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by [?]

Gian Bellini had two pupils whose name and fame are deathless: Giorgione and Titian. There is a fine flavor of romance surrounds Giorgione, the gentle, the refined, the beloved. His was a spirit like unto that of Chopin or Shelley, and his death-dirge should have been written by the one and set to music by the other–brothers doloroso, sent into this rough world unprepared for its buffets, passing away in manhood’s morning. Yet all heard the song of the skylark. Giorgione died broken-hearted, through his ladylove’s inconstancy. He was exactly the same age as Titian, and while he lived surpassed that giant far, as the giant himself admitted. He died aged thirty-three, the age at which a full dozen of the greatest men of the world have died, and the age at which several other very great men have been born again–which possibly is the same thing. Titian lived to be a hundred, lacking six months, and when past seventy used to give alms to a beggar-woman at a church- door–the woman who had broken the heart of Giorgione. He also painted her portrait–this in sad and subdued remembrance of the days agone.

The Venetian School of Art has been divided by Ruskin into three parts: the first begins with Jacopo Bellini, and this part might be referred to as the budding period. The second is the flowering period, and the palm is carried by Gian Bellini. The period of ripe fruit–o’erripe fruit, touched by the tint of death–is represented by four men: Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto and Paul Veronese. Beyond these four, Venetian Art has never gone, and although four hundred years have elapsed since they laughed and sang, enjoyed and worked, all we can do is wonder and admire. We can imitate, but we can not improve.

Gian Bellini lived to be ninety-two, working to the last, always a learner, always a teacher. His best work was done after his eightieth year. The cast-off shell of this great spirit was placed in the tomb with that of his brother Gentile, who had passed out but a few years before. Death did not divide them.

Giovanni Bellini was his name. Yet when people who loved beautiful pictures spoke of “Gian,” every one knew who was meant, but to those who worked at art he was “The Master.” He was two inches under six feet in height, strong and muscular. In spite of his seventy summers his carriage was erect and there was a jaunty suppleness about his gait that made him seem much younger. In fact, no one would have believed that he had lived over his threescore and ten, were it not for the iron-gray hair that fluffed out all around under the close- fitting black cap, and the bronzed complexion–sun-kissed by wind and weather–which formed a trinity of opposites that made people turn and stare.

Queer stories used to be told about him. He was a skilful gondolier, and it was the daily row back and forth from the Lido that gave him that face of bronze. Folks said he ate no meat and drank no wine, and that his food was simply ripe figs in the season, with coarse rye bread and nuts. Then there was that funny old hunchback, a hundred years old at least, and stone-deaf, who took care of the gondola, spending the whole day, waiting for his master, washing the trim, graceful, blue-black boat, arranging the awning with the white cords and tassels, and polishing the little brass lions at the sides. People tried to question the old hunchback, but he gave no secrets away. The master always stood up behind and rowed, while down on the cushions rode the hunchback, the guest of honor.

There stood the master erect, plying the oar, his long black robe tucked up under the dark blue sash that exactly matched the color of the gondola. The man’s motto might have been, “Ich Dien,” or that passage of Scripture, “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” Suspended around his neck by a slender chain was a bronze medal, presented by vote of the Signoria when the great picture of “The Transfiguration” was unveiled. If this medal had been a crucifix, and you had met the wearer in San Marco, one glance at the finely chiseled features, the black cap and the flowing robe and you would have said at once the man was a priest, Vicar-General of some important diocese. But seeing him standing erect on the stern of a gondola, the wind caressing the dark gray hair, you would have been perplexed until your gondolier explained in serious undertone that you had just passed “The greatest Painter in all Venice, Gian, the Master.”