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

Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan

Oil on panel, 62 x 45 cm
National Gallery, London

The portrait, the largest of Bellini's portraits, was probably painted around 1501, the year in which this aristocrat rose to the dogate. The age of the person portrayed, who held office from the age of sixty-five to eighty-five, does not indeed allow to it to be any later. The teaching of Antonello da Messina had clearly been absorbed in the subtle realism of the facial wrinkles and the garments and, even before this, in the sitter's three-quarter turn, rather than the profile pose which was prescribed by dogal iconographical tradition and also adopted by Gentile Bellini.

The artist s progress from the early portraits is apparent, and particularly from the still pre-Antonellian Portrait of Jörg Fugger, fixed and linked as it is to the analytical realism of late-Gothic art. In this figure, that fixity now assumes the quality of an emblem of his own highest dignity of office: a "denaturalization" almost that crystallizes, but does not dim, the psychological make-up of this highly cultivated man, even in spite of the fact that he is rendered with solemn detachment. Any psychological excess or a too penetrating individualization were prohibited in the name of official and hierarchical decorum. For this reason the portrait finishes by being placed in a line that is consistent more with the Venetian portraiture tradition than with the revolutionary and hyper-real portraits of Antonello da Messina.