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By: Giovanni Bellini
Date: Early 1500s
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Madonna and Child with a Donor by Giovanni Bellini
This is an important small-scale devotional painting by the fifteenth-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini. The Virgin, in pink robe, white veil and dark blue mantle, is seated behind a parapet of red marble, upon which stands the Infant Christ. She supports his head with her right hand and opens her left hand to receive the step of his left foot. On the left, behind this group, is seen a male donor, in red cloak. A deep olive green curtain stretches more than halfway across the picture, while to the right is seen a landscape, a village at the foot of snow capped mountains. Oil on panel. There is an inscription on the panel; IOANNES BELLINVS, a latinised version of the artist’s name. The format for this work was one that Bellini inherited from his successful father, Jacopo. The import of Byzantine icons and small scale devotional works from the Netherlands fuelled Venetian’s interest in this type of painting . The man in the background is the patron of the piece, the donor who will have paid extra to have his own image included. Such figures were often added to the sides of Rennaisance altarpieces. He gives the scene a visionary quality, so that a viewer can imagine they are witnessing a miraculous appearance of the Christ Child, a quality sustained by Bellini’s exquisite brushwork. The sad appearance of the Virgin comes from an Eastern tradition of representing the ‘mater dolorosa’, mother of grief. She has a knowledge of the future and the ultimate sacrifice; the child’s hands are crossed, in a premonition of Christ’s whipping before crucifixion, torture and death. Bellini was the main teacher of his generation, he had a large workshop and pupils including Giorgione, Titian, Palma Vecchio and Sebastiano del Piombo.