Musée Jacquemart André offers an exquisite exhibition devoted to Giovanni Bellini (c. 1435-1516), his father Jacopo, brother Gentile and brother in law Andrea Mantegna, a whole generation of painters. Considered as the father of the Venetian School, he opened the way to the art of colour and tones that came to be characteristic of the art of the sixteenth century in Venice. But his style took a different direction with the arrival of Antonello da Messina who brought the Flemish taste to Venice. The curator of the show, Neville Rowley works at the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin and was impressive with his command of multiple languages. He has secured important loans from the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, the Galleria Borghese in Rome, the Museo Correr, the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice, the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum in Milan, the Petit Palais in Paris and the Louvre, as well as numerous loans from private collections of works some of which have never before been shown to the public.
One of the first paintings of the show was made when Giovanni was only 18. “The Birth of the Virgin” is a very large and already masterful work with lovely decorative details. He was the illegitimate child of the painter Jacopo Bellini, after four children and probably felt he had to train with his elder brother to be recognized in the family. He later will become the most celebrated of the family, taking as his pupils Giorgione and Titian. At first he is influenced by the Byzantine style and two of the paintings have gold backdrops, a style brought to Venice by the artists who fled Constantinople after the muslim invasion of 1453.
Neville Rowley explained how he had difficulties picking the paintings (because of competing exhibitions in London and elsewhere) and because he wanted to not only show the influences of the different painters of the time but also to get works that fit with each other. He also mentioned that many of Bellini’s works burned in the fire of Palazzo Ducale in 1577, thus opening some space for Tintoretto! The rooms at Jacquemart-André are small and as a result, you can get very close to the masterworks. A true bonus.
There are many images of the Virgin of course, a very pretty Memling of “Christ blessing” but I have to admit my favorite was one of the last, “the Mocking of Noah”, which shows a drunk Noah after the Ark’s Deluge and has a pathetic feel to it. It is exhibited in a small room with images of God, The Father.
If this is your first time, make sure to visit the house itself because both Nélie and Edouard André were interested in Italian art. Nélie Jacquemart, had a predilection for Venetian Renaissance art. She acquired, in particular, large ensembles, such as the coffered ceiling, after which the museum’s ‘Venetian’ room is named. Set up during her lifetime, it presents fifteenth-century Renaissance Italian and, in particular, Venetian paintings.
At the time, few collectors were interested in this school, as most of them preferred Florentine art. There is a remarkable selection of works, including paintings by Andrea Mantegna, alongside a Virgin and Child by Giovanni Bellini. It is not known where or when the work was purchased, and therefore under which attribution. The tea room is also a wonderful place for lunch with a sunny view of the garden.
Musée Jacquemart André, until July 17.
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