When I first came across reproductions of the painting St. Francis in the Desert by Venitian master Giovanni Bellini years ago, my immediate thought was: here is an artist who is constrained by his time to painting religious subjects, but really, really wants to paint landscape.
Seeing that painting in person at the Frick Collection in New York — and again as recently as a few weeks ago — has only reinforced my impression, as has my observation of other works by Bellini.
His often intricate and highly textural landscapes make a striking contrast to his softly luminous and superbly finessed figures.
Though landscape as a subject for painting was present in Greek and Roman murals, it was subsumed into religious and history painting for centuries, not emerging again as an independent subject until the early 16th century in the Netherlands, and the 17th century in Italy and elsewhere.
In the Renaissance, it was Bellini who elevated the place of landscape in religious painting; and despite the fact that he was not a “pure” landscape painter, and that his landscapes were rich with metaphor and religious symbolism, he should be considered one of history’s greatest and most influential landscape artists.
The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles has mounted what promises to be a stunning show of works by Bellini that focuses attention on his landscapes. Though St. Francis in the Desert is not part of the show, there are dazzling works on loan from the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice; Galleria Corsini and Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence; the Louvre and RMN-Grand Palais, Paris; and the National Galleries of Art, London and DC, as well as other public and private collections.
Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice is on view at the Getty Center until January 14, 2018.
There is a book accompanying the exhibition, also available on Amazon: Giovanni Bellini: Landscapes of Faith in Renaissance Venice.
There is a show checklist here. Inexplicably, the Getty’s website appears to have limited images from the show to that list and a slideshow of eight images, mostly detail crops. (Why museums don’t take better advantage of images on their websites to generate interest in exhibitions continues to boggle my mind.)
The Los Angeles Times has a review of the show with larger, more complete images.
Those of us who can’t get to the exhibition in person can take it as a jumping off point to explore images of Bellini’s work with appreciation for his landscapes in mind. A good place to start might be the zoomable images on Google Art Project.