feature today Piero della Francesca, one of the most original representatives of the Early Renaissance in Florence, with one of his great fresco paintings - probably Constantine's Dream (see here). However, I had not yet made up my mind to include it and, on the other hand, a change from Florence to Venetia, the other great Renaissance center in Italy, seemed to be in order at this time. So I finally opted for Giovanni Bellini, the great Venetian painter and musician, with one of the most famous portraits of all times: that of doge Leonardo Loredan, which over the past few centuries has been a great favorite for many people - and, from the moment I first put my eyes on it, for me.

Brother of Gentile and son of Jacopo, Giovanni Bellini was probably the greatest of the Bellini dynasty. He was the pre-eminent teacher of his generation, with a sizeable workshop staffed by pupils and assistants, among whom were Giorgione and Titian. Like his brother, he became chief painter to the State, although Titian tried desperately to usurp him. In 1506, when Giovanni was 76, Dürer wrote that he was 'very old but still the best in painting'.

Giovanni Bellini is considered to have revolutionized Venetian painting by moving it towards a more sensuous and colouristic style. In this style of portraiture he was strongly influenced by a characteristic Flemish attention to detail and texture, especially the play of light on the surface of the subject. The Doge is exquisitely protrayed in his ceremonial robes, made in an old-fashioned style but from a newly imported material - damask - which has gold thread running through it. Instead of using gold leaf, Bellini painted the surface roughly so as to catch the light and give a metallic finish - a revolutionary technique at the time.

Other great works by him are his Agony in the Garden (c.1459), Baptism of Christ (1500 - 1502), Madonna of the Meadow (Madonna del Prato) (1505), Naked Young Woman in Front of the Mirror (approx. 1505-10), and The Feast of the Gods (1514).

As always, good feedback will be appreciated.

Thank you.

Luis Miguel Goitizolo


Portrait of
Doge Leonardo Loredan (1)
by Giovanni Bellini

born c. 1430, Venice [Italy]
died 1516, Venice


Also known as Giambellino, Giovanni Bellini made Venice a centre of Renaissance art comparable to Florence and Rome. Although the paintings for the hall of the Great Council in Venice, considered his greatest works, were destroyed by fire in 1577, a large number of altarpieces (such as that in the church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, Venice) and other extant works show a steady but adventurous evolution from purely religious, narrative emphasis to a new naturalism of setting and landscape.

Although the professional needs of his family background may have encouraged him to specialize at an early date in devotional painting, by the 1480s he had become a leading master in all types of painting practised in 15th-century Venice. Later, towards the end of his long life, he added the new genres of mythological painting and secular allegory to his repertory of subject-matter. His increasing dominance of Venetian art led to an enormous expansion of his workshop after c. 1490; and this provided the training-ground not only for his numerous shop-hands and imitators (generically known as Belliniani) but probably also for a number of major Venetian painters of the next generation. Throughout his career, Giovanni showed an extraordinary capacity for absorbing a wide range of artistic influences, both from within Venetian tradition and from outside. He also oversaw a technical revolution in the art of painting, involving the gradual abandonment of the traditional Italian use of egg tempera in favour of the technique of oil painting pioneered in the Netherlands. It was thanks to Giovanni Bellini that the Venetian school of painting was transformed during the later 15th century from one mainly of local significance to one with an international reputation. He thus set the stage for the triumphs of Venetian painting in the 16th century and for the central contribution that Venice was to make to the history of European art.

Technical data

The Doge Leonardo Loredan
c. 1501-05
Oil, probably with some egg tempera, on poplar
61.5 x 45 cm
National Gallery, London


(1) This image is a courtesy of the Artchive.

(2) Sources: Artcyclopedia, Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, Grove Dictionary of Art Online (excerpt).

(3) Source: the Artchive.