San Giobbe Altarpiece

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Giovanni Bellini, San Giobbe Altarpiece, 1487
By ELIZABETH ELLIS

Bellini wanted to create a compound experience for those who entered the San Giobbe cathedral and viewed the San Giobbe Alterpiece. His painting had to convey the intimacy of the scene within the painting and resonate throughout the church and invoke feelings of reverence, comfort, and belonging, while also showing his talent as an artist with the perspective, composition, and faithfully telling the story of the painting.

Hand gestures are a critical part of the San Giobbe Alterpiece as a way of welcoming visitors into the cathedral. Mary gazes off into the distance in an almost divine, detached way while her torso faces the viewer with her upraised hand, palm facing forward, inviting them into the church. St. Francis' outstretched hand welcomes the beholder into the scene itself to view the baby Jesus and complete the circle of saints around enthroned Mary. Mary is the protector of the painting, meant to invoke comfort and strength, while St. Francis grounds the painting, inviting the viewer into the painting and calling forth a feeling of religious belonging and simple faith.

The two levels of devotion that Bellini uses are dulia and hyperdulia to invoke the religious meaning to those viewing it. Dulia, in Roman Catholic theology, is the reverence accorded to saints and angels. He shows dulia with the half crescent of saints, from left to right: St. Francis, John the Baptist, Job, St. Dominic, St. Sebastian, and Louis of Toulouse, as well as with the angels seated at the throne of Mary. Hyperdulia is reverence reserved for the Virgin alone. By having Mary in majesty with the angels at her feet and saints facing her in reverence, Bellini shows hyperdulia. Bellini uses dulia and hyperdulia, as the San Giobbe Altarpiece is the first to be seen when entering the cathedral, and he needs to include these themes when welcoming church-goers so they enter a religiously faithful and pious state of mind.

Bellini uses the theological code for his color choices as a way of differing his saints and giving significance to the painting. The theological code, as argued by St. Antoninus, is that black represents humility, white represents purity, red represents charity, and yellow-gold represents dignity. He uses black and brown for St. Dominic and St. Francis respectively to show the faith and humbleness of the saints. He places them on opposite sides of Mary to maintain the symmetrical composition. Bellini uses the same technique for Job and St. Sebastian. Both are clothed in white, Job shown with a white beard, and St. Sebastian, clean-shaven and youthful, to keep the balance while their differences in age and body position give variety to the painting. By using yellow-gold to accent different parts of the building behind and above the throne, Bellini adds a grandeur to the painting.

Perspective within the San Giobbe Altarpiece gives an importance to the figures in the painting while also showing the depth of area within the painting. Bellini uses perspective on the painting when placing Mary on the throne in comparison to the room around her, giving her a place of importance with the light falling on her face. However, the saints in the foreground are too large next to the throne and in comparison to the pillars framing the painting. Bellini could have done this on purpose to emphasize the importance of the saints and make them more life-size next to the people viewing the painting. Through shadowing and placement of Mary, Bellini adds expanse and depth by using the pillars to hold the saints in place and provide a comparison to the shadows and space behind the throne. 

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