Jacopo Bellini was a Venetian artist is Renaissance Italy. Born in 1400, Jacopo witnessed the transition from Byzantine to Renaissance art first hand. After apprenticing with artist Gentile da Fabriano, Jacopo founded what became one of the two major artistic dynasties in Venice during the 15th century. His sons, Gentile and Giovanni, continued the artistic legacy after his death in 1470. Like most artists of the time, Jacopo made a living producing paintings depicting religious scenes and portraits commissioned by wealthy patrons. Not many of his paintings have survived, but what has survived is infinitely more fascinating.
Today two volumes reside in Paris and London that contain close to 300 of Jacopo Bellini's drawings. What is so incredible about this is that Jacopo was doing these drawings at a time when innovation and creativity in art was a risk and drawings were valued for the paintings they would become, not for being pieces of art in themselves. But Bellini's drawings were recognized and appreciated for their artistic innovation. Their value is evident in that one was gifted to the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II while another was passed down to Gentile Bellini and then to Giovanni Bellini. The drawings do not have anything to do with commissioned works and therefore Jacopo was not afraid to depart from traditional iconography. They were rather for Jacopo's personal benefit as he explored perspective, composition, and the human form.
In this drawing depicting the Flagellation of Christ, it becomes clear very quickly that Jacopo was departing from the traditional depiction of scene. Christ is not the focus and is actually rather small in proportion to the total piece. Instead, the main focus is the architecture. The precision and accuracy with which Jacopo has portrayed the architecture and perspective is incredible. We can also see that he was experimenting (and succeeding) with the relationship between the figures and the space they occupied.
In this scene, we again see a departure from the traditional. It is recognizable as a Nativity scene, but the angle the scene is depicted from and the size of the figures in the scene are atypical. There is an emphasis again on perspective, not just with the architectural elements, but by his use of atmospheric perspective as the values and detail subside farther into the background. While both drawings are an innovative take on a familiar scene, we also see Jacopo integrating many Renaissance elements. In Flagellation there is the classical architecture evocative of ancient Rome and in Nativity the incorporation of natural elements in the background. There is also a quest for realism when it comes to perspective, a clear departure from the Byzantine style art Jacopo undoubtably saw in Venice, which was a bit behind Florence in its Renaissance art movement. That being said, Jacopo was influenced by artists from Florence that came and stayed in Venice such as Donatello and Fillipo Lippi.
Madonna and Child Blessing (1455)
These Byzantine influences are more clear in his painting Madonna and Child Blessing. The use of goldleaf and the way the angels in the background create a sort of pattern are attributes of the Venetian Byzantine Style. That being said, the more natural interaction between Madonna and Child and the more realistic shading of the face and drapery are indicative of Renaissance art. Also, the composition of the painting is much more traditional.
I chose to investigate the works of Jacopo Bellini after seeing Flagellation in my Italian Renaissance art history class. The incredible detail and execution of the perspective was incredibly impressive after looking at pieces from the same time where artists were struggling with perspective. I also love that Jacopo's drawings show his commitment to his art. He didn't do them for money but for his personal satisfaction and I find that very admirable.
, et al. "Bellini." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 5 Oct. 2011
Bellini, Jacopo. Flagellation. Web Gallery of Art. Web. 5 Oct. 2011
Bellini, Jacopo. Nativity. Web Gallery of Art. Web. 5 Oct. 2011
Bellini, Jacopo. Madonna and Child Blessing. Web Gallery of Art. Web. 5 Oct. 2011
Adams, Laurie. Italian Renaissance Art. Boulder Colorado: Westview Press, 2001.