Jacopo Bellini, Venice 1400? - Venice 1470/1 (ARCHIVED)

Bellini.jpg
Bellini.jpg

Jacopo Bellini, Venice 1400? - Venice 1470/1 (ARCHIVED)

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Saint Bernadine Preaching, circa 1455

Tempera on panel, 31 x 22 cm

Acquired by a private collector, USA

 

Since the winter of 1894-95, when it was exhibited at an exhibition of Venetian pictures in London, this small panel has virtually unknown to scholars. Its first recorded owner, William Graham, who owned the largest collection of early Italian pictures in Victorian England, believed to be by Carlo Crivelli. Lord Battersea, who bought it at the week-long dispersal of Graham’s treasures in 1886, attributed it to Carpaccio. In 1931 Bernard Berenson, on the strength of a photograph sent to him by its owner at the time, came to the conclusion that it was by an artist in the immediate circle of Andrea Mantegna. During all these years the appearance of the picture was radically altered by very old, possibly eighteen-century, overpainting, the exquisite patterned damask curtain behind San Bernardino being covered with opaque black paint which at points obscured the original outlines of the saint’s head and hair. In the circumstances, Berenson was right to abstain from a precise attribution, but he was remarkably close to the truth: the artist is Mantegna’s father-in-law, Jacopo Bellini, whose fame, great in his own life-time, has been largely eclipsed by that of his sons, Gentile and Giovanni.

The newly revealed damask curtain, which uses San Bernardino’s emblem as a decorative motive, establishes the subject. We know from a painting by San de Pietro that when the saint was preaching in the main piazza of a great city a cloth-hung screen would be placed like a drop-curtain behind his pulpit. Jacopo has therefore set out to depict the saint addressing not solely the crucifix before him but us, his public. Sometimes his pulpit would be built quite high, and this may have been taken into account by Jacopo, for his picture ‘works’ best when hung slightly above eye-level.

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