Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 123



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Reflections on the date and impact of Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Vincent Ferrer Polyptych
This polyptych is signed and, more importantly
for the present argument, dated 1464. Although
Antonio never abandons his old-fashioned, almost
Masolinesque manner in his treatment of Saint
Christopher (fig. 11), there seem to be reflections in it
of Bellini’s depiction of the same saint. For example,
the technique of overpainting the saint’s feet with
glazes of tempera to simulate the river and the arched
river bank in the background, as well as the attempt to
foreshorten the tilted head of the saint, the structure
of the red lake drapery, and the raised right arm,
all seem to derive from Bellini’s altarpiece.21 The
visual impact of Bellini’s Saint Christopher on Vivarini
becomes even clearer if we compare it with two earlier
Saint Christophers from the Vivarini workshop: one is
part of the Arbe Polyptych, signed jointly by Antonio
and Bartolomeo Vivarini and dated 1458 (fig. 10);
the other forms part of the Rutigliano Polyptych, a
workshop production usually dated to about 14611462.22 In both earlier depictions of the saint (the
latter based on a very similar cartoon to the one in
Pesaro), the depiction of water is unconvincing and
not rendered pictorially: there is no sign of Bellini’s
innovative ideas about the representation of water and
Saint Christopher in general, which can be detected
in the 1464 Saint Christopher from Pesaro.23
Fig. 10 / Antonio and
Bartolomeo Vivarini, Saint
Christopher, Arbe Polyptych,
signed 1458, panel, Arbe,
Monastery of Saint Eufemia,
Church of Saint Bernardino.
Fig. 11 / Antonio Vivarini,
Saint Christopher, Pesaro
Polyptych, signed 1464, panel,
Rome, Pinacoteca Vaticana .
Giovanni Bellini’s execution around 1464 of such a
mature and accomplished work as the Saint Vincent
Ferrer Polyptych – revealing the artist to have moved
beyond the influences of his father, Jacopo, and his
brother-in-law, Mantegna – can be accepted only
in light of a career starting in the early 1450s.24 By
contrast, placed in the context of a career starting
around 1460, a view that is today very popular, the
attribution and dating of the work just a few years later
would understandably raise doubts. It is unfortunate
that the Saint Jerome cycle, painted by Bellini in 1464
for the Scuola di San Gerolamo in Cannaregio, has
been lost as this would have provided a securely dated
work on which to base stylistic comparisons.25
Reflections on the date and impact of Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Vincent Ferrer Polyptych
In light of Giovanni Bellini’s other extant early
works, a date around 1464 would fit logically
with his evolution as an artist. For instance, there
seems to be a natural continuity with the Carità
triptychs, originally located in the areas of that
church which today comprise part of the Gallerie
dell’Accademia, where these altarpieces are now
housed. The triptychs, which reveal little workshop
participation and should be viewed as keystones of
Giovanni Bellini’s career in the early 1460s, are not
adequately taken into account in the scholarship
on the artist. The Saint Sebastian Triptych originally
decorated a chapel in the Carità; assigned to
“Zacharia Vituri fu de Miser Benedicto” in 1460,
this chapel’s pavement was completed in 1462,
thereby providing a likely date for the triptych.26
A two year gap between the Saint Sebastian Triptych
and the Saint Vincent Ferrer Polyptych would seem to
be confirmed by the related, but more sophisticated
approach to Saint Sebastian’s anatomy in the latter
altarpiece.
The Carità Nativity Triptych was originally located
in a little chapel which stood next to the entrance
of the choir on the left (apresso la intrada nel choro de
man senestra nel intrar). This chapel was conceded
on 19 August 1461 to Andrea da Molin da San
Gervaso in exchange for his renouncement of
the chapel of Saint Ursula. 27 On 13 October
1462, it was decided that the expenses for the
execution of the altarpiece should be assumed by
Andrea da Molin himself and not by the friars.
The execution of the Nativity Triptych must have
followed shortly thereafter, probably dating to
ca. 1462-1463. This proximity in date to the Saint
Vincent Ferrer Polyptych is confirmed not only by the
wonderful spot-light-like effects in the Nativity, so
similar to those in the polyptych, but also by the
nearly identical portrait-like quality of the faces
of Saint Dominic and Saint Vincent Ferrer (figs.
12 & 13). 28
121

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