Antonello Da MessinaAntonello was the only important Renaissance painter from Southern Italy. He was born in Messina in Sicily, the son of a sculptor named Giovanni d’Antonio and his wife Garita (Margherita). He is sometimes said to have been born in about 1430, but this date is based only on Vasari’s assertion about Antonello’s age at death. He is first documented only in 1457, already an independent master with a pupil of his own. Vasari’s story that he travelled to Flanders and learnt the secrets of oil painting from Jan van Eyck is fanciful, but his art does show marked Flemish influence. According to an old but not contemporary source (a letter of 1524), he was a pupil of Colantonio in Naples, where he is likely to have seen pictures by van Eyck and van der Weyden. Documents record a number of works painted in Sicily between 1457 and 1465 (including three church standards), but none has survived. He is undocumented in Messina between 1465 and 1471, and it is sometimes postulated that he travelled to central or northern Italy during these years. He was certainly in Sicily in 1472-74, when he received commissions in Caltagirone, Randazzo, Messina and Palazzola Acreide.
He visited Venice in 1475, and seems greatly to have influenced Giovanni Bellini with his oil technique. His altarpiece for the church of San Cassiano there (partly preserved in Vienna) may have been the original treatment of the enthroned Madonna with Saints framed by an architectural niche of a type followed by Bellini, Cima, Alvise Vivarini and other Venetians. His Flemish-type portraits were also influential. About a dozen survive – all of male sitters, shown bust-length in three-quarter view, usually behind a parapet and against a plain background. Some bear dates, but none is documented and the sitters are all unknown. While a number of small devotional panels have been attributed to him as early works, only one of these (a Crucifixion at Sibiu in Romania) is beyond dispute, and almost all his surviving pictures appear to belong to the last ten or fifteen years of his life.
Though often classed as Venetian School, Antonello appears to have spent barely a year and a half in the city. In March 1476 he received an invitation to enter the service of Galaezzo Maria Sforza of Milan. He accepted the offer; but by the following September he had returned to Messina, possibly to escape the plague that was then raging in northern Italy. He died in February 1479, aged 49 according to Vasari. His assistants included his brother Giordano di Giovanni (apprenticed to him in 1461), his son Jacobello di Antonio (perhaps identical with a Pino da Messina who was with him in Venice) and a nephew Pietro de Saliba (son of the sculptor Giovanni Bisaliba, who married Antonello’s sister). Antonello de Saliba (another nephew) was a follower and imitator trained by Jacobello.
Antwerp. Museum voor Schone Kunsten.
*Calvary. Wood, 53 x 43.
Christ is crucified on a tall cross between two thieves, hanging not on crosses but from trees. The Virgin and St John grieve on ground littered with skulls. An owl, perched at the bottom edge, symbolises darkness and death. Behind the horrifying drama on the hill, a peaceful landscape sweeps down to a shimmering bay. The detail is astonishing and can scarcely be appreciated without magnification. Rabbits (traditionally associated with death and rebirth) sit among the litter of bones and deer (a symbol of piety and of Christ) graze in the green meadows beyond. In the middle distance, the centurion Longinus, holding his spear, looks back towards Christ on the cross. Behind him, soldiers on horse and foot file home to Jerusalem. Further along the path, by the arched bridge, the Virgin (in blue) and Mary Magdalene (in red) are followed by two men carrying a ladder. They are returning to Golgotha to take Christ's body down from the cross. This exquisite little panel was painted in 1475, when Antonello was working in Venice. (It is signed and dated in tiny characters on a scrap of paper attached to a piece of wood in the left foreground.) A similar picture, without the two thieves, in the National Gallery, London, was possibly painted in the same year. Acquired in Italy by a member of the Maelcamp family of Ghent, and given to the museum in 1841 by the Mayor of Antwerp, Florent van Ertborn. The panel was thoroughly restored in 2008-11. Darkened varnish was removed, and old repaint was painstakingly scraped off with a scalpel. The colours now appear brighter, and the detail is more clearly visible.
Baltimore. Walters Art Museum.
Virgin Reading. Wood, 43 x 34.
