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Antonello da Messina


Admiring Antonello da Messina's paintings live in Sicily is one of the reasons to visit this region. In fact, Antonello is certainly one of the most famous Sicilian artists in the world. His works are exhibited in the most important museums in the world such as the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the National Gallery in London, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. There are six paintings in Sicily, including two of his most famous portraits: the Annunciation from Palermo and the portrait of a man from Cefalù.


Antonello da Messina: life, training and style

Antonio di Giovanni de Antonio, known as Antonello da Messina, was born in Messina around 1430. His father, Giovanni de Antonio, was a stonemason and probably learned his first perspectives from him. Around 1450 Antonello moved to Naples to visit the workshop of the painter Colantonio. Here he learns about Flemish, Spanish and Provencal painting, which will influence his style throughout his career. Studying the works of Piero della Francesca will also prove fundamental. It takes up the rigor of perspective and the volume of the Tuscan painter. Back in Messina, Antonello opened his shop, which was already in full swing in 1457. At the end of 1474, however, he traveled back to Venice, where he came into contact with the painting of Giovanni Bellini. After returning to Messina, he died in 1479.


The works of Antonello da Messina in Sicily

The works of Antonello da Messina that can be admired in Sicily are divided into six: Messina, Syracuse, Palermo and Cefal. The attribution of these paintings to the painter of Messina was possible thanks to Antonello's signature or official documents such as commissioned contracts. There are also other works that some scholars have suggested attributing to Antonello, such as the San Zosimo in Syracuse Cathedral. All of Antonello's paintings found in Sicily were made by the painter during his stay on the island between 1465 and 1475. To see the return to Sicily of the two-faced tablet, now in the Regional Museum of Messina, it is necessary to wait until 2003. This was in fact acquired at Christie's auction of the Sicily Region for an amount of £ 220,000.


Antonello's painting in Messina

The first stage of this route can only begin in the painter's hometown. In the Regional Museum of Messina (Mu.Me) there are two paintings by Caravaggio and other masterpieces as well as two works by Antonello: the polyptych by San Gregorio and a two-sided panel showing Christ in Pietà on one side (recto) and on the other the Madonna with the blessing child and an adoring Franciscan (verso).


The polyptych of San Gregorio

The polyptych of San Gregorio is a work that Antonello da Messina made for the monastery of the Church of Santa Maria extra moenia of Messina. Today it consists of five wooden panels painted with tempera grease, which are spread over two levels. On the lower level are: in the middle the enthroned Madonna del Rosario, flanked on the left by San Gregorio Magno and on the right by San Benedetto. In the upper register we see an announcing angel and the announced virgin. In this work Antonella dispenses with the Iberian-Neapolitan model of the icon flanked by side stories. Instead, he decides to place all of the characters in a single setting. To do this, he uses perspective and various illusion effects to increase the feeling of depth. Below are the feet of the two saints and the tip of the crosier, which protrudes from the step. There are also two details at the foot of the Virgin, made using the trompe l'oeil technique: the rosary and a pendant. The latter shows the year of construction of the work, 1473 and the signature of Antonello.


The panel with two faces by Antonello da Messina

The other work by Antonello di Messina, exhibited at the Mu.Me. It is a double-sided, ie double-sided painted panel, made between 1463 and 1465. Due to its small size of 16 cm high and 11.9 wide, the panel was very likely created for private devotion.


Madonna with a Blessing Child and Franciscans in Adoration (recto)

The back of the panel, the so-called recto, shows a Madonna with a blessing child and an adoring Franciscan. The virgin is shown standing on the right, holding the child in her hand, only covered by a transparent veil around the pelvis. On the left, on the other hand, we see a kneeling Franciscan who receives the blessing of little Jesus, in the lower part of the composition a balustrade, a typical element of Flemish painting of those years. The attention of the viewer is immediately drawn by the voluminous pink coat of the Admiring Antonello da Messina's paintings live in Sicily is one of the reasons to visit this region. In fact, Antonello is certainly one of the most famous Sicilian artists in the world. His works are exhibited in the most important museums in the world such as the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the National Gallery in London, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. There are six paintings in Sicily, including two of his most famous portraits: the Annunciation from Palermo and the portrait of a man from Cefalù.


