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

Agony in the Garden

c. 1465
Tempera on wood, 81 x 127 cm
National Gallery, London

This early work of Bellini is fundamental for measuring the relationship that existed between the two brothers-in-law, Giovanni Bellini and Andrea Mantegna. A fairly strong resemblance links this work with the analogous subject painted by Mantegna in 1459, possibly for Giacomo Marcello, now also at the National Gallery in London. Indeed, both works were for long considered to be by Mantegna. The atmosphere is leaden and rarefied, and the harsh, barren landscape retains some of the strong elemental emotions of the primitives (in fact much of the setting is drawn from an idea of Jacopo's, exemplified by a sketch from his London notebook); the scene has a motionless essentiality. However, beyond the highly forced lines (still not even approaching the urgency of Mantegna's style) the dramatic way in which the two painters approach the subject is different: Mantegna's harsh and embossed in the dark contrast of strong colours; Bellini's more subtly lyrical and humanly resigned.