Artibus et Historiae no. 76 (XXXVIII)

2017, ISSN 0391-9064

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SUSANNAH RUTHERGLEN - ‘Resplendent Brushes’: Giovanni Bellini’s Resurrection Altarpiece for San Michele di Murano, Venice (pp. 9–32)

In 1474–1475, the humanist Felice Feliciano of Verona wrote a letter to Giovanni Bellini in which he praised the artist’s ‘resplendent brushes’ (micanti pennelli). This overlooked passage from the early critical literature on Bellini, which is mainly characterized by rhetorical tropes and comparisons with the antique, suggests that the luminous qualities of his art were appreciated by his contemporaries. This paper examines Bellini’s painterly resplendence as it might have been understood by a fifteenth-century audience, through a reconsideration of the visual sources, composition, and symbolism of the artist’s Resurrection altarpiece for San Michele di Murano, Venice (now Gemäldegalerie, Berlin). A painting of the Resurrection by the Louvain artist Dieric Bouts for an altarpiece in an unknown Venetian church (now Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena) is recognized as the primary inspiration for Bellini’s composition. The identification of Bellini’s figure of Christ in a naturalistically rendered dawn sky with the celestial phenomenon of the morning star (stella del mattino) presents an opportunity to reconcile symbolic and naturalistic interpretations of the artist’s sacred landscapes.

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