Antonello da Messina: life, training and style

Antonio di Giovanni de Antonio, known as Antonello da Messina, was born in Messina around 1430. His father, Giovanni de Antonio, was a stonemason and probably learned his first perspectives from him. Around 1450 Antonello moved to Naples to visit the workshop of the painter Colantonio. Here he learns about Flemish, Spanish and Provencal painting, which will influence his style throughout his career. Studying the works of Piero della Francesca will also prove fundamental. It takes up the rigor of perspective and the volume of the Tuscan painter. Back in Messina, Antonello opened his shop, which was already in full swing in 1457. At the end of 1474, however, he traveled back to Venice, where he came into contact with the painting of Giovanni Bellini. After returning to Messina, he died in 1479.


The works of Antonello da Messina in Sicily

The works of Antonello da Messina that can be admired in Sicily are divided into six: Messina, Syracuse, Palermo and Cefal. The attribution of these paintings to the painter of Messina was possible thanks to Antonello's signature or official documents such as commissioned contracts. There are also other works that some scholars have suggested attributing to Antonello, such as the San Zosimo in Syracuse Cathedral. All of Antonello's paintings found in Sicily were made by the painter during his stay on the island between 1465 and 1475. To see the return to Sicily of the two-faced tablet, now in the Regional Museum of Messina, it is necessary to wait until 2003. This was in fact acquired at Christie's auction of the Sicily Region for an amount of £ 220,000.


Antonello's painting in Messina

The first stage of this route can only begin in the painter's hometown. In the Regional Museum of Messina (Mu.Me) there are two paintings by Caravaggio and other masterpieces as well as two works by Antonello: the polyptych by San Gregorio and a two-sided panel showing Christ in Pietà on one side (recto) and on the other the Madonna with the blessing child and an adoring Franciscan (verso).


The polyptych of San Gregorio

The polyptych of San Gregorio is a work that Antonello da Messina made for the monastery of the Church of Santa Maria extra moenia of Messina. Today it consists of five wooden panels painted with tempera grease, which are spread over two levels. On the lower level are: in the middle the enthroned Madonna del Rosario, flanked on the left by San Gregorio Magno and on the right by San Benedetto. In the upper register we see an announcing angel and the announced virgin. In this work Antonella dispenses with the Iberian-Neapolitan model of the icon flanked by side stories. Instead, he decides to place all of the characters in a single setting. To do this, he uses perspective and various illusion effects to increase the feeling of depth. Below are the feet of the two saints and the tip of the crosier, which protrudes from the step. There are also two details at the foot of the Virgin, made using the trompe l'oeil technique: the rosary and a pendant. The latter shows the year of construction of the work, 1473 and the signature of Antonello.


The panel with two faces by Antonello da Messina

The other work by Antonello di Messina, exhibited at the Mu.Me. It is a double-sided, ie double-sided painted panel, made between 1463 and 1465. Due to its small size of 16 cm high and 11.9 wide, the panel was very likely created for private devotion.


Madonna with a Blessing Child and Franciscans in Adoration (recto)

The back of the panel, the so-called recto, shows a Madonna with a blessing child and an adoring Franciscan. The virgin is shown standing on the right, holding the child in her hand, only covered by a transparent veil around the pelvis. On the left, on the other hand, we see a kneeling Franciscan who receives the blessing of little Jesus, in the lower part of the composition a balustrade, a typical element of Flemish painting of those years. The attention of the viewer is immediately drawn by the voluminous pink coat of the Trapped Madonna. The folds masterfully made by Antonello make it look almost like crumpled paper. I am the similarities between this Madonna and the so-called Salting Madonna that is kept in the National Gallery in London are very obvious.


Christ in Pietà (verso)

In the front part of the panel (recto) there is instead a Christ in Pietà. The head of Jesus is depicted in a marble tunnel in the Gothic-Catalan style. Here, too, the references to Flemish painting are very clear. On both sides the halos are painted almost like perforated wood. This type of representation can also be found in other works such as the Annunciation in Syracuse. The painting on this side is much more worn than the other. According to scholars, this is because this image was kissed after prayer.


