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Antonello da Messina

Sicilian, c. 1430 - 1479

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Antonello da Messina was the greatest artist to emerge from southern Italy during the Renaissance. Circumstantial evidence supports Vasari's statement that he was forty-nine at the time of his death, documented in February of 1479, giving him a likely birth date of c. 1430. His early works reflect the eclectic nature of the artistic culture of southern Italy, with Flemish, Catalan, and Provençal elements. Vasari claimed that Antonello traveled to Flanders, where he was apprenticed to Jan van Eyck. Pietro Summonte, more plausibly, reports that he studied with Colantonio in Naples. But the problem of Netherlandish sources for Antonello's work is still debated among scholars. Antonello's later work also shows the influence of Francesco Laurana, Giovanni Bellini, and perhaps even Piero della Francesca. For this reason it has been postulated that he traveled throughout the Italian peninsula, although extant documents only relate to his activities in Sicily and Calabria, with the exception of an epochal trip to Venice between 1474/1475 and 1476. There he received the important commission for the San Cassiano altarpiece (fragments in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), and he is reported by Vasari to have painted many portraits. The Venetian trip proved to be of major importance for the development of the artist's mature style, as seen in the Dresden Saint Sebastian and the Prado's Dead Christ Supported by an Angel.

Antonello is as stylistically individual as he is innovative in technique. He is not known to have painted in fresco, but he is generally, if not entirely accurately, credited with introducing the Netherlandish oil technique to Italian art. His religious works are characterized by clear forms and a quiet poignancy, both in small devotional paintings like the Virgin Annunciate (Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo) and in altarpieces like the Syracuse Annunciation. In the field of portraiture Antonello's formula of showing the sitter in three-quarter view to the left, but glancing out to engage the viewer, further reveals his debt to Netherlandish art. Antonello's artistic legacy was carried on by various family members who worked as painters, especially his son Jacobello, with whom he collaborated on large-scale commissions. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]

Artist Bibliography

Arbace, Luciana. Antonello da Messina. Catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1993.
Wright, Joanne. "Antonello da Messina." In The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. 34 vols. New York and London, 1996: 2:178-183.
Savettieri, Chiara. Antonello da Messina. Palermo, 1998.
Sricchia Santoro, Fiorella. Il Cinquecento. L'arte del Rinascimento. Milan, 1998.
Boskovits, Miklós, and David Alan Brown, et al. Italian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. The Systematic Catalogue of the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 2003: 36.

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