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Portrait of a Young Woman

Attributed to Giovanni Bellini (Venice, c.1430-1516) and circle
Late 15th / Early 16th century
24 x 19.5 cm (panel); 71 x 54 cm (framed)
Oil on panel
  • Private collection, Europe
  • Collection of Contessa Sola-Busca, Milan by 1909, inherited by Conti Sola-Cabiati, Milan in 1949
  • Sale by Auction, Christie’s, London, Sale 10389, Old Master & British paintings Evening Sale, 9 July 2015, lot 9, as ‘Circle of Giovanni Bellini’

Exhibition history

  • Venice, Palazzo Ducale, Giovanni Bellini, 12 June – 5 October 1949, no.58, as ‘Bellini’

Set in a highly ornate reproduction frame recalling the Venetian-inspired Sansovino frames, is this octagonal panel painting frontally representing an elegant girl attributed to Giovanni Bellini and his circle. This idealised representation is reflective of the Venetian emphasis on colour and the predilection towards poetic depictions of the beauty and pleasures of nature and humanity. Interestingly, infrared reflectography has revealed a highly worked up drawing of a young boy on the gessoed reverse, possibly indicating that this was originally intended as a double-sided portrait. Nonetheless ‘Portrait of a Young Woman’ seems to be more of an allegorical portrayal of chastity as symbolised by the pearls the girl is wearing. The crispness of execution of the eyes and the eyelashes recalls the work of Bellini and his circle.

Together with his father, Jacopo (c.1400-1470), and his brother, Gentile (c.1429-1507), Giovanni (c.1430-1516), the most acclaimed painter in the family, is considered to have created the Venetian school of the Renaissance. Bellini’s portraits are inspired by Northern examples and by the work of the most Flemish of his Italian contemporaries, Antonello da Messina (1430-1479) from whom he mastered the medium of oil paint, as seen here. He was quick to earn recognition for his devotional and mythological figures and atmospheric landscapes in soft golden light – a sensuous colouristic manner that was to characterise Venetian painting in the late 15th and 16th centuries. He had a long career, living to see his influence propagated by pupils, such as Giorgione (1478-1510) and Titian (1490-1576), who equalled and surpassed their master. Other followers include Girolamo Galizzi da Santacroce (c.1480/85-1556), Vittore Belliniano (active c.1525), Rocco Marconi (before 1490-1529), Andrea Previtali (c.1480-1528) and Bernardino Licinio (c.1489-1565).

This panel has been attributed to Giovanni Bellini by the Italian art historian, Robero Longhi (1890-1970) and was exhibited at the Palazzo Ducale in Venice in 1949. Fritz Heinemman published it as ‘after Bellini’ (1962), while Luigi Colleti (1959) and Luigi Menegazzi (1981) point towards the hand of Cima da Conegliano (c.1459-c.1517), one of Bellini’s talented successors. It has also been attributed to Girolamo Santacroce by Mauro Lucco (1996), an attribution which finds the endorsement of Peter Humphrey. It is however safe to consider this panel painting as a work by the circle of Giovanni Bellini, possibly after a hypothetical lost prototype.

BROWN, David Alan, Giovanni Bellini: The Last Works, SKIRA, 2019

GRAVE, Johannes, Giovanni Bellini: The Art of Contemplation, Prestel Publishing, 2018 LUCCO, Mauro, Giovanni Bellini Catalogo Ragionato, ZeL Edizioni, 2020

WYLD, Martin, Analytical Report on Portrait of a Young Woman, Job No. 20151106, 2015, Tager Stonor Richardson, 2015

Audio Guide – Maltese

Audio Guide – English

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