Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516) was a Venetian painter, renowned for his contribution to the development of oil painting in Italy, a medium which began primarily in Northern Europe. One of this most famous students was the great Titian. Throughout his career he painted many religious works, and he seems to have possessed a deep spirituality. His later religious works, such as this one, reflect a certain noble calm and serenity of a man who has fully lived life.
This work of Bellini’s, The Madonna of the Meadow (1505), is a nice painting, flushed with a calm poetic atmosphere, deeply spiritual and meditative. I have always been struck by the landscape, the cool winter colors, the clear light, seemingly reflected in the soft, white head scarf of the Madonna and the clouds behind her, also white, pure and drawing us into the great expanse of the blue sky, of heaven and divinity itself. The Christ child seems lifeless, foreshadowing the eventual moment when Mary will embrace the lifeless body of her Son following his crucifixion. The landscape is also barren: clearly it is winter, there are no leaves on the trees, the grass is brown and dead, and life seems empty. And yet as a religious work of Christian art, it must ultimately hint at the hope of the resurrection and eternal life. The joys of everlasting life with God are always the final message of all Christian art, even if that particular artwork reflects the darker moments of life here on earth. Such are mystical contradictions inherent in all good works of religious art. Bellini’s use of color, atmosphere, and calm, serene figures capture all these elements quite well. All in all it is a beautiful piece of art.
As I have often said here, I believe that great art can lead the soul to a deeper union with God. Bellini is a good example of that.