In this little precious room of the Accademia are thirteen Bellinis, each in its way a gem: enough to prove that variousness of which I spoke. The “Madonna degli Alberetti,” for example, with its unexpected apple-green screen, almost Bougereau carried out to the highest power, would, if hung in any exhibition to-day, be remarkable but not anachronistic. And then one thinks of the Gethsemane picture in our National Gallery, and of the Christ recently acquired by the Louvre, and marvels. For sheer delight of fancy, colour, and design the five scenes of Allegory are the flower of the room; and here again our thoughts leap forward as we look, for is not the second of the series, “Venus the Ruler of the World,” sheer Burne-Jones? The pictures run thus: (1) “Bacchus tempting Endeavour,” (2) either Venus, with the sporting babies, or as some think, Science (see the reproduction opposite page 158), (3) with its lovely river landscape, “Blind Chance,” (4) the Naked Truth, and (5) Slander. Of the other pictures I like best No. 613, reproduced opposite page 260, with the Leonardesque saint on the right; and No. 610, with its fine blues, light and dark, and the very Venetian Madonna; and the Madonna with the Child stretched across her knees, reproduced opposite page 144.
Giovanni Bellini did not often paint anything that can be described as essentially Venetian. He is called the father of Venetian painting, but his child only faintly resembles him, if at all. That curious change of which one is conscious at the National Gallery in passing from Rooms I and VI to Room VII, from Tuscany and Umbria to Venice, is due less to the Bellinis in Room VII than to any painter there. The Bellinis could be hung in Rooms I and VI without violence; the Giorgiones and Titians and Tintorettos would conflict. Bellini’s simplicity allies him to Giotto traditions; but there was no simplicity about Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto. They were sophisticated, and the two last were also the painters of a wealthy and commanding Republic. One can believe that Bellini, wherever he was, even in the Doges’ Palace, carried a little enclosed portion of the Kingdom of God within him: but one does not think of those others in that way. He makes his Madonnas so much more real and protective too. Note the strong large hands which hold the Child in his every picture.
Titian’s fine martial challenging John the Baptist is the great picture of the next room, No. XIX. Here also are good but not transcendent portraits by Titian, Tintoretto, and Lotto, and the Battle of Lepanto, with heavenly interference, by Veronese.
Finally, we come to the room set apart for Titian’s charming conception of “The Presentation of the Virgin,” which fills all one wall of it. I give a reproduction opposite page 36. The radiant figure of the thick-set little brave girl in blue, marching so steadily away from her parents to the awe-inspiring but kindly priests at the head of the steps, is unforgettable. Notice the baby in the arms of a woman among the crowd. The picture as a whole is disappointing in colour, and I cherish the belief that if Tintoretto’s beautiful variant at the Madonna dell’Orto (see opposite page 282) could be cleaned and set up in a good light it might conquer.