A pair of angels hold over the Virgin’s head a gold crown, studded with pearls and precious stones and filled with red and white roses. Much damaged, particularly in the flesh parts; the brocaded dress, book and crown are better preserved. Attributed either to Antonello as a very early work or to his Sicilian school. Nothing is known of its history before 1911, when it was bought by Henry Walters (through Berenson) from a certain Augusto Mazzetti in Florence. Berenson (who interpreted the subject as St Rosalia of Palermo) published it in 1913 as by an anonymous Sicilian or Neapolitan artist, whom he also considered responsible for a Madonna then in the Salting collection (now in the National Gallery, London), which is identical in size and has a similar pair of crown-holding angels. Van Marle (1934) seems to have been the first to ascribe the picture to the young Antonello. The attribution, supported by Bottari in his 1953 monograph, has not won general acceptance, though recent cleaning and restoration has enhanced its claims. A hypothetical attribution has been proposed recently to Antonello’s younger brother Giordano di Giovanni. Another half-length Virgin Reading with crown-holding angels is still in private hands (formerly in Palermo and now the Moni Forti collection, Venice). Though often grouped with the Baltimore and London paintings, it is more archaic in style and, rather than a youthful work of Antonello, it might be by a Spanish painter working in the Aragonese kingdom of Naples and Sicily.
Bergamo. Accademia Carrara.
Saint Sebastian. Wood, 35 x 24.
The attribution to Antonello was made by Giovanni Morelli in 1891, repeated in Berenson’s early Lists, and accepted in Bottari’s monographs on Antonello (1939 and 1953). It was long retained by the gallery, although some critics thought the little panel to be the work of Bartolomeo Montagna. (The figure of the saint bears a distinct resemblance to the St Sebastian in Montagna’s altarpiece of 1487, also in the Bergamo Gallery.) The 1988 catalogue by Francesco Rossi ascribes the picture, with a query, to Jacometto Veneziano (a mysterious painter who was active in Venice between about 1472 and 1494). From the Lochis collection.
*Portrait of a Young Man (no 18). Wood, 20 x 14.
He is sombrely dressed in a black tunic and headdress (chaperon), and his expression is serious and determined. This tiny panel – Antonello's smallest portrait – is sometimes identified with the picture described in 1771 by Zanetti in the collection of Bartolomeo Vitturi at Venice ('a portrait of a gentleman, clearly Venetian, painted by Antonello, in which the best taste of the Flemish and Italian styles of the age are found'). Signed on the cartellino. The date, now partly effaced, is said to have read 1478 – the latest date on a picture by Antonello. The Latin inscription along the bottom (‘Be modest in prosperity but prudent in misfortune’) is probably by another hand. Very well preserved. Suspicion that the landscape background was added later (Antonello’s other portraits all have a plain background) is not borne out by technical analysis (the green of the landscape and blue of the sky seem to have been laid directly on the priming). Antonello might have borrowed here from Giovanni Bellini, whose portraits often have backgrounds of bright blue sky, or from Netherlandish painters, such as Hans Memling. Acquired in 1821 with the Solly collection. The sky is heavily repainted, but the picture is otherwise in good condition.
*Portrait of a Young Man (no. 18A). Wood, 32 x 26.
A little younger than the last, he wears a pleated red tunic and black chaperon against a black background. His expression is thoughtful and sensitive. Signed and dated 1474 on the parapet. It is possible that the picture was painted by Antonello shortly after he arrived in Venice in early 1475, since the Venetian year did not begin until 25 March. A portrait signed by Antonello and dated 1474 is recorded in 1795 in the Casa Martinengo at Venice. What is certainly the Berlin portrait was sold in 1801 by Giovanni Maria Sasso (Venetian art critic, dealer and collector) to the Duke of Hamilton. It was acquired by the Berlin Museum on the Paris art market in 1889. It had previously been heavily restored, and the date was revealed by cleaning. There are still some retouchings on the face, but the eyes and hair are well preserved.
Cefalù. Museo Mandralisca.
*Portrait of a Man. Wood, 30 x 15.
