The Bellini family of painters was one of the most influential names in the Italian Renaissance. Jacopo Bellini (1396 – 1470), Giovanni’s father, was a leading painter at the start of the Renaissance. Jacopo’s two sons, Giovanni and Gentile (1429 – 1507), carried on this immense influence, with Giovanni, sometimes called Giambellino, carrying great importance in the Venetian style of painting. Jacopo Bellini was also the teacher of another highly influential Renaissance artist, Andrea Mantegna, (1431 – 1506), who was married into the Bellini family as a brother-in-law of Giovanni.
Where his father solidified the style seen in the Early Renaissance, Giovanni evolved it in his use of atmospheric colors, which came to define the Venetian School. This was an important influence on two of his pupils, the masters, Giorgione (1477 – 1510) and Titian (1485 – 1576). The breadth of influence these two master Venetian painters had on European art can be traced back to Bellini. His work is documented as early as the 1450s, where he painted in the tempera. His works during this early period include notable pieces such as Dead Christ Supported by Two Angels and two different pieces both titled, Dead Christ Supported by the Madonna and Saint John, among others. As Mantegna studied in Jacopo Bellini’s studio, Giovanni absorbed some of his unique style. One of his most cherished works under the influence of Mantegna was the Agony in the Garden, from 1459.
Giovanni Bellini first began painting in Oil when the Sicilian painter Antonello da Messina (1430 – 1479), came to see the work of Bellini. It is said that Messina had a crucial role in introducing Oil painting to the Venetians. With this Bellini’s religious works took on a new life, closer to the vivid, but flowing, colors that became so distinct of the Venetians. Often collaborating with his brother Gentile, Giovanni executed some of his best work in place of Gentile for a commission at the Palazzo Ducale di Venezia, or Doge’s Palace in Venice. Sadly, a great deal of work here was lost to fire in 1577.
After his work in Doge’s Palace, Bellini went on to paint works that would define a stylistic transition into the High Renaissance. This included his Barbarigo Altarpiece, known as Madonna with Doge Agostino Barbarigo in the Chiesa di San Zaccaria (Church of Saint Zacharias) in Venice. Bellini executed many works throughout Venice, mostly Religious in subject matter, but also portraits. One of his Portraits of a Young Man is now in the Uffizi Gallery, where there is also his piece, Lamentation. There is also his beautifully landscaped piece, Allegory, in the Uffizi. Bellini was well known for bringing attention to detail in is landscape backgrounds, which would also influence this innovation in the Venetian School.
In his later work Bellini began to paint mythological subjects as well, including his last unfinished piece, The Feast of the Gods, which Titian completed. The work was commissioned by the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso I d’Este (1476 – 1534), for the Castello Estense (Castle of Estense or Este Castle).