ALMOST all the stories of the lives of the painters
which we have been listening to, until now, have
clustered round Florence, the City of Flowers.
She was their great mother, and her sons loved her
with a deep, passionate love, thinking nothing too
fair with which to deck her beauty. Wherever
they wandered she drew them back, for their very
heartstrings were wound around her, and each and
all strove to give her of their best.
But now we come to the stories of men whose
lives gather round a different centre. Instead of
the great mother-city beside the Arno, with her
strong towers and warlike citizens, the noise of
battle ever sounding in her streets, and her flowery
fields encircling her on every side, we have now
Venice, Queen of the Sea.
No warlike tread or tramp of angry crowds
disturbs her fair streets, for here are no pavements,
only the cool green water which laps the walls of
her marble palaces, and gives back the sound of the
dipping oar and the soft echo of passing voices, as
the gondolas glide along her watery ways. Here
are no grim grey towers of defence, but fairy palaces
of white and coloured marbles, which rise from the
waters below as if they had been built by the sea
 nymphs, who had fashioned them of their own sea-
shells and mother-of-pearl.
There are no flowery meadows here, but instead
the vast waters of the lagoons, which reach out until
they meet the blue arc of the sky or touch the
distant mountains which lie like a purple line upon
the horizon. Here and there tiny islands lie upon
its bosom, so faint and fairylike that they scarcely
seem like solid land, reflected as they are in the
But although Venice has no meadows decked
with flowers and no wealth of blossoming trees,
everywhere on every side she shines with colour,
this wonderful sea-girt city. Her white marble
palaces glow with a soft amber light, the cool green
water that reflects her beauty glitters in rings of
gold and blue, changing from colour to colour as
each ripple changes its form. At sunset, when the
sun disappears over the edge of the lagoon and
leaves behind its trail of shining clouds, she is like
a dream-city rising from a sea of molten gold—a
double city, for in the pure gold is reflected each
tower and spire, each palace and campanile, in
masses of pale yellow and quivering white light,
with here and there a burning touch of flame colour.
She seems to have no connection with the solid,
ordinary cities of the world. There she lies in all
her beauty, silent and apart, like a white sea-bird
floating upon the bosom of the ocean.
Venice had always seemed separate and distinct
from the rest of the world. Her cathedral of San
Marco was never under the rule of Rome, and her
 rulers, or doges, as they were called, governed the
city as kings, and did not trouble themselves with
the affairs of other towns. Her merchant princes
sailed to far countries and brought home precious
spoils to add to her beauty. Everything was as
rich and rare and splendid as it was possible to
make it, and she was unlike any other city on earth.
So the painters who lived and worked in this city
of the sea had their own special way of painting,
which was different to that of the Florentine school.
From their babyhood these men had looked upon
all this beauty of colour, and the love of it had
grown with their growth. The golden light on the
water, the pearly-grey and tinted marbles, the gay
sails of the galleys which swept the lagoons like
painted butterflies, the wide stretch of water ending
in the mystery of the distant skyline—it all sank into
their hearts, and it was little wonder that they
should strive to paint colour above all things, and
at last reach a perfection such as no other school of
painters has equalled.
As with the Florentine artists, so with these
Venetian painters, we must leave many names
unnoticed just now, and learn first to know those
which shine out clearest among the many bright
stars of fame.
In the beginning of the fifteenth century, four
hundred years ago, when Fra Filippo Lippi was
painting in Florence, there lived in Venice a certain
Jacopo Bellini, who was a painter, and who had
two sons called Gentile and Giovanni. The father
taught his boys with great care, and gave them the
 best training he could, for he was anxious that his
sons should become great painters. He saw that
they were both clever and quick to learn, and he
hoped great things of them.
'Never do less than your very best,' he would say,
as he taught the boys how to draw and use their
colours. 'See how the Tuscan artists strive with
one another, each desiring to do most honour to
their city of Florence. So, Gentile, I would have
thee also strive to be great; and thou, Giovanni,
endeavour to be even greater than thy brother.'