The sitter is in early middle age, plumpish, dark and with very noticeable five-o’ clock shadow. His inscrutable smile, knowing and slightly amused, has been likened to the Archaic smile of an ancient Greek kouros. There are some deep scratches around the eyes and mouth. The portrait was bequeathed to the city of Cefalù in 1886 with the collection of Baron Enrico Piraino di Mandralisca, who is said to have discovered it at Lipari, one of the Aeolian Islands; hence its nickname the ‘Sailor (or the Pirate) of Lipari’. It was supposedly being used at the time as the door of a pharmacy cupboard. Doubt has been cast on this traditional provenance by the recent discovery of a seal on the back of the panel suggesting that the painting was already in the Baron's family in the eighteenth century. Subsequent research (reported in La Repubblica and other Italian newspapers on 27 March 2017) has sought to identify the sitter as Francesco Vitale, a tutor to Ferdinand II of Aragon. Vitale, who was Apulian by birth, was Bishop of Cefalù from 1484 to 1492 and probably died there. The picture was previously usually regarded as one of the earliest of Antonello’s surviving portraits (1465-70), but the identification of Vitale as the sitter would make a later dating more likely. The portrait inspired the title of Vincenzo Consolo's 1976 novel Sorriso dell'Ignoto Marinaio ('Smile of the Unknown Mariner'). The scratches on the sitter's face were filled and retouched in a 1952 restoration. There was a further restoration in 1981.
**Saint Sebastian. Canvas (transferred from panel), 171 x 86.
One of the very rare large pictures by Antonello to have survived. His signature (bottom left) was discovered after cleaning. The martyrdom is set in a contemporary Venetian piazza, with a Renaissance arcade and characteristic houses with tall flaring chimneys. People go about their everyday business: a woman holds a child; two Orthodox priests talk; two soldiers chat; and another soldier, foreshortened, sleeps.
Francesco Sansovino (Venetia, Città Nobilissima e Singolare (1581)) mentions pictures of St Sebastian by Pino da Messina (possibly Antonello’s son Jacobello) and of St Christopher by Antonello on either side of a relief of St Roch in the church of San Giuliano (San Zulian) at Venice: it is likely that he transposed the attributions and that the former picture is the one at Dresden. It was previously assumed that the picture was painted in Venice in 1475-76. But it is now believed that it was commissioned in 1478 by the new-founded Scuola di San Rocco in response to an outbreak of plague. (The Scuola was a confraternity devoted to protecting its members from such epidemics, and the three saints – Sebastian, Roch and Christopher – represented in its triptych were all saints commonly invoked for immunity against disease.) The picture would have been executed in Messina and sent back to Venice to adorn the Scuola's altar in San Giuliano. As Antonello died in early 1479, the St Sebastian is probably his last major completed work.
The picture had probably left the church by the beginning of the seventeenth century (as there is no mention of it in the 1604 edition of Sansovino's guidebook). It is recorded in 1654 in the great collection of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel. It was one of many paintings that passed from Lord Arundel to the brothers Franz and Bernhard von Imstenraedt of Cologne, whose collection was purchased in 1673 for 30,000 guilders by Karl von Liechtenstein, Bishop of Olomouc in Moravia. It was auctioned at Vienna in 1869 with an attribution to Giovanni Bellini, and it came to wider notice in 1873, when it was included – again as a work of Bellini – in an exhibition at Vienna of Old Masters from private collections. It was acquired the same year by the Dresden Gallery, and the attribution to Antonello followed in the 1878 German edition of Crowe and Cavalcaselle’s Italian Painters. The colours appear much brighter since restoration in 1999-2004, which removed old retouchings and layers of discoloured varnish.
Virgin and Child Enthroned (115 x 55); St John the Evangelist (105 x 33).
The centre panel and left wing of a triptych. The right wing (Saint Benedict) is in the collection of the Castello Sforzesco at Milan. However, an agreement was reached in 2015 allowing all three panels to be displayed together at the Uffizi for fifteen years. The triptych has been identified with an altarpiece painted by Antonello in 1472-73 for the church of San Giacomo Maggiore at Caltagirone (near Piazza Armerina). However, this identification is far from certain, and Zeri (1995) dates the panels rather earlier (1465-70) on stylistic grounds. It has been suggested that three panels of saints in the Palermo Gallery could have formed the pinnacles of the triptych. The two Uffizi panels were acquired by the Italian State in 1996, through a Turin dealer, from an undisclosed source. Now cleaned after complete repainting, the panels appear rather abraded.
