Artibus et Historiae no. 85 (XLIII)

2022, ISSN 0391-9064

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MICHAEL DOUGLAS-SCOTT - Ianua Poli: The Pesaro Triptych by Giovanni Bellini in the Frari, Venice (pp. 89–143)

In this article new light is cast on Giovanni Bellini’s altarpiece of the Virgin Mary and Child with Saints, signed and dated 1488, in the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice, building on the findings and insights presented in 1986 in Rona Goffen’s influential book, Piety and Patronage in Renaissance Venice: Bellini, Titian and the Franciscans, especially concerning the patronage of the Pesaro family. Some of Goffen’s claims concerning the date and function of the family chapel have been challenged, as has been the specific connection of the iconography of the altarpiece to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. The Bible held by one of the saints, St Benedict, has been identified and the Latin inscription in the golden mosaic of the apse reinterpreted, and its real author suggested, in order to provide an alternative reading of the picture’s other meanings, as well as its relationship to its physical and devotional context.

There is a progression from the concrete to the abstract, the first section considering the altarpiece as a visual object and its relationship to its frame, the second its liturgical and commemorative role within the Pesaro chapel in the sacristy of the Frari, the third proposing a deeper understanding of its rich treasury of Marian imagery. The whole altarpiece, inclusive of its frame and its setting in the Frari, has been presented here as a polyphonous (if silent) hymn to the Mother of God under her overlapping titles of ‘Seat of Wisdom’, ‘Holy Tabernacle of Christ’, ‘Gateway to Heaven’, ‘Star of the Sea’ (Polaris), and ‘Morning Star’ (Venus), the latter integrating Christian beliefs with Antique pagan references. This inclusive synthesis has been shown to be typical of Franciscan devotion and of Venetian visual and political imagery in the final quarter of the fifteenth century, whether in painting, sculpture, architecture, ornament, or lettering, both in manuscripts and in the new technology of the printed book.

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