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Bellini, Charles Ryder's favourite painter

Blog | By Harry Mount | Sep 27, 2018


Evelyn Waugh was the master of the putdown. And one of the best comes in Brideshead Revisited, when Lord Marchmain asks Charles Ryder who his favourite Venetian painter is:

'Bellini,' I answered rather wildly.

'Yes? Which?'

'I'm afraid I didn't know there were two of them.'

'Three, to be precise. You will find that, in the great ages, painting was very much a family business.'

Waugh never discloses which Bellini Charles preferred – but surely it was Giovanni Bellini (1430-1516), whose father, Jacopo, and brother, Gentile, were also painters.

Giovanni's works star in a new National Gallery show, alongside his brother-in-law Mantegna, opening on October 1. Mantegna is pretty marvellous, too, but it is this picture of the Doge Leonardo Loredan which really steals the show: so serene and yet so tough, spare and austere in his expression; so rich and lavish in his dress and headgear.

It is this Bellini, too, who painted a saint's toga in the same colour that results from mixing Prosecco and peach juice - thus the name of the famous drink created at Harry's Bar in Venice. To drink a Bellini in front of this Bellini would be close to heaven – but the National Gallery understandably doesn't allow beverages in its galleries.