(b. ca. 1426, Venezia, d. 1516, Venezia)
St Jerome Reading in the Countryside1505
Oil on wood, 49 x 39 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington
The painting contains an abrased and somewhat unclear inscription on the first stone at bottom left: S MCCCCCV. It is now accepted as an autograph and resolved as: IOANNES BELLINUS MCCCCCV. But this datation creates not inconsiderable problems, since it is clear that the style is the one Bellini used not later than 1490. Various theories have been advanced, from the proposal to separate the figure from the landscape, attributing them thus to different hands (Bellini and Basaiti, Bellini and workshop), to that of a different interpretation of the date or to the later completition of the painting most of which was executed a long time before. All things considered, the attribution to Bellini now seeming beyond doubt the latter view seems the most likely.
An intervention by the workshop, if it existed, did not go further than some parts of the landscape, like the part with the ruins above left, which does appear stiff and rather heavy. The landscape is laden with the usual symbols and religious metaphores which Bellini was very careful about (the fig-tree, the withered tree, the ivy, the layered, agglomerated, crumbling rocks, etc.). However, in the very clear landscape view all these elements, affectionately and lyrically portrayed one by one, have not yet found the sublime harmony that was typical of the backgrounds which Bellini painted after 1500, and appear here more like a kind of splendid naturalistic compilation.