Portrait of a Youth
by GIOVANNI BELLINI (Venetian School)
THE consolidation of the Venetian school of painting is centered in one fam
ily-the Bellini, father and sons. Jacopo, the father, was an eccentric old
gentleman who wandered through Italy sketching architecture, animals, moun
tains, cities, and Madonnas.
Attracted to Padua, famous at the moment for its
academy of classical instruction, he met Andrea Mantegna to whom he gave
his daughter in marriage.
From the school at Padua, but particularly from
Mantegna, Jacopo Bellini acquired a scientific knowledge of painting that he
imparted to his sons, Gentile and Giovanni.
Gentile Bellini gained renown for his religious decorations and his portraits,
but his position as one of the founders of Venetian art rests mainly upon his
The most illustrious of the family and the first of the
Venetian masters is Giovallili Bellini who lived long and passed through many.
stages of development, painting Madonnas, portraits, allegories, altarpieces,
landscapes, and pastorals.
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If his fame has been overshadowed by his pupils,
Giorgione and Titian, and by Tintoretto and Veronese, it is because his fol
lowers profited by his discoveries and carried them forward to a higher degree
The rulers of Venice were patriotic souls, jealous of their city and not a
little conscious of their own superiority. They asked of painting that it adver
tise the state and take into account the nobility of its political guardians-they
employed artists to preserve their portraits in a style befitting their official
An artist like Mantegna they could not countenance-he was too
searching and acidulous in his observation; they wanted a man whose portraits
were pleasing to the eye and not contradictory to their own opinions of dis
They found their man in Ciovanni Bellini, a mild-mannered artist
who could be depended on to paint truthfully but without harshness, and whose
inclination was to discover in his subjects the pacific integrity of his own nature.
In his Portrait of a Youth he combined the gravity and linear qualities of his
Paduan training with his own richness of color to produce a portrait that might
hang with those whose names were inscribed in the Book of Gold, the roll of
the Venetian nobility. Bellini’s portraits are exceedingly rare. For this one,
10~ by 121h inches in size, Andrew W Mellon paid $280,000.