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and Its Function as the Ducal Court of Ferrara A certain significance is given to apiece of artwork that is chosen to be the first painting added to a gallery. This specific piece sets the tone, theme and idea for the rest of the artwork that is later selected. Feast of the Gods by Giovanni Bellini was commissoned by Alfonso d’Este, the Duke of Ferrara, for his art gallery, the Camerino in 1514 for this exact purpose. D’Este ruled the city-state of Ferrara starting in 1505 and was married to the Pope’s daughter, Lucrezia Borgia. With a shared love for mythological depictions and incredible artwork, the Feast of the Gods was chosen to start the couple’s prestigious collection. This oil on canvas was later reconstructed by two artist’s at the request of Alfonso d’Este; first Dosso Dossi and then by Titian in 1529. After the Feast of the Gods resided in the National Gallery in London from 2003 to 2006, the painting was moved to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. where it still is located today. The Feast of the God's is not only a fascinating painting because of its iconographical meaning and reflection of the time period but also because the painting was reconstructed twice, who altered its original ethos and sensibility combining the creativity of three extremely talented artists altering the style and technique while still maintaining to capture its original intent.
Classical Origins for the Iconography: Ovid’s Fasti The Feast of the Gods is such a significant piece of art for the Renaissance time period
because it captures both the beliefs and styles of this era through the artist’s techniques and iconology. The story behind the figures is more than just images frozen in time but rather a sequence of events combined together to portray Ovid's Fasti. Ovid's Fasti is a twelve volume book, “calendar” which accounts the Roman year and its religious festivals. These festivals are described as they occur and are traced back to their legendary origins (Britannica, 2011). This specific festival depicted in the Feast of the Gods tells the story of how Priapus, an ancient woodland and fertility god watches the goddess, Lotus, fall asleep and then tries to rape her. He would have succeeded in raping Lotus had it not been for the cry of a donkey, which awoke the sleeping goddess. Priapus then takes revenge on the donkey, demanding it be used for an annual sacrifice. Cybele, a fertility goddess, gave the feast, that is illustrated in the painting, to the gods. She is shown wearing an orange dress and holding a quince in her hands. She sits next to Neptune, the god of the sea, who has the trident laying at his feet and his hand on Cybele’s thigh. The figures resting his hand on the donkey is Silenus, another woodland god. To Silenus' right stands a figure that is half human, half animal, known as a faun. At Silenus's feet is Bacchus, the infant god of wine, who wears a crown of grape leaves and is filling up his wine jug. Mercury lies next to Bachus's left and is known as the messenger god. Mercury’s usual depiction displays him with wings on his sandals and wearing a helmet but in the Feast of the Gods Bellini depicts him with more humanistic footwear rather than his usual winged sandals (nga.gov, 2011). This may be because Bellini usually painted more formal paintings and wanted to stray away from the very mythical theme this painting portrays. To Mercury's left a middle-age god stands wreathed in oak leaves, and an eagle on his left, represents Jupiter, the king of the gods. Apollo, the god of music and the sun, is seen sipping from a golden bowl and holds a Renaissance stringed musical instrument in one hand. The female with Apollo is Ceres, the goddess of grain because of the 2
wreath of wheat she wears around her neck. Right behind Cybele and Neptune is Pan, a satyr with a grape wreath who plays a shepherd's pipe. Silvanus, the god of the forest, is distinguished by wearing a grass wreath on his head (nga.gov, 2011).
The Occasion for the Commission and Ducal Politics Alfonso married the Pope's daughter, Lucrezia Borgia in 1502 (theborgias.wetpaint.com, 2010), and inherited his rule of the city-state of Ferrara starting in 1505. The Camerino was one of the most historically important galleries in Venice, during its time. As previously stated, the first painting chosen for this gallery was Bellini's Feast of the Gods in 1514. By 1518 the gallery continued to grow and Titian added the painting, The Worship of Venus, which depicts a festival of love including illustrations of Venus, nymphs and cupids. Along the ceilings of the gallery ten scenes were painted portraying the stories from The Aeneid painted by the Dossi brothers. The Aeneid was a mythological story by Virgil, which continued the theme of the paintings in the Camerino. As the gallery continued to grow throughout the years, Alfonso asked Dossi to repaint Bellini's background of the Feast of Gods with a more contemporary style to match the rest of the artwork that was being added to the Camerino. In 1522 Titian added another painting to Alfonso's gallery, this one called the Bacchus and Ariadne. The scene depicts “bacchus leaping from his chariot in his first encounter with Ariadne, princess of Crete, who had just been abandoned by her lover Theseus on the island of Naxos. She ends up being captured by the god Bacchus, taken for marriage and becomes an immortal goddess” (webexhibits.org, 2002). The next year, 1523 Titian contributes to the Camerino again with The Andrians, which exemplifies the miracle of Bacchus' wine replacing the spring water from the ground. It is evident that Titian’s talent marveled Alfonso; in 1529 Titian was requested by Alfonso to do the final 3
reconstruction of the landscape in the Feast of the Gods to match the paintings next to it. Unfortunately, the Camerino only stayed completely finished for five years after the final reconstruction because this was the year Alfonso died and left no heir to his rule (webexhibits.org, 2002). Soon after all of the paintings dispersed to different patrons of the arts.
