BELLINI, Giovanni
(b. ca. 1426, Venezia, d. 1516, Venezia)

Madonna with Child

Tempera on wood, 47 x 31,5 cm
Civico Museo Malaspina, Pavia

The series of "Madonna and Child" paintings, which constitute one of the most distinctive themes in Bellini's art, was started in his youthful years. Their execution and multiplication in the decades to come was the fruit of a considerable contribution by the busy workshop that would collaborate with the painter and to which some of the Madonnas, signed with the master's name for reasons of prestige, must be at least partially attributed. The incidence of this type of work was not peculiar to Bellini alone. Small and medium-small devotional images destined for private and family ownership were a distinctive feature of late 15th-century Venetian painting.

Bellini's paintings are distinguished however by a strange, subtle tension that always binds the mother and child in a relationship of profound pathos. The models for these Madonnas were the numerous Byzantine and Graeco-Cretan icons which circulated in Venice, and which Bellini occasionally transposed with absolute precision. Yet the static stereotypes of the Eastern images were radically altered and reinterpreted by him with a lyricism and poetic sensibility that unmistakably animates the figures and puts them in intimate contact with the spectator.

The still harsh Madonna and Child of the Museo Civico Malaspina in Pavia must be ascribed to around 1450-55. Originally assigned to Bartolomeo Vivarini, then to Bellini , then attributed to Lazzaro Bastiani, and finally to Bellini, this small panel is very closely related to the less disputed Madonna and Child of the John G. Johnson Collection in Philadelphia. The slender hands and iconic immobility still reveal the influence of Jacopo and the Vivarini family, while the boldy delineated line of the Child's figure and his transparent garment possibly derive from Squarcione, who was undoubtedly an inspiration to the young Bellini.