Genoa. Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola.
‘Ecce Homo’. Wood, 40 x 33.
Ecce Homo ('behold the man') were the words used by Pontius Pilate when he presented Christ to the hostile crowd before the Crucifixion (John: 19, 5). Antonello's paintings of this devotional subject – some half-dozen of which are known – were probably influenced by Netherlandish examples he saw in his early years in Naples. Christ is shown bust-length and bare-chested, crowned with thorns and with a rope round his neck. The small panel, which is in poor condition, is first recorded in the Palazzo Spinola in 1780. The cartellino with Antonello’s signature was only revealed in 1946 when a Baroque frame was removed. Previously, the picture had been ascribed to Antonello de Saliba (Crowe and Cavalcaselle) or to Andrea Solario (Venturi).
There are several other versions. One, better preserved, at Piacenza (Collegio Alberoni) is also signed and bears a date that is sometimes read as 1473. Another, signed and dated 1474, was formerly in the collection of the Polish Ostrowski family; it mysteriously disappeared during the Second World War from the storerooms of the Kunsthistorisches Museum at Vienna, where it had been deposited for safekeeping. A version – probably a copy – in the Museo Civico at Novara was stolen in 1974.
London. National Gallery.
*Salvator Mundi. Wood, 39 x 30.
Christ stands with his fingers on the edge of a parapet, giving the blessing. The hand and the border of the tunic were originally higher, and the pentimenti are clearly visible through the thin paint. Usually considered Antonello’s earliest dated picture – though the inscription (given in confused Latin on a piece of unfolded paper loosely attached to the parapet) is ambiguous and can be interpreted as giving a date of 1475 rather than 1465. Probably based on a Netherlandish composition (compare, for example, the figure of the blessing Christ in Rogier van der Weyden's Braque Triptych at the Louvre). First recorded in Naples in the 1840s. Bought in Genoa in 1861 from a Cav. Giuseppe Isola for £160. The surface is badly worn.
*Portrait of a Man. Wood, 36 x 26.
He is probably in his mid-thirties, plainly dressed in a brown jerkin and red hat. He looks – almost stares – back at us, calmly appraising. Every detail of his appearance is precisely described: the play of light across the contours of the face, the strands of hair escaping from the front of the hat, the faint stubble of the beard, and even the lashes and blood vessels of his eyes. Cut down at the bottom, but otherwise well preserved. (A prominent crack running through the face, above the lip, was filled during a 1939 restoration.) According to an eighteenth-century note on the back, the part sawn off contained an inscription stating that the picture is a self-portrait. It is possibly the ‘self-portrait’ recorded in 1632 in the collection of Roberto Canonici at Ferrara. If it were a self-portrait, it would date from around the mid-1460s, but most recent opinion has considered it a later work (mid-1470s). Bought by the National Gallery in Genoa in 1883 for £1040 from a lawyer called Molfino. The Molfino family had probably acquired it in the mid-eighteenth century from the Palazzo Doria Spinola in Genoa. The portrait appeared on the Italian 5,000 lire banknote issued in 1979.
*Crucifixion. Wood, 42 x 26.
The Virgin and St John the Evangelist sit in the two corners. Signed and dated 1475(?) on the cartellino. The last figure is damaged and the date has sometimes been read as 1477. Mauro Lucco (2006), on the other hand, dates the picture about 1473 on grounds of style – before Antonello’s trip to Venice and before another version (similar but with the addition of the two crucified thieves) dated 1475 at Antwerp. The figure of the crucified Christ is again almost identical to that in a much earlier picture at Sibiu (Romania). The history of the picture is unknown. It was bought in London in 1884 for £350. Badly worn and much restored. The best preserved part is the figure of the Virgin.
