CIMA da Conegliano
(b. ca. 1459, Conegliano, d. 1517/18, Conegliano)


Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano, Italian painter, son of a sheep-shearer, named after the town of his birth, and active mainly in nearby Venice.

After a rudimentary education in painting in Conegliano, he went to Venice, where likely frequented the shops of Bellini and Alvise Vivarini. With his 1489 altarpiece for San Bartolomeo in Vicenza (now in the Museo Civico), Cima emerges as the only artist in Venice equal to Bellini. Because the latter focused on canvases for the Doge's Palace in the 1490s, Cima then became the greatest and perhaps the only painter of religious subjects, and his altarpieces are clear, bright, and poetic. There are many works from this period that are both signed and dated. By the second half of the decade his fame had spread beyond the confines of the Venetian state.

He belonged to the generation between Giovanni Bellini and Giorgione and was one of the leading painters of early Renaissance Venice. His major works, several of which are signed, are almost all church altarpieces, usually depicting the Virgin and Child enthroned with saints; he also produced a large number of smaller half-length Madonnas. His autograph paintings are executed with great sensitivity and consummate craftsmanship. Fundamental to his artistic formation was the style that Bellini had evolved by the 1470s and 1480s; other important influences were Antonello da Messina and Alvise Vivarini.

Although Cima was always capable of modest innovation, his style did not undergo any radical alteration during a career of some 30 years, and his response to the growing taste for Giorgionesque works from the early 16th century remained superficial. He seems to have maintained a sizeable workshop, but there is no evidence that he trained any major artist and he had little long-term influence on the course of Venetian painting.

His paintings are mostly quiet devotional scenes, often in landscape settings, in the manner of Giovanni Bellini. He has been called "the poor man's Bellini", but because of his calm and weighty figures he was also known in the 18th century (rather incongruously) as "the Venetian Masaccio".

Although Cima lived in Venice, he retained close ties to his hometown and returned there often. It was during such a visit that he died unexpectedly and was buried in the church of San Francesco near his family's home.