23 August 2006

The most influential painter you've never heard of

may be Giovanni Bellini. He lived a very long and productive life, from about 1426 to 1516, during a time of enormous changes in Italian Renaissance painting. Many of his family were excellent painters themselves, including his father Jacopo, his brother Gentile, and his brother in law Andrea de Mantegna. In his early career he painted with the traditional medium of egg tempera, in the early Renaissance tradition. In the 1470's, however, he began to paint in oil. Italians at the time were mostly trying to figure out how the Flemish painters did such amazing things with oil paint; much of their work was derrivative. But Bellini, over time, began to use oil paint as a means of rendering light and shade in a new way. His explorations of light, color, and air were innovative. In essence, he created the Venetian style of painting. It emphasized such “modern” oil painting approaches as a preference for painting on canvas, much larger paintings, the use of toned rather than white grounds, little or no use of egg binders, less use of discrete layering (i.e., more direct, wet into wet painting), the development of the composition in the painting stage rather than painting within the lines defined by an underdrawing, the use of built-up paint (impasto) in combination with glazing to represent texture and form, thick lights and thin darks, the systematic use of hard, soft, and lost edges to describe form, and a generally looser application of paint. The Venetian style became the primary style of oil painting, throughout Europe, for centuries; it encompasses a lot of oil painting even today. He is not the only one who contributed to the development of this style, but his were the core innovations. His students, Titian and Giorgione, continued to develop and expand on the ideas he had invented. It can be said that Rembrandt, Carravagio, Rubens, Velazquez, and pretty much every important painter up until the Impressionists, were painters in the Venetian style, developing and extrapolating on methods first introduced by Giovanni Bellini. And even impressionism could be said to be a logical extension and modification of the Venetian style using a more modern palette of colors. So it's definitely worth checking out his work.

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1 comment:

Jeff Hayes said...

One of my favorite paintings.