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Giovanni Bellini, The Virgin and Child

Key facts
Full title The Virgin and Child
Artist Giovanni Bellini
Artist dates about 1435 - 1516
Date made probably 1480-90
Medium and support Oil, probably with egg tempera, on poplar
Dimensions 90.8 × 64.8 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1855
Inventory number NG280
Location On loan: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, Chimei Museum, Tainan City, Taiwan
Collection Main Collection
The Virgin and Child
Giovanni Bellini

Small-scale images of the Virgin and Child made for private worship were a speciality of Bellini’s. This picture was thought to be by the artist’s assistants, but recent technical analysis showed that it was made by Bellini. The holy figures are separated from a landscape by a cloth of honour, and from us by a marble parapet; while they seem to be present in our space, their divinity places them just out of reach. Their tender gestures remind us of the humanity they share with us.

The pomegranate was probably added after Bellini had started painting, likely at the request of the patron. High-quality ultramarine – an expensive pigment made from lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone – was used for the Virgin’s blue mantle.

This is the largest of Bellini’s pictures of the Virgin and Child which were not part of a larger altarpiece structure, suggesting that it was probably made to sit upon a small altar. Perhaps the owner had a private chapel in his home.

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