Giovanni Bellini : experience and experiment in Venetian painting, c. 1460-1516
Giovanni Bellini (b. 1435/40-d. 1516) has long been considered a dominant figure in the Venetian painting of the Early-High Renaissance, his main reputation being a colourist. The distinctive optical and technical characteristics of his work have drawn substantial scholarly attention in the present century, but the studies in this subject have not been developed as a coherent theory with regard to changes in painting technique in the fiftenth-century Italy. The purpose of this dissertation, therefore, is to investigate Bellini's choice and application of painting materials, attempting to establish links between the technical qualities and the formal values of his work. In the process of establishing Bellini's position with regard to the use of paint media and support, this thesis also provides a substantial overview of the use of canvas and of oil pain in the later fifteenth century. The study is encouraged by recent discoveries about Bellini's technique that have emerged from conservation of his paintings. As well as addressing published conservation results, the thesis includes new observations on four canvases attributed to Bellini's father Jacopo, and two Madonnas from Bellini's workshop scientifically examined at UCL Painting Analysis. In order to investigate Bellini's colour and handling of paint within a broader socio-economic milieu, this study deals with the commercial documents such as tariffs, government records, and merchant account books, indicating that Venice was the centre of the international colour trade and that Venetians were widely engaged with this trade. The resulting advantages of Venetian painters who were active at this commercial heart, and the question of how deeply the pragmatic experience of colours that Venetian merchants obtained from the trade penetrated their aesthetic taste will be discussed. Using both scientific and documentary analyses in combination with visual analysis which integrates these findings, this study examines Bellini's translation of the skills of tempera to oil pain and the stylistic changes that occurred with the extensive use of oil medium. It looks at how Bellini developed canvas as a support for mural painting and the technique he employed on such an unconventional support. It will also study the methods in which he established the predominance of colour as an element of composition at the early sixteenth century. In conclusion, it will argue that Bellini's increasing choice of canvas and corresponding use of oil on it changed the general concept of picture-making and became a new format of painting that was to exert a crucial influence on Cinquecento Venetian painting.