Artistic Collaboration in the Feast of the Gods One of the most unique aspects of art is that there are very little restrictions on an artist’s creativity, style or technique. Because of this every artist has the ability to differentiate themselves from other artists through these various outlets. When multiple artists are combined on the same piece of work there can be a clashing of styles and ideas or a creation of balance enhancing the artwork. To fully understand the Feast of the Gods, each artist’s style must be understood and analyzed individually before the specific features of this painting can be examined. Since this painting was reconstructed over multiple years, the styles of painting changed which influenced Bellini, Dossi, and Titian in different ways. The original creator of Feast of the Gods, Giovanni Bellini was born around 1430 into a family of well-known Venetian painters. Bellini can be attributed to raising Venice to become the center of Renaissance art due to his style of sensuousness realism and his use of form and color and his founding of the Venetian school of painting. Initially he was trained to paint on wooden panel, which required him to focus on all details. Later on in his career, when he began painting on canvas he transferred this training and continued to focus on the minute details in his work (Batschmann, 2008). Since Bellini mostly painted more religious, formal portraits, it is believed that he may not have been comfortable painting such a mythological scene for the Feast of the Gods, however, as a struggling artist he knew he needed to do it for the commission. Shortly 4
after his completion of this painting, Bellini passed away which lead to the first reconstruction of the painting by Dosso Dossi. To fully understand Bellini’s style for the Feast of the God’s, one must analyze his other pieces of work. Bellini, coming from an extremely traditional Italian family, was known for his religious paintings and his formal portraits. When looking at most of Bellini's work like the, Portrait of a Venetian Gentleman c. 1500, the formal features of the figure allude to the ideas that he is frozen in time. This same style is easily identified when looking at the figures from the Feast of the Gods; they look frozen in time, expressionless, even statuesque (webexhibits.org, 2002). The statuesque feel makes it seem that the story of Priapus should be overlooked, and does not enlighten its importance. The statuesque feel, although stiff, gives off a more individualistic feel for each figure in painting. This allows the viewer to stop and focus on each figure on its own and understand that each figure has its own personal story. Also, by using such formal characteristics the importance of the individual figures in the painting is enhanced; because, these figures are Gods and Bellini wants to highlight their strength’s and their power. Bellini balances out the figures in the painting by having the major participants of the story, Priapus, Lotus and the ass, at either end of the painting. The foliage surrounding the figures is the only part of the painting that can be directly compared to the different artist's styles of painting. Bellini's tree's seen in the Feast of the God's are comparable to those of his other painting, Assassination of St. Peter Martyr c. 1504. In both of these paintings the trees are thin with leaves done in fine details (webexhibits.org, 2002). It looks like each leaf was individual done, one place on top another. When looking at Bellini's trees in the Feast of the God's the detailing is so fine it almost seems to take away from the figures in the foreground, but at the same time also enclosing the group of figures in together so that the viewer can focus on the story of the 5
painting. The second artist to work on the Feast of the Gods was the court artist in residence at Ferrara, Dosso Dossi. Alfonso d'Este had first just requested Dossi to submit his artwork to the Camerino. However, when they were placed next to the Feast of the Gods it was easy to see the styles were extremely conflicted. Alfonso admired Dossi’s work and wanted to incorporate his pieces into the gallery; because of this, and the fact that Bellini had already passed away, it is believed that Alfonso asked Dossi to repaint the background of the Feast of the Gods as a compromise for the Camerino (webexhibits.org, 2002). In analyzing both Dossi’s other works and his changes to the Feast of the Gods his style is determined. Unlike Bellini, he was known for his allegorical scenes and mythological themes, which creates a sense of softness in all of his artwork. When looking at Dossi's other paintings all of his landscapes are impressionistic, almost surreal looking, with arching trees and bright leaves (Fiorenza, 2008). Dossi's, Bacchanal of Men, which was also included in the Camerino, landscape is bright with color (webexhibits.org, 2002). The trees seem to blend in together allowing the landscape to not be the focus of the scene depicted in the painting but rather as dull supplementary effect to the painting. After examining his style, Dossi wanted the landscape painted in the Feast of the God's to have the same effect as his other works; to be a blend in the background and allow the viewer to focus on the figures in the foreground. Though, still not completely satisfied with the first reconstruction of the painting, Alfonso asked the third artist, Titian, to repaint the background of Feast of the Gods. Titian, born in 1485, is considered to be one of the greatest Venice painters of his time. Ironically, he received most of his training from Bellini and another influential artist of the time, Giorgione. During his career he created religious, mythological and portrait paintings that were original in style and vivid with 6
color and movement (Hope, 2003). Titian, the last artist to reconstruct the landscape work of the Feast of the Gods, has a style that falls in between his predecessors. As noted before Titian was a student of Bellini so their styles are somewhat similar, though, Titians style is very evolved from Bellini's style. As seen in Titian’s other works, such as The Worship of Venus, also included in the Camerino, there is significant amount of depth that allows the viewer to focus on the crowded figures and add to the scene rather than take away from its main message. When looking at Titian’s changes to the Feast of the Gods this same style is exemplified. While Titian's trees do not look as soft as Dossi's they are not as individualist as Bellini. Because of the depth added and the changes in the shape of the trees Titian’s landscape focus on the figures in the painting while also not contrasting to much with the stiffness of these figures. Titian’s style, present in the landscape of the Feast of the Gods, created a happy medium that allowed this painting to fit in with all the other paintings in the Camerino. Analyzing the style of each individual artist allows the viewer to understand why these change where made.
