The Van Eycks, Antonella And The Bellini's

The Van Eycks

Now, while Masaccio was accomplishing so much that contributed to the advance of Art in Italy, two brothers in Bruges, Belgium, had perfected a discovery of incalculable value to the artists of the entire world.

We are told that it is to these two men, Hubert and Jan Van Eyck, that modern art owes the discovery of real oil painting. This invaluable step was accomplished by deftly mixing oil and varnish when moistening colors.

The Three Marys at the Tomb, 1425
Hubert Van Eyck (1387-1426)

The early artists painted "in tempera", that is, they moistened their colors with water and then mixed them with the white of an egg. Masaccio mixed colors with oil to get a softer and smoother substance, and the Van Eycks went a step farther and moistened their colors with a mixture of oil and varnish, thus producing a perfect combination to be used in oil painting.

In Masaccio's day, communication between different communities and countries meant days or months of weary travel, and so it happened that Italian artists did not come into possession of this important secret until almost one hundred years after its discovery by the Van Eycks, for it was not until the latter part of the fifteenth century that oil painting came into existence in Italy.

Portrait of a Man in a Turban, 1433
Jan Van Eyck (1395-1441)

It was about this time that an artist named Antonella of Messina appeared in Venice, bringing with him a knowledge of the secret of Hubert and Jan Van Eyck.

The Bellini's

The Bellini's, Giovanni and Gentile, were the first Italian artists to benefit by the priceless discovery of the Van Eycks. They were contemporaries of Antonella's, and we are told that Giovanni Bellini disguised himself, and then went to Antonella to have his portrait painted so that he might learn the great secret for himself. Now, whether this story is true or false, we do not know, but we do know that the secret of oil painting soon became mastered in Venice and the Bellini's were the first artists, other than Antonella, to use it in their productions.

Giovanni and Gentile were sons of Jacope Bellini, who was famous in his day as a founder of a Venetian School of Painting.


Giovanni is famous for his Madonnas. His early paintings do not present any one type, but when he was about fifty years old, his ideals changed, and his Madonnas assumed a queenly bearing and motherly appearance. His characterization of Motherhood in those days is said to be of the Venetian type.

Some of Giovanni's best known paintings are "Christ at Gethsemani", "The Transfiguration", "Madonna of St. Job" and "Madonna with St. Paul & St. George".

Christ At Gethsemani

The Last Supper was over, and Jesus, troubled and depressed, went with his disciples to the garden of Gethsemani. Upon entering the garden, He told his disciples to sit down and rest, and with Peter, James and John, walked a little farther away. "Then he saith to them; My soul is sorrowful even unto death, stay you here and watch with me." With faltering steps he went a little distance away, and falling upon His face, prayed.

Returning to His apostles, he found them asleep, and He rebuked Peter, saying, What? Could you not watch one hour with Me? Watch ye, and pray, that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

Then, the second time He went and prayed, and again returning found His apostles asleep, Again He went and prayed and returning again and finding them still sleeping He awakened them and sorrowfully told them "Behold he is at hand that will betray me."

Christ at Gethsemane, 1462
Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516)

In the picture we see Jesus kneeling on a rock, his eyes turned heavenward, praying to His heavenly Father. The three apostles are apparently fast asleep while in the distance some of the disciples may be seen standing. In front of Jesus toward the top of the picture an angel is seen trying to comfort him.

The Transfiguration

Jesus took Peter and James and John, his brother, up into a high mountain, and there He was transfigured before them. His face shown like the sun; and His garments became as white as snow. And there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with Him.

And Peter said to Jesus, "lord it is good for us to be here; if Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias."

Before he had finished speaking a voice from Heaven was heard saying: "This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased, hear ye Him."

"And the disciples hearing, fell upon their faces and were very much afraid."

"This is the moment Bellini has chosen for the picture. We see Christ in the center with Moses and Elias on either side of Him standing on a cloud. In the foreground the apostles are covering their eyes with their hands and are turned away from the vision."

Transfiguration of Christ, 1480
Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516)


The works of Gentile Bellini were of an entirely different nature. They were mostly mural paintings of the narrative style and present the story of public and domestic life in Venice in that day. They help us to understand how Venetians lived in the latter part of the fifteenth and the early years of the sixteenth centuries.

Gentile's most famous and best known work is "The Corpus Christi Procession" in the Piazza of San Marco - Venice.

The Corpus Christi Procession, 1496
Gentile Bellini (1429-1507)

And now we come to another great artist, Filippe Lippi.

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