Cast bronze medal of Giovanni Bellini by Vittorio Gambello

Venice, Italy, about AD 1495-1500

The leading light of Venetian painting

Giovanni Bellini (about 1430-1516) was the most celebrated and successful of a famous family of Venetian artists, his works revered by other painters and eagerly sought by rich collectors throughout Italy. He was probably best known for his altarpieces, although he painted many small devotional pictures and a sequence of portraits of the Venetian male élite.

This medal was made by Vittorio Gambello (about 1460-1537), the chief engraver at the Venetian Mint, who studied drawing under Bellini. It may have been commissioned by Bellini himself, but its authorship and iconography suggest that it may have had a semi-official function. Bellini was portrayed at an already advanced age (sixty-five), at the height of his fame, though the portrait has an unexpected youthfulness, suggesting that it had been idealized for posterity. He is certainly being portrayed as a product and ornament of Venice, as the legend ('Giovanni Bellini, Venetian, the greatest of painters') makes clear, thus enhancing the city's own reputation. The medal also stresses the intellectual side of artistic activity. On its reverse is an owl, copied from an ancient Athenian coin, which, as the attribute of the Greek goddess Athena symbolized wisdom, and the legend 'virtutis et ingenii' ('of virtue and talent').

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More information

Bibliography

M. Wilchusky, The currency of fame: portra-2 (New York, 1994)

G.F. Hill, A corpus of Italian medals of (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1930)

Dimensions

Diameter: 59.000 mm

Museum number

CM 1936-8-3-1

CME8259

Purchased with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund

Location

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