“Pietà” Giovanni Bellini - 1460-70
canvas 107 x 86 cm
I feel a little bad for taking such a big leap through time in respect to my last post. Sure, 36 odd-years may not seem like a big time difference historically speaking, but during the Renaissance, artistic development was particularly abundant with each passing decade. These dramatic colors and textures are products of artistic influences that came from northern Europe with the style known as “Fiamminghi” or Felmish art. The Flemish territory, that which was owned or controlled by the Flanders, spread out over France, Holand, Belgium, and New Zealand (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/County_of_Flanders). Flemish art was characterized by a pursuit for a closer and more personal relationship between man and God, explaining why their pictorial themes often focused on the passion of Christ. What really made Flemish art stand out during the Renaissance was its acute attention towards minimal details, bringing its scenes to life in luscious countrysides with carnal figures full of gasping emotion. Flemish art gave off a certain luminosity that did not previously exist in Renaissance art. It also allowed Italian artists to step away from the Medieval plasticity that lingered in the beginning of the 1400’s. This artistic trend takes off in Italy starting in the 1440’s when Artists such as Jan Van Eyck began to travel South in hunger for the Renaissance, its prospective, and its prolific culture.
So, here we are, 20-30 years later, with what is now a revival of Flemish art, full of influences from Piero della Francesca, Mantegna, and Antonello Da Messina (I promise to touch upon these preceding artists sometime soon, considering how important they are). Anyway, why bring up the “Pietà” by Giovanni Bellini??? Well, #1 it’s intimacy with the dead is extremely creepy and their faces have this weird, sickly and slightly drugged out quality that I can’t seem to ignore. Secondly, this painting came up in the part of my text book that I’m currently studying. So, cheers to multi-tasking!
Giovanni received his education in his father’s shop, la bottega di Jacopo Bellini, which was probably the most refined and famous Venetian art studio during the Renaissance. Meaning Giovanni lived and breathed art his entire life! However, Giovanni’s work was not typical of the Venetian style, which in his era was dominated by humanism. be careful not confuse Giovanni’s style for his roots because they are entirely different. While Giovanni was busy reviving Flemish art, Venice was still dedicated to late-gothic and greek-byzantine traditions, which were products of the city’s cultural isolation.
Back to the painting, this piece has an element of striking reality, exceeding that which had been previously rendered in paint. We no longer see the plastic quality that was present in the beginning of the Renaissance. Instead, we find ourselves in front of life-like figures who are drowning in emotion. Mary’s intimacy is so intense that Saint John turns away in embarrassment like a cheeky wench. We consider Giovanni Bellini as a true Renaissance artist from his advanced study of the human body and ability to use prospective, a prospective that defines the stretching horizon and country side which make up the scenic background. These rich qualities, along with the application of anatomical detail (note the definition of musculature and veins), are what allow us to define the “Pietà” as a true masterpiece.
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