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Bellini and Titian, the Feast of the Gods

Giovanni Bellini and Titian, The Feast of the Gods, 1514 and 1529, oil on canvas (National Gallery of Art) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris, Dr. Steven Zucker

Part of a mythological cycle painted by Titian and Giovanni Bellini and commissioned by Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara that includes Bacchus and Ariadne and the Andrians. Originally hung in the studiolo or Camerini d'Alabastro of the Duke's Ferranese castle.

Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(jazz music) Dr. Zucker: We're in the National Gallery in Washington, DC and we're looking at one of their great canvasses. It's the Feast of the Gods and there are actually three painters involved here, two principle. The main artist is Giovanni Bellini, the Venetian and then ultimately, his student Titian, who was one of the really great Renaissance masters. Dr. Harris: He completed the landscape, who Bellini was - Dr. Zucker: After he died. Dossi painted a bit of the landscape, which I think then Titian painted over. Dr. Harris: Right. Dr. Zucker: Ultimately. Dr. Harris: This was done for the Duke of Ferrara, so this is - Dr. Zucker: Adesti. Dr. Harris: Right, so this is commissioned at the highest levels of the aristocracy in Venice. Dr. Zucker: But this was not a public commission, this was for his study, which is to say it was allowed to have a kind of private subject matter, which is a kind of playful sexuality, really. Dr. Harris: It is, yeah. Dr. Zucker: This is a Bacchanal, Feast of the Gods. Dr. Harris: Figures eating and drinking and ... Dr. Zucker: Cavorting. Dr. Harris: Cavorting and having pleasures of various kinds in the landscape. Dr. Zucker: All the figures are identifiable - Dr. Harris: Gods and nyads - Dr. Zucker: Saters. Bacchus, interestingly enough, is the young child on the lower left in blue. Dr. Harris: Collecting some wine. Dr. Zucker: Of course, appropriately. The large figure just to the right (crosstalk) is Mercury. If you look closely, there's all kinds of wonderful interludes. The color is very Venetian in its brilliance and in the way - Dr. Harris: Its jewel-like qualities. Dr. Zucker: Yeah, that's a result of this privileged place between Italy, between the Florentine tradition on one hand- Dr. Harris: On the north and of course it's oil painting, because the colors could not have been so saturated - Dr. Zucker: If it was tempera. Dr. Harris: If it had been tempera or fresco. Dr. Zucker: The figures really feel part of the landscape. They're not an excuse for landscape. They're very much embedded. Dr. Harris: Although they do kind of form this friese along the single plane, it looks very classical to me, like a classical relief sculpture, but it's an incredibly complex composition with 18 or so figures who are all in various positions and there's a kind of - The figures are interrelated and there's nothing stiff about the composition. This is really leading into what I consider the style of the high Renaissance, where the figures have a kind of fluidity and grace. Dr. Zucker: They really are representing people with their own motivations. Dr. Harris: I love that the sunlight coming through looks like this part of the landscape that Bellini painted of the trees, these vertical trees, and that yellow orange and blue sunlight coming through. (crosstalk) and all of the things we consider very Venetian. Dr. Zucker: It is an incredibly ambitious painting. It tells stories you would never tire of looking at. Dr. Harris: Then you can imagine the Duke in his study, looking at these gods, these Olympian gods enjoying the pleasures of earthly life. Dr. Zucker: A kind of justification of the pleasures that he enjoys. Dr. Harris: Mmhmm (affirmative). (jazz music)