Italian (c. 1438–1516)
Tempera, oil, and gold on panel
23 1/4 x 18 1/2 in. (59 x 47 cm) Framed: 31 x 26 x 3 in. (78.7 x 66 x 7.6 cm)
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Bellini’s Christ Blessing vividly portrays the central mystery of the Christian faith: the incarnation, when Christ––fully human and fully divine––was sent to earth to redeem humankind. For greater immediacy, the devotional image is brought close to the picture plane as the Resurrected Savior faces the worshiper with a level gaze. He raises his right hand in blessing, and with his left grips the bright red staff of the banner of the Resurrection (the white flag with a red cross, denoting his triumph over death, is out of view). Golden rays of light emanate from the top and sides of his head, signaling his divinity. The message of Christian compassion is conveyed by his wounds of suffering, which are lightly visible on his hand and chest, while the shadow cast by his raised arm serves to confirm the reality of the Resurrection. Various motifs in the distant landscape allude to the Resurrection theme. On the left side of the panel, the withered tree with the solitary bird probably stands for the Old Covenant, out of which the New Covenant would grow. The pair of rabbits signify regeneration, while the shepherd tending his flock is a reminder that Christ, himself, is the Good Shepherd (John 10:14). The three robed figures at the right edge of the picture are undoubtedly the three Marys, who are hurrying to tell the disciples of the empty tomb. Above them the distant bell tower denotes that salvation is found through Christ’s sacrifice and the Church.
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William Coningham [1815-1884]; (his sale, Christie and Manson, London, 9 June 1849, no. 37, as Cima de Conegliano, “The Man of Sorrows,” sold for £ 37-16). Richard Fisher [d.1890], Hill Top, Midhurst, England, by 1865; by descent to Gunhilda Fisher; (sale, Sotheby's, London, 2 July 1958, no. 29, as Marco Basaiti); purchased for £11,500 by Patch. Josef H. Dasser, Zurich, probably in 1958, as Bellini; purchased through (Hallsborough Gallery, London) by the Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1967.