Bellini’s St Dominic in Denver

August 7th 2021

“St Dominic”,Giovanni Bellini, c.1501, Denver, private collection

This painting by Giovanni Bellini of St Dominic is less well known than others.   Saint Dominic is reading from the book he holds open in his hands. He is easily identified by his reddish hair, beard and habit.  He holds his usual attributes,  which are the Book of the Gospels, most likely that of Matthew which was said to have been his favourite,  and a lily, symbolising the virtue of chastity.  Behind him and balancing the lily there is a young oak, on which a single acorn is visible.   It is thought that this painting of St Dominic is the one described in a letter to Isabella d’Este from her agent Lorenzo da Pavia.  He refers to a ”small picture with a rather lovely half-length figure of St Dominic” recently completed for Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.  The letter was dated 3rd August 1501.  It is known that Bellini had a villa on the mainland and had spent some time there in the summer of 1501.  It is not difficult to see that the landscape in this picture may have been inspired by the views of the Alps he would have enjoyed from his villa. But the wonderful thing about this landscape is the way it is related to the saint in the foreground.  Bellini uses a limited palette, but it is one  which harmonises beautifully with the simplicity of the saint’s black and white habit.  But perhaps the most beautiful thing about this painting is Bellini’s handling of the gentle light which suffuses the landscape and the saint.  The stillness and beauty of the landscape evoke the interior life of the Saint Dominic as he contemplates the scriptures and the goodness of creation.  St Dominic pray for us.

Bellini’s St Dominic in Denver

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