Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 121



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Reflections on the date and impact of Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Vincent Ferrer Polyptych
Reflections on the date and impact of Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Vincent Ferrer Polyptych
An attempt to verify the reliability of this lost document
reveals that it could in fact coincide with the
execution of Bellini’s altar.
Saint Theodore, and on the interior the Penitent Saint
Jerome and Saint Francis Receiving the Stigmata. The
wonderfully accomplished foreshortening and raking
lighting of the head of Giovanni’s Saint Christopher
is evoked very closely in the head of Gentile’s Saint
Francis. Although the result is clumsy, the work
seems to demonstrate a clear attempt by the artist to
update his style in line with that of his brother (figs.
8 & 9). Another striking comparison is provided by
Gentile’s insistent depiction of veins, especially in the
Saint Jerome, although the latter’s flesh appears dry
and lifeless in comparison with the lively, muscular,
veined arms of Giovanni’s Saint Christopher (fig. 7).
First of all, it is important to try to identify the two
friars mentioned in the document. Nothing else is
known about “Alricus”, or “Olricus” (or Ulricus) “de
Argentina”, which refers to Argentoratum, the ancient
name of Strasbourg (known for its silver mines).15
“Joanne de Muriano” (Giovanni from Murano), on
the other hand, can be traced, as he participated in
the chapter of the monastery that took place on 23
September 1443, where he was already named as “Friar
Joannes de Muriano vice-prior”.16 Moreover, according
to Flaminio Corner’s Ecclesiae Venetae (1749), “Joannes
de Muriano” was Prior of the monastery in 1455 and
again in 1464, the latter date coinciding perfectly with
the date of the lost document in which he is called
“Priore”.17 This coincidence should lend greater weight
to the evidence recorded by Fogolari and Curti, even if
there is no precise reference to the exact nature of the
work that was done on the altar.
Support for dating Bellini’s work to around 1464
has sometimes been sought in the choice of lateral
Saints, as the presence of Saint Christopher has
been linked to Cristoforo Moro, who was elected
Doge in May 1462, while Saint Sebastian has been
viewed as an ex voto for the devastating plague that
occurred in Venice in the summer of 1464.18 More
conclusive evidence for a dating around 1464,
however, can be found in the apparent influence of
Bellini’s groundbreaking altarpiece in the Venetian
artistic scene in the period immediately after this.
For instance, there are clear reflections of Giovanni
Bellini’s altarpiece in the work of his brother Gentile,
in particular in the signed organ shutters, painted
for the organ on the right-hand side of the choir in
the Basilica of Saint Mark; today kept in the church
of San Teodoro, attached to the sacristy of the
Basilica, these depict on the exterior Saint Mark and
119
Fig. 7 / Giovanni Bellini, Saint
Christopher (detail), Saint
Vincent Ferrer Polyptych, ca.
1464, panel, Venice, Santi
Giovanni e Paolo.
Fig. 8 / Gentile Bellini, Saint
Francis Receiving the Stigmata
(detail), ca. 1464-1465, Venice,
Saint Mark's Basilica, San
Teodoro chapel .
Fig. 9 / Gentile Bellini, Penitent
Saint Jerome (detail), ca. 14641465, canvas, Venice, Saint
Mark's Basilica, San Teodoro
chapel.
For the last sixty years, Gentile Bellini’s organ
shutters have generally been dated to 1464 because
in this year Bernardo d’Alemagna, the most famous
organ maker of the period in northern Italy, was
believed to have built the Basilica’s organ. Massimo
Bisson, however, has recently demonstrated that
there is absolutely no documentary evidence related
to the construction of the organ, and the attribution
to Bernardo is speculative; the dating of the whole
complex has been based simply on Cavalcaselle’s
opinion that the shutters closely preceded Gentile
Bellini’s Beato Giustiniani, signed and dated 1465, and
now in Venice, Gallerie dell’Accademia.19 The organ
shutters should be considered works of the mid-1460s,
and, as Cavalcaselle recorded, they are extremely
close to the Beato Giustiniani (whose hand, for instance,
also reveals identical artificial and exaggerated veins).
In both cases, the stylistic dependence on Giovanni’s
Saint Vincent Ferrer Polyptych can be viewed as proof that
this already existed.
Further visual evidence of the impact of Giovanni
Bellini’s innovations in the Saint Vincent Ferrer Polyptych
can be found in the work of Antonio Vivarini,
particularly in his Pesaro Polyptych, today in the
Pinacoteca Vaticana, but originally in the church of
the confraternity of Saint Anthony in Pesaro.20

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