Yesterday, I was drawn to the television by a segment on “Sixty Minutes” about the noted German art forger, Wolfgang Beltracchi. When Bob Simon of CBS asked him what painters he couldn’t forge, Beltracchi, without hesitation, answered Bellini. I took him to mean Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516) and not his brother Gentile (they were both brothers-in-law of the great Andrea Mantegna). The only time I remember ever seeing or original Giovanni Bellini was at the Frick Collection in New York City, which has a superb “St. Francis in Ecstasy” also painted in 1480. I have included an image below.
There is such an incredible sense of detail in a Bellini oil that I feel as if I could pick a background segment (say 1/64th of the total) and enlarge it to full size without losing anything. And the detail would be almost as fascinating as the foreground. Look at that fence following the upward path in “The Transfiguration” (above), and note the minor variations from post to post.Look at that dead tree at the lower left, or that couple meeting in the upper right near the tree.
I can almost imagine Bellini in an ecstasy such as St. Francis in the painting below.
Some people I know are put off by the Christian religious themes of Renaissance painting. The great ones would be great even if they were depicting a shoelace or a dirty dish. It’s almost as if the subject were irrelevant.