Scientific Study and Understanding the Stages of Production The reconstruction of The Feast of the Gods is probably one of the most mysterious things about this painting. Why were there changes made by three different artists and what did each artist change? Luckly because of x-ray and infrared light, the changes of this painting could be discovered. X-ray light goes all the way through the painting and is absorbed by heavier elements in paint pigments. Infrared light only goes halfway through the painting and reveals photographs of layers beneath the surface and allows the human eye to see under drawings. (webexhibits.org, 2002). The National Gallery of Art took on the large project of using x-ray and 7
infrared light to unveil the different layers of the Feast of the Gods in order to determine who painted what in the painting. Today the only remaining part of The Feast of the Gods that is Bellini’s original work are the figures in the foreground. It seems that the initial background of this painting, was done with a forested background with rows of trees. The tree trunks were thin with lush foliage at the top, showing very close detail to every leaf of the trees. Through the trunks the audience was able to see sky, mountains and fields which added to the depth of the painting. Like mentioned above the trees resemble the trees Bellini painted in his, Assassination of St. Peter Martyr, but was soon covered by the landscape made by Dossi. Even the first artist, Bellini, had made substantial changes to the figures when he first painted The Feast of the Gods. From the x-ray and infrared pictures there is evidence that at some point three of the female nymphs were clothed and that Bellini had lowered their necklines to reveal their breasts, because “the flesh tints cover only the underpainting, this confirms that the alteration could not have been made by Titian” (Fiorenza, 2008). Why these nymphs were more revealed cannot be determined, because of other changes to the figures one guess could be that Bellini wanted to show more eroticism to the painting. Another major change made by Bellini was the hand placements of some of the figures. Neptune and Cybele are placed right next to each other, though infrared light and x-rays show, Neptune's right hand which now resides on Cybele’s thigh was originally placed on his chest. An interesting theory is that these two figures are actual portraits of Alfonso d'Este and his wife Lucrezia Borgia. Cybele is holding a quince, a fruit that symbolizes marriage, and along with the placement of Neptune's hand it seems that this could be the inclusion of the celebration of Alfonso and Lucrezia's marriage (webexhibits.org, 2002). When looking at other portraits of Alfonso and Lucrezia and 8
comparing them to the image of Neptune and Cybele there is a striking resemblance. Because Bellini was more known for his religious portraits it is not surprising that he wanted to include a portrait within this pagan fantasy. Since Dossi was the second painter to work on the Feast of the Gods it is harder to identify which parts of the reconstruction of the landscape he completed. From the x-ray and infrared pictures the only part that is completely sure to have been done by him was part of the building ruins that was later covered by Titian's sky and trees. There is evidence of hills, building ruins and trees done by Dossi but his actual intent and purpose is unknown. Assumptions, however, can be made from these pictures, and from examining his other works about what he had tried to contribute to the painting (webexhibits.org, 2002). While Titian, being the final artist to work on this piece, completed most of the background landscape, it is hard to distinguish between what Titian had left of Dossi and what he covered up. Like Dossi, Titian was asked to change the landscape of the Feast of the Gods to harmonize this painting with his other paintings in the Camerino, The Worship of Venus, Bacchus and Ariadne, and Andrians. It is thought that Dossi did most of the landscape minus the tree branch all the way to the left along with the bird and Titian left it that way. Titian changed Dossi's main landscape to make it a more dense forest with the left part of the forest cascading up a cliff. His landscape, “disrupted the uniform row of figures, gave the composition greater depth, and made the improbable meeting of the gods more believable.” (Hope, 2003). Even though changing the landscape did make a significant change in depiction of the painting, it does not disrupt the theme and central focus Bellini had made for the painting.
