BELLINI, Gentile
(b. ca. 1429, Venezia, d. 1507, Venezia)

Portrait of Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus

c. 1500
Panel, 63 x 49 cm
Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest

This portrait shows the widow of the Cypriot king, James Lusignan II. The Latin text in the upper left corner states the names of the subject of the painting and the painter.

Caterina Cornaro, a Venetian lady of noble birth and widow of the King of Cyprus, abdicated her kingdom in favour of the Republic of Venice in 1489. From that time onwards she lived in seclusion at Asolo, in the neighbourhood of Venice. Gentile Bellini, who followed events in the life of Venice as faithfully as any chronicler, painted a likeness of the ex-Queen on more than one occasion. In his great composition painted in 1500, The Miracle of the True Cross (Accademia, Venice), she is seen kneeling on the left, her face in profile and her posture almost the same as in the Budapest picture. In both paintings she is wearing the same dress and it is almost certain that the half-length portrait was painted from the life during that same year. It is one of the most important works by Gentile Bellini and especially notable as an example of an Italian portrait of the fifteenth century - a time when portraiture was just developing in that country.

The painting represents an interesting transitional stage between the fifteenth-century approach and the way of representing the human figure typical of the Renaissance. The artist paid great attention to detail, recording every wrinkle on the face and minutely copying the pattern of the garment. But his intention went beyond the reproduction of life-like details: he tried to summarize the physical realities, creating a work of art which would reveal the character and personality of the sitter. Gentile Bellini's greatest gift, from which comes the strength of his work, was an objective and sober clear-sightedness. This is what made him one of the most sought-after painters of his time; the Signoria of Venice overwhelmed him with official commissions, the Emperor made him a nobleman and he was also greatly favoured by Sultan Mehmet II, whose portrait he painted in Constantinople between 1479 and 1481.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.