Bellini belonged to one of the leading families of painters in Italy and was responsible for the diffusion and introduction of the Renaissance style in Venice. In 1460 he is documented with his brother Giovanni as an apprentice in the family workshop, collaborating on important projects. Gentile was official painter to the Republic of Venice and specialised in portraits and large-format narrative compositions in which he depicted the city and its inhabitants with a wealth of detail. The high point of his career as official painter was his attachment in 1479 to a diplomatic mission to the court of Sultan Mohammed II in Constantinople, whom Bellini depicted on a medal. His style is characterised by its interest in anecdotal aspects and its emphasis on small details. He deployed this approach throughout his career, and was also influenced by Paduan art and that of Andrea Mantegna, who became his brother-in-law.
Gentile’s earliest work, dated 1465, is the portrait of Lorenzo Giustiniani (Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice). Also from this period is the Virgin and Child with two Donors (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin). In 1466 he worked on one of his most important projects, namely a series of paintings on the Passion for the Sala Maggiore of the Scuola Grande di San Marco, subsequently destroyed by fire in 1485. This project notably increased his fame and reputation. Around this date Gentile collaborated with his brother, while in 1474 he was entrusted with an ambitious project for the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in the Palazzo Ducale, indicating his artistic maturity and independence. Following his return from Constantinople he worked for the Duke of Mantua, Francesco Gonzaga II.
In his last years Gentile’s output decreased due to his fragile state of health and he stipulated that on his death his unfinished projects should be completed by his younger brother Giovanni.