But though the boys were thus taught to try and
outdo each other, still they were always the best of
friends, and there was never any unkind rivalry
Gentile, the eldest, was fond of painting story
pictures, which told the history of Venice, and
showed the magnificent doges, and nobles, and
people of the city, dressed in their rich robes. The
Venetians loved pictures which showed forth the
glory of their city, and very soon Gentile was
invited to paint the walls of the Ducal Palace with
his historical pictures.
Now Venice carried on a great trade with her
ships, which sailed to many foreign lands. These
ships, loaded with merchandise, touched at different
ports, and the merchants sold their goods or took
in exchange other things which they brought back
to Venice. It happened that one of the ships which
set sail for Turkey had on board among other things
several pictures painted by Giovanni Bellini. These
were shown to the Sultan of Turkey, who had never
 seen a picture before, and he was amazed and
delighted beyond words. His religion forbade the
making of pictures, but he paid no attention now to
that law, but sent a messenger to Venice praying
that the painter Bellini might come to him at once.
The rulers of Venice were unwilling to spare
Giovanni just then, but they allowed Gentile to go,
as his work at the Ducal Palace was finished.
So Gentile took his canvases and paints, and,
setting sail in one of the merchant ships, soon
arrived at the court of the Grand Turk.
He was received with every honour, and nothing
was thought too good for this wonderful painter,
who could make pictures which looked like living
men. The Sultan loaded him with gifts and favours,
and he lived there like a royal 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, which was considered little
short of magic.
Thus a whole year passed by, and Gentile had a
most delightful time and was well contented, until one
day something happened which disturbed his peace.
He 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 he brought it
and presented it to the Sultan.
As usual, the Sultan was charmed with the new
picture; but he paused in his praises of its beauty,
and looked thoughtfully at the head of St. John, and
'It seems to me,' he said, '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 answered courteously that he did not wish
to contradict his royal highness, but it seemed to
him that the head was right.
'We shall see,' said the Sultan calmly, and he
turned carelessly to a guard who stood close by and
bade him cut of the head of one of the slaves, that
Bellini might see if his picture was really correctly
This was more than Gentile could stand.
'Who knows,' he said to himself, 'that the Sultan
may not wish to see next how my head would look
cut off from my body!'
So while his precious head was still safe upon his
shoulders he thought it wiser to slip quietly away and
return to Venice by the very first ship he could find.
Meanwhile Giovanni had worked steadily on, and
had far surpassed both his father and his brother.
Indeed, he had become the greatest painter in
Venice, the first of that wonderful Venetian school
which learned to paint such marvellous colour.
With all the wealth of delicate shading spread
out before his eyes, with the ever-changing wonder
of the opal-tinted sea meeting him on every side, it
was not strange that the love of colour sank into his
very heart. In his pictures we can see the golden
glow which bathes the marble palaces, the clear
green of the water, the pure blues and burning
crimsons all as transparent as crystal, not mere
paint but living colour.
 Giovanni did not care to paint stories of Venice,
with great crowds of figures, as Gentile did. He
loved best the Madonna and saints, single figures
full of quiet dignity. His saints are more human
than those which Fra Angelico painted, and yet
they are not mere men and women, but something
higher and nobler. Instead of the angels swinging
their censers which the painter of San Marco so
lovingly drew, Giovanni's angels are little human
boys, with grave sweet faces; happy children with a
look of heaven in their eyes, as they play on their
little lutes and mandolines.
CHERUB. BY GIOVANNI BELLINI
But besides the pictures of saints and angels,
Giovanni had a wonderful gift for painting portraits,
and most of the great people of Venice came to be
painted by him. In our own National Gallery we
have the portrait of the Doge Loredan, which is one
of those pictures which can teach you many things
when you have learned to look with seeing eyes.
So the brothers worked together, but before long
death carried off the elder, and Giovanni was left alone.
Though he was now very old, Giovanni worked
harder than ever, and his hand, instead of losing
power, seemed to grow stronger and more and more
skilful. He was ninety years old when he died, and
he worked almost up to the last.
The brothers were both buried in the church of
SS. Giovanni e Paolo, in the heart of Venice. There,
in the dim quietness of the old church, they lie at
rest together, undisturbed by the voices of the
passers-by in the square outside, or the lapping of
the water against the steps, as the tides ebb and
flow around their quiet resting-place.
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