Head of Giovanni Bellini dead on his Funeral Bier

WAG 1995.84


The Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini's (1431/1436 - 1516) lying-in-state and funeral took place in the church of Saints Giovanni and Paolo and was attended by members of his confraternity, the Scuola Grande of San Marco and the Guild of Painters. Although it was a magnificent ceremony, Bellini's body was dressed very simply, either in the habit of the Scuola of San Marco or the brown robes of a civilian brother of the Franciscan Order. He was buried beside his own beloved brother Gentile and his wife's relatives in their tomb sited on the outer wall of the Scuola di Sant' Orsola, Venice. The portrait would have been drawn while Bellini's body was lying horizontally on his funeral bier. The faint outlines of the pillow supporting his head can be seen to the right of his monk's cowl. The drawing was turned 90 degrees when the inscription was added by the still unidentified portraitist. In the past it has been suggested that the handwriting was like that of the Italian architect and painter Baldassare Tommaso Peruzzi (1481 – 1536). For a variety of reasons Venetian artists of the period were much more rarely portrayed alive or dead than artists elsewhere in Italy. William Roscoe, who once owned this drawing, would have been delighted to have in his collection a rare portrait of Bellini. Roscoe also lined his study with at least forty portraits in oil of famous Renaissance men and women of Western Europe and Africa, 39 of which are in the Walker Art Gallery's collections (WAG 3276-3314). The artist is unknown but must have been active at the time of Bellini's death on 29 November 1516, up to about 1550, when Bellini's fame was eclipsed by that of Titian. The Italian inscription on the drawing does not include any Venetian dialect words or spelling and therefore suggests that the artist was not Venetian, but a visitor to the city.