Location and Analysis of the Feast of the Gods on display today 9
The Feast of the Gods is now located in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. The room in which the painting resides in is rather small with only five paintings in total with the Feast of the Gods being in the center along with being significantly larger than any other painting in the room. To the right of the Feast of the Gods is a painting done in the Venetian style during the 16th century called Orpheus. This painting is also a mythological scene, which fits in with the scene of the room. Surprising the landscape and color usage is similar to that of what Bellini had done in the Feast of the Gods. The painting to the right of the Orpheus is another painting done by Bellini, the Infant Bacchus. This is an important painting to have in the room to compare with the Feast of the Gods since they both share the same creator and the figure of Bacchus. In the Infant Bacchus the landscape is plain, symmetrical and balanced much of what the landscape of the Feast of the Gods done by Bellini was suspected to have looked like. Bacchus in the Feast of the Gods looks older, and is more clothed than in the painting of the Infant Bacchus. To the left of the Feast of the Gods is a painting by Dosso Dossi, Aneas and Achates on the Libyan Coast, this is also an interesting piece to compare to the Feast of the Gods not only because Dossi is thought to have changed the landscape to the Feast of the Gods but this painting also resided in Alfonso's Camerino. When looking at Dossi painting the use of loose, blending brushstrokes does not match the style of Bellini technique at all. This is probably why Alfonso had Dossi change the Feast of the Gods to better match his own work when hanging in the Camerino. The painting to the left of Dossi's painting is the Portrait of a Young Women as a Wise Virgin by Sebastiano del Pimbo. This painting does not seem to fit in with the theme of the room, there seems to be no connection to the Feast of the Gods. Pimbo's style is very different from Bellini and there is no background in this portrait. While some of the paintings seem to all revolve around a central theme in the room, there are many other factors to the display of the 10
Feast of the Gods in its room. The room is very small and includes no sitting area, which takes away from the significance of the Feast of the God. There is a lot of natural lighting in the room in addition to some spotlighting. The natural lighting is important because it does not disorient the colors of the painting which artificial lighting can do. There is no educational label but does correspond to a tape that visitors can listen to when going around the whole museum. When actually being able to look at the Feast of the Gods in person the size and quality of the painting is prevalent. There are many details that can easily be missed when looking at this painting from an image on the internet. There is some white paint on top of the cliff that when looking at the painting in real life seems to look like some type of building structure. Another significant detail that could have been skipped over when looking at an image from the internet is the waterfall that is behind Silenus and the donkey. When looking up close at the painting one can see the water and the white splashes it creates. The Feast of the Gods was the first mythological scene Bellini had ever painted. To satisfy Alfonso d'Este this painting was reconstructed by two other artist Dossi and Titian. This reconstruction is part of the story of this painting that makes it so interesting to the paintings audience. These alterations changed the paintings original ethos and sensibility to then combine the creativity of three extremely talented artists altering the style and technique, but continuing to portray the Feast of the God's original intent.
Feast of the Gods – Giovanni Bellini, Dosso Dossi, and Titian
The Worship of Venus – Titian 12
Bacchus and Ariadne – Titian
Andrian – Titian 13
Portrait of a Venetian Gentleman – Giovanni Bellini
Assassination of St. Peter Martyr – Giovanni Bellini 14
Bacchanal of Men – Dosso Dossi
Orpheus – Venetian 16th Century 15
The Infant Bacchus – Giovanni Bellini
Aneas and Achates on the Libyan Coast – Dosso Dossi 16
Portrait of a Youn Women as a Wise Virgin – Sebastiano del Pimbo
Color code of the Feast of the Gods 17
Reconstruction of the first version of the Feast of the Gods – Giovanni Bellini
Reconstruction of the second version of the Feast of the Gods – Dosso Dossi
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Historical Studies. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. "Ovid (Roman Poet) :: Works -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. 2011. Accessed April 15, 2011. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/436057/Ovid/5427/Works. Robertson, Giles. Giovanni Bellini. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968. Sienkewicz, Thomas J. Classical Gods and Heroes in the National Gallery of Art. 1983. Accessed February 3, 2011. http://department.monm.edu/classics/Courses/ Clas230/MythDocuments/Bellini.FeastofGods.htm. Tempestini, Anchise. Giovanni Bellini. New York: Abbeville Press, 1999. "WebMuseum: Bellini, Giovanni." Ibiblio - The Public's Library and Digital Archive. Accessed April 10, 2011. http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/bellini/.
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