**Saint Jerome in his Study. Wood, 46 x 37.
Framed by a Gothic stone arch, the red-robed saint reads in a small wooden study erected in a monastic interior. His cardinal's hat rests on the bench behind him and his discarded shoes lie at the bottom of the steps. On the platform to his left are a domestic cat and two potted plants (one a carnation and the other a miniature tree). The shelves behind are lined with books, pots and writing materials. There is a tiny crucifix, upper left. To the right, Jerome's lion pads across a majolica pavement. On the step in front are a quail, a peacock and a copper bowl. The effects of light, streaming through the foreground arch and through the windows behind, are meticulously observed, and the sunlit landscape beyond the lower windows is described in the tiniest detail. This miniature-like, very Flemish picture was seen in 1529 in the house of Antonio Pasqualino at Venice by Michiel, who records that it was variously attributed to Antonello, van Eyck and Memlinc. Its dating is controversial: it is sometimes considered an early work (1450-65), which Antonello could have taken with him to Venice in 1475 as a sample of his skill, and it is sometimes considered a mature work painted in Venice. It has been suggested that the composition was based on a wing, depicting St Jerome in his library, of a triptych (now lost) by van Eyck, which was given to Alfonso I of Naples by Battista Lomellini in 1444. The head of St Jerome has the character of a portrait (Cardinal Albergati, King Alfonso of Aragon, Nicolò Casano, and the Venetian Benedictine reformer Marco Barbo have all been suggested as possible subjects). The picture was in England by 1835 in Sir Thomas Baring’s collection. Purchased by the National Gallery from the Earl of Northbrook in 1894. In excellent condition.
Virgin and Child. Wood, 43 x 35.
The Virgin is represented as the Queen of Heaven, crowned by a pair of diminutive angels. The undersized, doll-like Child holds a pomegranate, a symbol of the Passion. The angels are almost identical (with colours reversed) with those in the Walters Madonna at Baltimore, sometimes accepted as a very early Antonello. On the other hand, the head of the Virgin is very like that in two mature works – the Annunciation at Syracuse (commissioned in 1474) and the Benson Madonna at Washington (usually dated around the mid-1470s). First recorded in the early twentieth century in the collection of George Salting, who bequeathed it to the National Gallery in 1910. At first, it was described as Flemish, Spanish, Portuguese, or even Russian. In 1913 Berenson, who thought it was by the same hand as the Walters Madonna, ascribed it to the Sicilian or Neapolitan school of Antonello. It has been accepted as a work of Antonello himself by many critics since the 1930s, but has usually been rejected by the National Gallery in which it hangs. (It was classed as the work of a follower in Martin Davis’s 1961 catalogue and merely as ‘attributed to Antonello’ in the 1995 summary catalogue.) In an attempt to explain the apparent difference in style between the ‘Eyckian’ angels and the Virgin, it has been conjectured (by Patrik Reuterwärd in Artibus e Historiae, 1999) that the picture was started by Antonello when young but reworked by him many years later. An alternative explanation is that the picture was painted by a skilled imitator drawing on multiple sources from different periods. Much damaged and, in parts, repainted (eg. the shadow on the Virgin’s cheek has been reconstructed).
Dead Christ supported by an Angel. Wood, 74 x 51.
The skull placed in the bottom left cormer may represent the skull of Adam, who was supposedly buried at Golgotha. The bare ground in the middle distance is littered with other skulls and human bones, and in the farther left distance are tiny figures beneath high crosses. Exceptionally well preserved for a picture by Antonello. It was bought by the Prado in 1965 for 2.7 million pesetas (some £16,000) from a Juan Miguel Albisu. It was previously largely unknown. It came from Irun in the Basque region of Spain, and is thought to have belonged to the Jesuit convent of Monforte de Lemos in Galicia. It is considered a late work, dating either from Antonello’s Venetian period or from his last years in Sicily. Previtali (1980) suggested that it is a work of collaboration between Antonello and his son Jacobello, but it is now generally accepted as fully autograph. .
Madrid. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
*Portrait of a Young Man. Wood (transferred to plywood), 28 x 21.
He wears a black tunic and a zuccotto (skull cap) over shortish curly hair. Cut at the bottom, removing part of the signature inscribed on the stone ledge in front of the sitter. The portrait almost certainly dates from the 1470s, but opinion differs over whether it was painted before, during or after Antonello’s visit to Venice. By the early nineteenth century, it was in the collection of Sir George Houston-Boswell of Calderhaugh, Scotland, and it was acquired from his descendants by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1964. The picture, which has been transferred from its original panel to a new support, appears to have been considerably retouched. A vertical crack runs through the sitter’s left eye.
