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

Frari Triptych

Oil on panel
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice

The triptych comprising large sections portraying the Madonna and Child Enthroned (in the centre), Saints Nicholas and Peter (on the left) and Saints Mark and Benedict (on the right) is signed and dated on the central panel. The paintings wooden frame is probably designed by Bellini himself in perfect spatial harmony with the painting. Its pilaster strips illusorily support the ceiling of the open space at sides in which the saints are placed. In the centre, the Virgin, raised aloft by the throne, has a lighted golden apsidiole behind her which recreates the same effect as that in the San Giobbe Altarpiece. On the mosaic that covers it a Latin invocation can be read: IANUA CERTA POLI DUC MENTEM DIRIGE VITAM: QUAE PERAGAM COMISSA TUAE SINT OMNIA CURAE (Secure gateway to Heaven, guide my mind, lead my life, may everything I do be entrusted to your care).

Although apparently more "archaic" in that it once again follows a polyptychal scheme (possibly on the request of the commissioner), in many respects the painting constitute a further evolution of the San Giobbe Altarpiece, of which it is reminiscent in many ways. Extremely similar, for example, is the figure of the enthroned Virgin, immersed in fine golden dust that is contrasted only by the compact blue colour of the mantle, which in some way isolates her in space. But mostly it is the study of light that continues, in favour of which the merely plastic elements lose their importance, while the question of space, despite the limit imposed by the shape of the triptych, is ingeniously resolved, not only by rebuilding within the painting the unity interrupted by the frame, but also by suggesting at the sides a vast perspective depth by means of a thin strip of landscape.