Sultan Mehmet II invites Gentile Bellini,Venetian Painter,to Istanbul,and why Bellini left his Court

| July 27, 2011 | Comments (0)

The Greatest Painter of Venice of His Time,Giovanni Bellini

Venice is known for its great painters like Titian,Tintoretto,Girgione( 15th or 16th century) and later Tiepolo(1696-1770).All of them were from Venice or from nearby,in territory that was part of Venice.

Giovanni Gentile(1430-1516) was the greatest painter of Venice of his time,and a great genius.At the time Venice was an independent country and a sort of Republic.He came from a family of painters,his father Jacopo was a painter,his brother Gentile Bellini (1429-1507) also and his brother-in-law was Andrea Mantegna(1431-1506),another astonishing genius.

Giovanni Bellini produced a revolution in Venetian painting by his use of oil painting.He loved painting pictures which told the history of Venice, and showed the magnificent doges, and nobles, and people of the city, dressed in their rich robes.Paintings that told of the glory of Venice and he was invited to paint the walls of the Ducal Palace with his historical pictures.Economically speakng Bellini earned alot of money in his career for his many beautiful paintings,he was not poor.

The Opinion of the Greatest German Painter of all Time about Giovanni Bellini

Albrecht Durer(1471-1528) spent some time in Venice in 1506 and said about Giovanni Bellini “He is very old, and still he is the best painter of them all.”

His Two Pupils who were also Geniuses in Painting

Giovanni Bellini had as his pupils:

Giorgione (1477-1510)

A great genius who died young at age 33,it seems due to a plague.


He studied with Bellini and in time surpassed him,he was the greatest painter of the Venetian school and one of the greatest of Italy and the world.

Sultan Mehmet/Mehmed II

The Cruel Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II becomes an Admirer of Gentile Bellini(1429-1507),Brother of Giovanni

Giovanni Bellini had a talented brother called Gentile.Venice had great trade and her ships sailed to many foreign lands. These ships, loaded with merchandise, went to different ports, and the merchants sold their goods.One of the ships which went to Turkey had several pictures painted by Gentile Bellini. They were shown to the Sultan, who had never seen a picture before, and he was amazed and delighted immensely.

Islam,at least the version in the Ottoman Empire, forbade the making of pictures, but he paid no attention to that law, but sent a messenger to Venice asking that Gentile Bellini might come to him at once.Since Bellini had finished his work in the Ducal Palace he was allowed to go to Istanbul.That was in 1479.

So he went to work for the same man who had killed,enslaved and raped the people of Constantinople in 1453 and who later was the cause for killing 800 Italian men who refused to convert to Islam in Otranto,Italy,in 1480.Their story is here:

Gentile Bellini goes to Istanbul

He was received with honour, and made many paintings that were greatly admired.The Sultan gave him gifts and favours, and he lived like a prince. Each picture painted by Gentile was thought more wonderful than the last. He painted a portrait of the Sultan, and even one of himself.Here is the famous portrait of Mehmet II by Bellini,dated 25 November 1480,and now in the National Gallery,London:

Why Gentile Bellini left the Sultan:Because he Discovered he was an Evil Man

A whole year passed but then an incident happened that made Bellini leave Mehmet II,since it showed he was a cruel and heartless man.The story is told by Carlo Ridolfi, known for his biographies of the Venetian painters and sculptors,in a book written in 1648.

Bellini had painted a picture of the dancing daughter of Herodias, with the head of John the Baptist in her hand, and when it was finished presented it to the Sultan.The Sultan was charmed but looking at the head of St. John,he frowned.

Mehmet II said:”It seems to me that there is something not quite right about that head. I do not think a head which had just been cut off would look exactly as that does in your picture.”

Gentile said he did not wish to contradict him but the head was right.”We will see,” said the Sultan and told a guard to decapitate the head of one of the slaves, that Bellini might see if his picture was exact.

“Who knows,”Bellini said to himself, “that the Sultan may not wish to see next how my head would look cut off from my body!”So Bellini decided to leave Istanbul as soon as possible,in 1480.



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