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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Madonna and Child

Jacopo Bellini (Italian, Venetian, active 1424–70)
probably 1440s
Tempera on wood, gold ground
Overall, with arched top, 34 1/2 x 25 in. (87.6 x 63.5 cm); painted surface 30 1/2 x 21 3/4 in. (77.5 x 55.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Irma N. Straus, 1959
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 606
Jacopo Bellini dominated Venetian painting in the middle years of the fifteenth century and was a key figure in the creation of Venetian Renaissance painting. This is one of his rare extant paintings, probably done in the 1440s. Sadly, the surface of the painting has lost most of its pigment. The fine, damaged, frame is original.
This is one of the very rare surviving works by the founder of the outstanding dynasty of painters in fifteenth-century Venice who also played a crucial role in the introduction of Renaissance style to the city. Jacopo was a pupil of Gentile da Fabriano and almost certainly worked with him in Florence between 1420 and 1424. There he had occasion to study first hand the work of Masolino and Masaccio, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Donatello. His two sons, Gentile (named after his master) and Giovanni, were the key Venetian painters of the next generation and his son-in-law, Andrea Mantegna, dominated painting in north Italy. From the outset Jacopo’s art was informed by his awareness of Florentine sculpture: a series of apostles standing in shell niches (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) shows close affinities with Pietro di Niccolò Lamberti’s work on the tomb of Doge Tommaso Mocenigo in Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice. But it also shows a refined naturalism derived both from his master, Gentile da Fabriano, and from Pisanello, whose work he knew in Venice, Verona, and Ferrara, where the two competed in 1440 to paint the portrait of Lionello d’Este (Jacopo was deemed the winner). In addition to prestigious private commissions, Jacopo established a busy workshop that produced decorations for local confraternities as well as devotional paintings of the Madonna and Child, none of which are dated. That in the Metropolitan must be more or less contemporary with an altarpiece of the Annunciation that was sent to Brescia in 1444 (church of Sant’Alessandro, Brescia); a roughly contemporary painting of the Madonna and Child is in the Accademia, Venice. The simple, straightforward compositions and touchingly affective humanity of these works open a new chapter in the history of Venetian painting. Jacopo’s later work shows a mounting interest in the sculpture of Donatello, who worked in Padua between 1443 and 1453 (see, in particular, Jacopo’s Madonna and Child in the Los Angeles County Museum, the composition of which was copied from a marble by Donatello), as well as his careful study of the work of Andrea Mantegna. A Madonna and Child in the Uffizi, Florence, documents this later phase, which established the basis for the early work of Giovanni Bellini (see 30.95.256).

Most of Jacopo’s paintings have come down to us in compromised condition and this is also true of the Metropolitan’s picture, which was the victim of a strong over-cleaning in the distant past. Little remains of the flesh tones (most of the modeling is due to the preparatory underdrawing showing through); the red drapery has lost all form and the blue of the veil has darkened. The child was audaciously shown in a transparent chemise, now barely legible. The borders of the Virgin’s dress were inscribed in Gothic letters with verses—as in the work of Gentile da Fabriano. The haloes, with their elaborate decoration, are typical of Venitian Gothic painting, as is the original frame, which, unlike Florentine frames, is not attached to the panel and thus is frequently omitted in reproductions. There is a candle burn in the Virgin’s left arm—an indication of the picture's function as a devotional work for a domestic setting.

[Keith Christiansen 2014]
[conte Carlo Foresti, Carpi]; [Eugenio Ventura, Florence, 1928]; Jesse Isidor Straus, New York (1928–36); Mrs. Jesse Isidor (Irma N.) Straus, New York (1936–59)
San Francisco. California Palace of the Legion of Honor. "Venetian Painting," June 25–July 24, 1938, no. 9 (lent by Mrs. Jesse I. Straus).

New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800," May–October 1939, no. 11 (lent by Mrs. Jesse Isidor Straus).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art in Renaissance Venice, 1400–1515: Paintings and Drawings from the Museum's Collections," November 8, 2011–February 5, 2012, no catalogue.

Lionello Venturi. "Contributi a Masolino, a Lorenzo Salimbeni e a Jacopo Bellini." L'arte 33 (March 1930), p. 180, fig. 7, attributes it to Jacopo Bellini, relating it to his Madonnas in the Accademia in Venice and the Tadini Gallery at Lovere, both of which are signed.

Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 75, attributes it to Jacopo Bellini.

Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 2, Fifteenth Century Renaissance. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 333.

Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 17, The Renaissance Painters of Venice. The Hague, 1935, pp. 105–6, ill., dates it to the artist's early period, that is before 1450, noting the influence of Gentile da Fabriano.

Alfred M. Frankfurter. "The Great Venetians: Painting in American Collections." Art News 36 (March 26, 1938), p. 90, pl. 5.

Mina Gregori. "La mostra della Madonna nell'arte Liguria." Paragone 3 (November 1952), p. 59 n. 19, mentions it in comparison with two other works by Bellini of the period 1441–48.

Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, p. 38, pl. 65, wrongly mentions it as belonging to the Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego.

Marcel Rothlisberger. "Studi su Jacopo Bellini." Saggi e memorie di storia dell'arte 2 (1959), pp. 78, 88, calls it workshop of Jacopo Bellini; erroneously places it in the [Percy] Straus collection, Texas.

U. Schmitt in Dizionario biografico degli italiani. Vol. 7, Rome, 1965, p. 710, dates it just after the Louvre Madonna which she puts in the 1430s.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 23, 321, 609.

Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, pp. 10, pl. 9, call it a typical work by Jacopo Bellini, related to his representations of the same subject in the Accademia in Venice, the Uffizi, Florence, and the Tadini Gallery, Lovere; suggest a date before 1448 on the basis of its archaic simplicity and gold ground; note that the picture's surface has suffered from paint loss, particularly in the figure of the Child.

Miklós Boskovits. "Per Jacopo Bellini pittore (postilla ad un colloquio)." Paragone 36 (January–May 1985), p. 122 n. 16, dates it before 1430.

Colin Eisler. The Genius of Jacopo Bellini: The Complete Paintings and Drawings. New York, 1989, pp. 33, 38, 298, 516, fig. 35, as his largest half-length Madonna, grand but much abraded; suggests a date in the later 1430s, noting the influence of Tuscan sculpture in the infant's head (although restoration may have "enhanced these Florentine qualities"); observes that the infant's nudity and life-size scale stress his "sacrificial, redemptive sinless nature".

The frame is from Venice and dates to about 1440 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–3). This period frame is made of pine. The inner arched top has small repeated cusps at the sight edge within a reeded molding supported on both sides by gothic brackets. The corner spandrels in the form of a central rose encircled by leafy stems are made of a cast material known as carta pesta and are gilded and have a red background. Originally the frame was overlaid directly onto the panel and is undoubtedly original to the painting. The frame and panel were more recently disassembled and the slip liner and a back frame were added. Though structurally repaired with later additions along the inner arch and across the base molding due to insect damage, this frame retains its early water gilding under a heavy dark varnish.

[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2016; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]
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