The painting by Antonello da Messina in Syracuse

The route to discover the works of Antonello da Messina takes us to Syracuse. Here in the museum of Palazzo Bellomo is the Annunciation by Palazzolo Acreide. The painting was commissioned in 1474 by the priest Giuliano Maniuni for the church dell’Annunziata in Palazzolo Acreide. Traces of the painting were lost until 1897 when it was found by the art historian Enrico Mauceri.


The Annunciation by Palazzolo Acreide

In this painting by Antonello, the inspiration from Flemish painting is very clear, but special attention is paid to the typical perspective of Piero della Francesca. In this Annunciation there is the setting in an interior typical of Rogier van der Weyden and the detailed construction of the surroundings visible outside the windows, as in the Jan van Eyck paintings. Today the painting is in a bad state of preservation, but still it is possible to appreciate the mastery of the Messina painter. In the depicted scene, the Madonna, representing Antonello's typical physiognomy, is on her knees and with her arms closed on her chest. On the left the angel in richly decorated damask, holding a lily in his hand. The two characters are metaphorically separated by a magnificent Corinthian column that divides the room in two.


The works of Antonello da Messina in Palermo

The route to discover the paintings of Antonello da Messina in Sicily takes us to Syracuse, to Palermo. Here, in the regional gallery of the Palazzo Abatellis, you can admire two different works by the Sicilian painter. These are the triptych of the Church Fathers and Antonello's most famous painting: the Annunciation.


The Triptych of the Church Fathers

In the regional gallery of Abatellis there are three painted panels with San Girolamo, San Gregorio Magno and Sant'Agostino. Originally they were part of a polyptych made for the Church of San Giacomo in Caltagirone. The composition was probably completed by the figure of St. Ambrose, which has, however, been lost. In this work, Antonello demonstrates a great ability to introduce variations into a rather stereotypical mode of representation. When the painting was created in 1472, the use of the gold ground outside of Sicily was already considered quite anachronistic, but was nevertheless expressly requested by the client. Upon closer inspection of the three saints, it becomes clear that they were not entirely painted by Antonello. It is likely that the painter delegated the production of some parts of the panels to some helpers in his workshop. The precision of the facial features and their pronounced expressiveness contrast, for example, with the mediocre implementation of hands or books.


The Annunciation of Palermo

The Annunciation of Palermo is perhaps the most iconic and famous painting by Antonello da Messina. Unlike the painting in Syracuse, the episode taken from the Bible is shown here without the figure of the angel. His presence is perceived by the movement of the pages of the book and by the reaction of the Virgin. It is as if its appearance creates a displacement of air that hits Mary and almost makes her veil fly. The left hand tries to keep him still while the right hand makes a protective gesture. In this painting you can see all the essential features of Antonello's style, such as the attention to detail that he learned from the Flemish painters. This is particularly noticeable in the Gothic lectern, where there is no lack of holes made by woodworms. The teachings of Piero della Francesca and his geometric rationalism are also evident. The face is in fact inscribed in an oval while the blue veil draws a perfect triangle.


The painting by Antonello da Messina in Cefalù

The last stop on this trip to see the paintings by An To discover tonello da Messina in Sicily is Cefal. At the Mandralisca Museum, you can experience Antonello's incredible skills as a portraitist by admiring the portrait of the unknown. According to legend, Baron Mandralisca bought this painting from a Lipari pharmacist who used the tray as a door for his wardrobe. In the picture I can still see some scars that seem to have been caused by a disappointment in love.


A portrait of a man from Cefalù

The portrait of a man from Cefal is perfect for fully realizing Antonello's mastery of portraiture. The painting is currently dated between 1460 and 1476 and is considered to be one of the painter's early works. However, all elements that characterize his way of painting portraits are already recognized. As in Flemish painting, the motif is shown in three quarters on a dark background. There is also the same attention to detail. In fact, you can see a barely hinted beard on the face, while the eyelets and buttons look real in the dress. Compared to the Flemish people, Antonello's innovation is to present the characters' character as well. The most astonishing therefore remains the barely hinted smile and the very cunning look. Both elements create an enigmatic expression, the second most famous in the world after Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa.