Jacopo Bassano
Biography/Paintings of Venetian Mannerist Painter.

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Portrait of a Cardinal (c.1545)
Szepmuveszeti Museum, Budapest.
Beautiful example of 16th century
Venetian portrait painting.

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Paintings by Jacopo Bassano
are available online in the form
of poster art.

Jacopo Bassano (1515-1592)

One of the great Old Masters of the Venice Renaissance during the 16th century period of Mannerism, Bassano studied in Venice under Bonifazio Veronese (1487-1553), before settling in his native city of Bassano, where he established his own workshop. Influenced by other Venetian painters like Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556), Titian (1487-1576), Tintoretto (1518-94) and Paolo Veronese (1528-88), as well as Parmigianino (1503-40) and Salviati (1510-63), his works display extraordinary luminosity, precise detail and simple narrative elements. Admired mostly for his religious art and Biblical scenes, he often composed them in the form of bucolic genre paintings, complete with precise drawings of animals - a format which allowed the real-life features to shine through the religious subject. A master draughtsman, Bassano typically used bright chalks in his preparatory designs. He was also an outstanding exponent of portrait art. If his early pictures appear somewhat provincial, his style evolved into a sophisticated synthesis of the colouring of Titian and Paolo Veronese (1528-88). An influential contributor to Venetian painting, his works include: Portrait of a Bearded Man (1535); Portrait of a Cardinal (1545, Budapest); The Beheading of John the Baptist (c.1550, State Art Museum, Copenhagen); Landscape with the Parable of the Sower (1560-70, Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid); The Earthly Paradise (c.1573, Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome); and The Animals Entering the Ark (1590, Prado, Madrid).

For an idea of the pigments
used by Jacopo Bassano
in his colour painting,
see: Renaissance Colour Palette.

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Early Days

After studying with his father, Francesco the Elder (1475-1539), Bassano (born Jacopo da Ponte) went to Venice to work in the studio of Bonifacio de Pitati (Veronese). In 1535 he painted for the town hall of Bassano three works on biblical themes (Bassano Museum), which are a mixture of Bonifacio's influence and his own ideas. Coming from the 'mainland', Bassano was responsive to northern Italian realism but equally to Mannerist currents. Between 1535 and 1540 he showed interest in the painting of the Venetian history painter Pordenone (1483-1539) and took from him a plastic structure on to which - now free from the influence of Bonifacio - he could graft portraits of an astonishing realism (Samson and the Philistines, Gemaldegalerie, Dresden; Adoration of the Magi, Exeter Collection, Burghley House, Lincolnshire).

Mannerism, in full flood in Venice around 1540, opened up new possibilities to him, and he responded to it with enthusiasm. Each of his paintings was, to him, an experiment.

Early Career: 1540-50

During this period Bassano produced, in succession, a series of works of widely different character: The Martyrdom of St Catherine (Bassano Museum), which recalls The Beheading of St John the Baptist (State Art Museum, Copenhagen) by Pontormo (1494-1556), where the slender figures, set in a more constricted space, are wholly Emilian in their elegance; The Road to Calvary (National Gallery, London), inspired by German engravings; The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (Ambrosiana, Milan), where the Mannerist rhythms set off violently truthful insights. Prints reaching Venice from Emilia and the north suggested exciting, whirling sequences to him. His colour became lighter and his tones lost their warmth.

Mid-Career: 1550-60

This decade saw Bassano's style mature. The Last Supper (c.1550, Galleria Borghese, Rome), which marks the end of a period for Bassano, is proof that he had studied Tintoretto's chiaroscuro and shows that he was familiar with the work of the Dalmatian painter and engraver Schiavone (1522-82) (Road to Calvary, Budapest Museum). The formal tension is still very strong, while the space contains details which, in their realism, resemble the work of 17th-century Spanish Baroque artists. The realism of the previous decade takes on a new appearance. Before, the details had been confined within severe outlines; now they appear, as in Lazarus and Dives (Cleveland Museum), in a space full of shadows, with the result that they are far more evocative. Shadows now acquire their true atmospheric value; dawns and sunsets give to the compositions in which they appear the character of real landscapes. In this period, a remarkable luminosity, the cool colouring of which derives from a very broad application of pigment, infuses Bassano's work and gives it a lyrical, imaginative feeling that owes much to Mannerism. (See also: Titian and Venetian Colour Painting c.1500-76.) At this time, too, Bassano began to interpret the Bible afresh, in paintings set in pastoral landscapes.