Messina. Museo Regionale.
*Polyptych of San Gregorio.
Upper tier: panels (each 65 x 62/55) of the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Annunciate; the central panel originally between these (probably a Pietà) is now lost. Lower tier: Virgin and Child enthroned and crowned by Angels (129 x 77) between panels (each 125 x 63) of St Gregory and St Benedict. The Virgin offers cherries to the naked Child, who clutches an apple. A rosary hangs over the semi-circular step of the throne. The altarpiece was commissioned by the Abbess of the Benedictine monastery of San Gregorio for the church of Santa Maria extra Moenia at Messina. The Abbess was of the Cirino family, whose arms appear beneath the figure of St Gregory. Signed and dated 1473 on a slip of paper attached to the face of the platform. The polyptych had been dismembered by 1724 and was restored in 1842 by the local painter Letterio Subba. It was half destroyed in the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Messina in 1908. The panels, salvaged from the rumble of the church, were heavily restored in 1912-14 by Luigi Cavenaghi, whose repainting was removed in subsequent treatments. The last restoration was completed in 2005 for the Antonello exhibition at the Scuderie del Quirnale in Rome. The most damaged panel is the St Gregory, where the original contours of the missing left part of the figure are simply indicated by drawn lines.
Madonna with Donor (front); Head of Christ (back). Wood, 15 x 11.
The Christ Child extends his right hand in blessing to a praying Franciscan friar, who is shown half-length in strict profile. The paint surface is badly cracked. The Man of Sorrows on the back has been badly worn by worshippers’ kisses. This tiny, double-sided devotional panel was probably intended to be portable and may have been carried in its own leather case. Unknown until very recently, it was acquired in 2003 (through Christie’s) from a private collection in Germany. In the slight literature so far, an attribution to Antonello (as a very early work of the 1450s or 1460s) has had significant but not universal support.
Milan. Castello Sforzesco.
Saint Benedict. Wood, 105 x 44.
The right wing of a triptych; the centre panel and the left wing are in the Uffizi. Like the other panels, it has been cut down at the bottom. The head of the saint could be a portrait. Acquired in 1995 from the Finarte auction house in Milan. In 2015, an agreement was reached whereby the Saint Benedict will be exhibited with the two other panels for fifteen years at the Uffizi.
Munich. Alte Pinakothek.
*Virgin Annunciate. Wood, 43 x 32.
The Virgin, interrupted in the act of reading by the appearance of the angel, crosses her arms on her breast. The book before her on the parapet is probably open at the passage in the Book of Isaiah foretelling the virgin birth. The panel was probably painted as a small devotional picture and not as part of a diptych or altarpiece. Possibly the picture by Antonello recorded in 1660 by Boschini in the possession of the Tassis family at Padua. It is generally agreed to be a mature work, dating from the early or mid-1470s; but there has been no consensus on whether it is likely to be earlier or later than the more famous version at Palermo. Bought by the gallery in 1897 from a Munich art dealer, who is said to have acquired it from a private house in Padua.
New York. Metropolitan Museum.
‘Ecce Homo’. Wood, 43 x 30.
As in similar Netherlandish devotional paintings, the suffering Christ is shown bust-length, bare-chested and crowned with crowns. Signed. Usually thought to be the Ecce Homo recorded by Vincenzo Auria in the collection of Giulio Agliata at Palermo in 1653, when the date of 1470 was said to be visible on the cartellino on the parapet. It later passed through a succession of aristocratic collections in Naples (Marquis di Carpio, Principe di Tarsia, Duca di Gresso and Conte Giacomo Lazzari) and Paris (Baron Arthur de Schickler). It was acquired in 1927 from a New York dealer by the philanthrophist and collector Michael Friedsam, who bequeathed it to the Metropolitan Museum in 1931. The surface is badly scratched and abraded, presumably as a result of harsh cleaning.
Portrait of a Young man. Wood, 27 x 21.
