Giovanni Bellini? Convince the guard to open the security cordon and let you take a closer look at the back of the painting


Walking in Campo Santa Maria Formosa, Venice, and turning around its main church, you arrive in front of a small door, topped by a neon installation by Joseph Kosuth. It is the entrance of a fascinating private museum where ancient and contemporary art blend harmoniously: the Querini Stampalia.


The original building is from the sixteenth century but during time it was enlarged thanks to projects by Andrea Solario and Girolamo Vianello. The interior décor is by the main plasterers and decorators of that time, Jacopo and Vincenzo Guarana, Giuseppe Bernardino Bison, Giuseppe and Pietro Castelli. New interventions took place in the twentieth century – Carlo Scarpa worked here between 1959 and 1963 and Mario Botta in 1993 – but this layering of architectural styles does not disturb. On the contrary, it makes the original structure even more interesting.


Many important artworks are preserved at the Querini Stampalia. There is a sketch in clay by Antonio Canova, a sculpture by Medardo Rosso, works by Palma il Vecchio, Giambattista Tiepolo, Pietro Longhi, Michele Giambono and by the lesser-known painter Gabriel Bella – this latter demonstrates a fine taste in putting together the warm spirit of the narrative composition with the cold attention to the geometric configuration. However the real masterpiece of the museum is “The Presentation in the Temple” by Giovanni Bellini, placed on an easel designed by Carlo Scarpa.


Looking at the work you can’t avoid to turn to “metaphysics.” The composition is indeed resolved through the figures sunk into the void of a dark background. And the temple is symbolized by the single frame of faux marble where the sacred and the mundane meet. A character wades out of the picture, in the direction of the viewer, who is projected into the scene thanks to a great magnetism.


If you manage to convince the guard to open the security cordon and let you take a closer look at the back of the painting (a rather impossible mission!), then you can read a large sign indicating the previous attribution to Andrea Mantegna. However, if you don’t manage so, you can anyway spot the brother in law of Giovanni Bellini. In effect Mantegna is the character in the background, on the right side of the painting: also magnetic, even if, unfortunately, slightly faded.


September 7, 2014