Later Career: 1560-70

The Crucifixion in the Church of S. Teonisto (1562, Treviso Museum) is an essential landmark in the chronology of Bassano's output as a painter, which otherwise is difficult to reconstruct. Christ on the cross stands out in isolation against a wide sky darkened by heavy clouds crossed by gleams of light, while lower down, where Mary and John are standing, the light is cold and limpid. El Greco (1541-1614) found this remarkable new vision overwhelming, as did Paolo Veronese. With St Jerome (Accademia, Venice) Bassano pursues the same course, but more profoundly, to arrive at a truth that foreshadows Borgianni and the realism of the 17th century.

In The Adoration of the Shepherds (1568, Bassano Museum), one of a series of large altar-paintings, Bassano began a new phase of his development. Freed from the hallucinatory fantasies of earlier years, he abandoned himself to the lyricism of light and the magic of touch in narrative paintings that blend the natural and the artificial. Bucolic and pastoral in inspiration, paintings of this period draw upon widely differing biblical episodes for their subject matter; they include cycles on the Flood and on the life and Passion of Christ. They are set in the countryside, or in palaces and kitchens, often at night, where the play of light, of torches, candles and glowing coals takes on an important role (Departure for Canaan, Doge's Palace, Venice; Annunciation to the Shepherds, Prague Museum), heralding the coming of Caravaggism. The rural inspiration of this period also appears in a series of allegories of the months and seasons, illustrating agricultural and domestic life at different times of the year. For more about Jacopo Bassano's innovations in reredos and triptych painting, see: Venetian altarpieces (c.1500-1600).

This type of bucolic oil painting were very popular with collectors in Venice and abroad, and Bassano was called upon to produce many replicas of the original paintings. Work was spread throughout his studio, with, from about 1570, his son Francesco - later joined by his other sons - playing a particularly active role. Henceforth, as a result, attribution of individual works is difficult.

Painting During His Final Years

Around 1580 Bassano's style underwent a further change. His interpretation of scenes from the Passion becomes more tragic, overwhelmed by a feeling of suffering. Born from the extreme experiences of his youth and from his confrontation with the late works of Titian and Tintoretto (Susannah and the Elders, 1585, Nimes Museum), the drama of the last works is entirely new.


Bassano spent his whole life peacefully in his native city, producing works for the churches there and in the vicinity, at a distance from Venice, the scene of the triumphs of Veronese and Tintoretto. In spite of this, he is, with them, one of the major figures of Venetian Mannerism, and he is so in a completely personal way. His cinquecento art oscillates between two tendencies: the one, imaginative and hallucinatory, was to recur in El Greco; the other, naturalistic and luminous, has led him to be compared with Velazquez and the Impressionists. See also: Legacy of Venetian Painting on European art.


Bassano had four sons who were also painters, and who continued his style: Francesco the Younger (1549-92), Giambattista (1553-1613), Leandro (1557-1622), and Gerolamo (1566-1621). Two of them, Francesco and Leandro, became famous. Francesco, who settled in Venice in 1579, continued to paint domestic and country scenes and later produced a number of works in the style of the school of Tintoretto (Doge's Palace), before throwing himself from an upstairs window. Leandro, who arrived in Venice some years later, was distinguished as a portraitist and adapted his father's style to suit the taste of Venice at the end of the 16th century (series of Months, K.M. Vienna). He was knighted by the Doge in 1596.

Paintings by Jacopo Bassano can be seen in some of the best art museums around the world, notably the Museo Civico in Bassano.

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