The fresh-faced young man wears a black tunic, and his long red-gold hair curls down under a black chaperon (headdress of folded cloth with tail of drapery). He glances towards us with a smile of scarcely concealed self-satisfaction. The portrait may date from around 1470. First recorded only in 1879, when it was in the collection of Henry Willett, a wealthy Brighton brewer and collector of paintings, pottery and fossils. After passing through the hands of dealers in Paris (Sedelmeyer) and Amsterdam (Hoogendijk), it was acquired in 1912 by the New York department store owner Benjamin Altman, who bequeathed it to the museum the following year. The surface has been damaged by overcleaning. Much of what remains is only Antonello's first paint layer, and the loss of oil glazes has left the portrait looking rather dull and wooden.
Palermo. Galleria Nazionale della Sicilia.
**Virgin Annunciate. Wood, 45 x 35.
The Virgin, interrupted while reading at a simple lectern, chastely gathers her blue mantle across her breast with her left hand; the raised gesture with her right hand could be interpreted as a greeting, blessing or warning. There is no record of this famous panel before 1866, when it is mentioned in a letter by the Sicilian historian Di Marzo. Previously in the Colluzio collection at Palermo (with an attribution to Albrecht Dürer), it was given to the museum in 1906 by the Cavaliere Di Giovanni. Now considered one of Antonello’s masterpieces, it was thought at one time to be a copy of the picture, inscribed with Antonello’s name, in the Accademia, Venice. It has sometimes been dated as early as 1465, but is more usually now considered a work of the middle to late 1470s, painted just before or during Antonello’s spell in Venice or after his return to Messina. Panels of the Virgin Annunciate are usually paired with panels of the angel-messenger. However, there is no evidence that the Palermo painting ever had a companion, and it seems likely that it was always intended as an independent devotional object.
Three Doctors of the Church. Canvas (transferred from panel).
The three small pointed panels (the largest 47 x 35) show Saints Jerome, Gregory and Augustine. A fourth Doctor of the Church – St Ambrose – is missing. The panels seem to have been acquired by the museum after 1873. Their provenance is unknown. They must originally have belonged to the upper tier of a polyptych – possibly one known from documents to have been painted in 1472-73 for the church of San Giacomo at Caltagirone. (The church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1693.) They have also been linked with the Polyptych of San Gregorio at Messina and with the triptych that came to light just a few years ago and is now divided between the Uffizi and the Castello Sforzesco. The execution has sometimes been ascribed to Antonello’s workshop.
*Portrait of a Man (‘The Condottiere’). Wood, 35 x 28.
Called ‘The Condottiere’ for no reason other than the young man’s pugnacious appearance. There is a prominent scar on his upper lip. Signed on the cartellino on the parapet. Dated 1475, and almost certainly therefore painted in Venice. One of Antonello’s best-known portraits, it was acquired by the Louvre in 1865 for the huge sum of 113,500 francs at the sale of the collection of Comte James-Alexandre Pourtalès-Gorgier. The Comte is said to have bought it in Italy for 750 francs from ‘an old priest’, who has been identified recently as the Venetian cleric-turned-art dealer Abate Luigi Celotti. Celotti appears to have acquired the painting from the Mocenigo collection, housed in the Palazzo Corner-Mocenigo at San Polo, Venice. It is possible, therefore, that the portrait represents a member of the Mocenigo or Corner (Cornaro) families. Anne-Marie Eze (October 2009 Burlington Magazine) has suggested the name of Giorgio Corner, a diplomat and soldier, who married Elizabeth Morosini di Francesco the year the portrait was painted. Earlier (less convincing) attempts had been made to identify the sitter with the twenty-five year-old Lorenzo de’ Medici and the twenty-four year-old Sforza Maria Sforza, Duke of Bari. Apart from a few visible wormholes, the picture appears to be in good condition. It has not been restored since its acquisition in 1865.
*Christ at the Column. Wood, 28 x 20.
Christ is shown against the column, bust-length and in extreme close-up, a crown of thorns on his head and rope around his neck. This little devotional panel was acquired by John Charles Robinson, the distinguished English connoisseur, collector and museum curator, in 1863 from ‘a Jew in Granada’, and it entered the famous collection of Sir Francis Cook at Richmond five years later. Gustavo Frizzoni, followed by Berenson among others, considered it a copy, after Antonello, by Andrea Solario, a Milanese painter influenced by Antonello. There are other versions at Detroit, Venice and Budapest. Recent opinion generally accepts the Cook picture as Antonello’s autograph original, with the others being copies by other hands (such as Antonello de Saliba or Pietro de Saliba). Usually dated between 1476 (when Antonello was still in Venice) and 1478 (when he had returned to Sicily). It is almost perfectly preserved (and has not been cut down at the bottom, as once supposed). On loan to the National Gallery in 1989-91; bought by the Louvre from Lady Cook in 1992.
