(b. ca. 1426, Venezia, d. 1516, Venezia)
Four Allegories: Prudence (or Vanity)c. 1490
Oil on wood, 34 x 22 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice
The four panels with Allegories at the Accademia in Venice are often likened to the Sacred Allegory, but they belong instead to the artist's scanty secular production. They originally formed part of a small dressing-table with a mirror and a rack on which to hang objects, belonging to the painter Vincenzo Catena who, writing his will in 1530, left it to Antonio Marsili. The spread of this kind of furniture was so great that in 1489 the Venetian Senate prohibited its manufacture, limiting it to what was strictly necessary. Often, as in this instance, their decoration comprised symbolic representations of a moralistic character.
An unusual theme for Bellini, the panels represent respectively: Lust tempting the virtuous man or Perseverance (Bacchus who from a chariot offers a plate of fruit to a warrior); fickle Fortune (the woman on an unstable boat holding a sphere); Prudence (the naked woman pointing at a mirror); Falsehood (the man emerging from the shell). There are diverging opinions about the interpretation of the last two representations, such that they have been seen as: the Woman as Vanitas (on the basis of similar representations by Jacopo de' Barbari and Baldung Grien), and the Man in the shell as an allegory of Virtus Sapientia, since the shell might have a positive connotation as a generative principle.