Friday, April 9, 2010

Bellini Color

Sacred Allegory

For reasons that cannot rationally be accounted for, I became obsessed this morning with harvesting all the images off the internet I could find of paintings by Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516). The most interesting thing about the project turned out to be how much variation exists in the colors ascribed to the same works, depending on where they happen to be reproduced. I offer a few of the most strikingly unmatching pairs here. Unless the viewer travels to Capodimonte and Vienna and Florence and Venice where the originals are located, personal preference will determine which versions are to be believed. (Although it now also occurs to me that the radical change in the Transfiguration pair immediately below could possibly reflect the way the picture looked before and after a thorough cleaning. The Botticellis in Florence brightened in a similar way after cleaning in the 1980s, and there were people at the time who liked the Old Master patina of dimness (even though it was really just an accumulation of atmospheric grime) better than the shocking vividness that characterized Renaissance paintings fresh from the studio.)

Transfiguration of Christ

Presentation at the Temple


Young Woman in Front of a Mirror

The final pair (Bellini's first secular nude, painted at age 85 in the year before his death) strikes me as clearly not an example of before-and-after picture-cleaning, but rather an example of before-and-after Photoshopping – producing (at bottom) something truly scary.