Giovanni Bellini Pietà


Pinacoteca di Brera


1467 - 1470


860 x 1060 mm



historical period


Exhibit Artwork

Artwork Details

The painting depicts the Virgin on the left and apostle John on the right who are supporting – apparently without any effort - the dead body of Christ, who is still wearing the crown of thorns. The three figures, painted in real size, are standing behind a marble balustrade that seems to draw a boundary between the earthly dimension of the viewer and the divine dimension of Jesus, Mary and John who are sadly looking elsewhere. Christ, the incarnation of God on earth, has his left hand placed on the balustrade as if to unite these two dimensions. His face is reclined towards his mother, who is looking at her son with composed but suffering expression, which seems like a touching and intimate dialogue that makes the drama of the Passion and death of Christ, even more humane with him suffering like any other human would. The Redeemer has abandoned his body, but the other two figures seem to hold his body lightly. The body is thin and slender but beautiful and strong at the same time. Bellini depicts him with great anatomical details on bones, muscles and veins that seem thick on his arms as if blood was still flowing in them. This is a clear reference to life which creates a sharp contrast with the pale color of the corpse, wounded by the nails on the cross and stabbed with a spear on the side by Roman soldiers. The background is almost completely covered by the large figures, but behind you can see a glimpse of a landscape with hills, trees and a castle, which is not certainly Venetian. The general approach of the work is, however, influence by Flemish culture, especially in the landscape, the light and the detailed description of the figures. Bellini’s style is so harsh that the hair, the faces and Christ’s anatomy almost seem engraved, resembling the works of Andrea Mantegna, who was his brother-in-law and influenced greatly the early career of the Venetian painter. The hard and painful features and the expressions are full of pathos, restoring the drama of the moment and the Christ with his eyes closed seems to be finally at peace now that his earthly suffering is over. The clear and frontal light, often present in the contemporary Flemish works, tends to soften the hardness of the forms and wraps the drapery reducing the harshness and the painful anguish of the characters creating a natural atmosphere, dominated by a leaden sky full of clouds. The painting is signed by the artist in the middle of the panel under the marble balustrade. Bellini added also a quote from the Elegies of Latin poet Sixtus Aurelius Propertius: HAEC FERE QVVM GEMITVS TVRGENTIA LVMINA PROMANT / BELLINI POTERAT FLERE IOANNIS OPVS. The work was originally in the Sampieri collection in Bologna, but in 1811 the viceroy of the Kingdom of Italy and Napoleon's stepson, Eugenio Beauharnais, donated it to the Brera Art Gallery, where it is still preserved today.

Artist Details

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Bellini was born in Venice probably around 1430. He studied with his brother Gentile and his father Jacopo, who were known artists, but he also showed interest in Vivarini and especially in the work of his brother-in-law, Andrea Mantegna. He went to Padua from 1443 to 1453 where he was influenced by Donatello’s work, which can be seen in his works made in the 1460s with shallow lines in landscapes and figures and with bright and polished colours. Among them are the altarpiece of San Vincenzo Ferreri (SS. Giovanni and Paolo), the Crucifixion and the Transfiguration (Museum Correr), the Prayer in the Garden (National Gallery, London) and juvenile paintings of Madonna and Child and Pietà. Bellini often softened the forms and preferred less harsh tones of colours, which can be seen in the altarpiece of Pesaro (Coronation of the Virgin, Museo Civico) of 1475. During this period, he also painted the Madonnas of Brera and Santa Maria dell’Orto, the Transfiguration of Capodimonte (1480 - 85) and the altarpiece of San Giobbe (1480) the Triptych of Frari (1488) where you can already see some typical 16th-century influences. The composition is large and solemn, peaceful and sweet, before the works of San Zaccaria (Madonna in the throne with saints, 1505) and San Giovanni Crisostomo (St. Jerome, 1513) where the form and colours are inspired by the works of Giorgione and Titian. Bellini died in Venice in 1516.

Collection Details

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Pinacoteca di Brera is a complex that consists of the departments of Accademia delle Belle Arti, Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense, Sopraintendeza per il Patrimonio Storico ed Artistico, Istituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere, Botanical garden and Astronomical Observatory.

The origins of this collection, where the chronological period of the artworks ranges from 13th to 20th century, with great examples of national and international figurative artistic culture, allow us to understand the motives of this heterogeneity and variety.

Pinacoteca di Brera is situated in the namesake building on the area which, in the past, was occupied by the Order of the Humiliati who came to Milan in 1209, designed by Milanese architect Carlo Maria Richini and later renovated by Giuseppe Piermarini.

In 1773 after the suppression of the Jesuit order, Pinacoteca di Brera became a state property. The first collection was introduced by Maria Theresa Of Austria, who wanted to create a collection of exemplary works intended for the students’ training.

When Milan became the capital of Italian kingdom by Napoleon’s will, the gallery became a real museum with exhibitions of great paintings from all the conquered territories, in addition to the already existing collection. In total there were 269 artworks, and the museum was opened to the public in 1809 with a unique collection of artworks from all the Italian museums, among them the Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael, the Crucifixion by Bramantino and the Disputation of St. Stephen by Carpaccio.

In the 19th century the collection was enriched with many significant works taken from Lombard churches and conventions, due to the abolition of many religious orders. Other works of identical origin, which were removed from the departments of the Italian kingdom, were added to the collection, thanks to the initiative of Giuseppe Bossi and Andrea Appiani. This explains the presence of so many important sacred paintings, which gave the museum its particular appearance, as well as the paintings by Bellotto and the portraits by Lorenzo Lotto.

Corrado Ricci, writer and art historian of undisputed fame, reorganized the exhibition to a strict chronological order by the schools and the polyptych of Valle Romita by Gentile da Fabriano and Men at Arms by Bramante were added to the collection. After the historic reorganization of Ettore Modgliani and architect Piero Portaluppi, following the bombings of 1943, director Feranda Wittgens gives the Pinacoteca a modern and almost aristocratic structure, taking advantage of Franco Albini’s work as well.

The collection was enriched with paintings and sculptures from the 20th century, thanks to the donation of Emilio and Maria Jesi (1976) and Vitali (1984) and with the acquisitions managed by the historic Associazione Amici di Brera which has always kept the museum in dynamic and continuous evolution. Among these were the Self-portrait by Umberto Boccioni, Mother and Son by Carlo Carrà, the Still Life by Giorgio Morandi, the Red Wagon by Fattori and the Afternoon by Silvestro Lega. The director at the time, Franco Russoli, started the expansion process in the halls of the Citterio palace and denounced the problems of that era with the exhibition “Processo per il Museo” in 1974, held in those unused halls. The Pinacoteca was reopened and expanded with Carlo Bertelli.

More recent renewal process began in 1989 with the renovation of technological installations and reorganization of the spaces. The work was organized by Vittorio Gregotti, who created the Napoleonic rooms and the small rooms next to the original gallery.

Among the most important and internationally famous works are Piero della Francesca’s Monterfeltro altarpiece, Andrea Mantegna’s Dead Christ, Gentile and Giovanni Bellini’s Preaching, Barocci’s Martyrdom of St. Vital, the scenes by Antonio Campi, the Christ at the Column by Bramante, the Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio and the Kiss by Hayez.

On 17 December 2011 a new staircase was introduced, designed by Adolfo Natalini. It connected the historical floor of the gallery with the new halls on the first floor. The most recent (2017) renovation was organized in the heart of the Brera, the Napoleonic rooms.