Female Figures in a Townscape. Paper, 21 x 19.
This fragmentary study – delicately executed in ink and brown wash on a sheet of paper raggedly cut and torn at the edges – is the only drawing now generally accepted as from Antonello's own hand. It depicts ten heavily draped women standing in conversation in a broad street, with tall crenellated and balconied buildings receding behind them on the left towards a town gate. The original size and purpose of the composition are unknown, but the drawing is perhaps most likely to have been a study for the background of a painting that is either now lost or was never executed. The sheet came from the so-called 'Borghese albums' of drawings, which once belonged to the celebrated Venetian collector Zaccaria Sagredo. It was acquired by the Louvre in 1983 from a French country house collection as a work of the Dutch school. The Antonello attribution was published in 1984 by Roseline Bacou in a catalogue of drawings recently acquired by the museum.
A closely related drawing in the Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, repeats six of the female figures. Formerly attributed to Antonello, it is not as fine as the Louvre drawing and could be a copy or workshop replica of it.
Pavia. Musei Civici (Pinacoteca Malaspina, Castello Visconteo).
Portrait of a Man. Wood, 27 x 20.
The panel is badly warped and a horizontal crack runs through the sitter's upper lip. Signed on the little parapet. Possibly one of Antonello’s earlier portraits: the type of hat (like a flat-topped cone) and tunic (with a collar like a hood) were fashionable in the 1460s. The attribution and the authenticity of the signature have occasionally been doubted (eg. by Lauts in his 1940 monograph, who thought the picture was by a Northern follower). Judgement is impeded by the picture's damaged condition. Heavy repaint was applied in 1914 by the famous Milanese restorer Luigi Cavenaghi and (although some repaint was removed during a subsequent restoration in the 1930s) little of Antonello's original work is visible. The portrait is said to have been acquired by Marchese Luigi Malaspina from a Veronese family. Malaspina bequeathed his collection to the Belle Arti in 1834.
Philadelphia Museum of Art (J. G. Johnson Collection).
Portrait of a Man. Wood, 32 x 27.
The plump-faced, smooth-shaven young man, soberly dressed in black tunic and chaperon, looks out at us with a faint smile of friendly curiosity. The bottom of the panel has been sawn off; according to archival research published in 2006, it contained a cartellino with the date 1474, and the portrait is close in style to the Berlin portrait inscribed with the same date. Bought by Johnson at Agnew’s in 1900. It was said to have come from the ‘Queen of Naples’ – apparently Maria Carolina of Austria, whose son Francis I ascended the throne of the Two Sicilies in 1825. In a restoration of 1941, the black background was completely stripped off in the belief (possibly mistaken) that it was not original. It was replaced by gilding. In a restoration of 2012-13, the black background was reinstated.
Piacenza (San Lazzaro Alberoni). Collegio Alberoni.
‘Ecce Homo’. Wood, 49 x 38.
Signed on the cartellino on the parapet with a date that has been usually interpreted as 1473 (though 1470 and 1475 have also been suggested). Well preserved. First recorded in 1735 in an inventory of the Roman palazzo of Cardinal Giulio Alberoni, a minister of Philip V of Spain, who is said to have acquired the picture when the Spanish were trying to reoccupy Sicily in 1718. There is another, probably slightly earlier version in the Palazzo Spinola at Genoa. Two other versions are missing. One, which belonged to the Polish Ostrowski family, disappeared from Vienna during the Second World War. The other was stolen from the Museo Civico at Novara in 1974.
Reggio Calabria. Museo della Magna Grecia.
Three Angels. Wood, 21 x 29.
Fragment of a picture of Abraham visited by the Three Angels. The right-hand side with the figure of Abraham is missing. The complete composition is known from copies (including one in the Denver Art Museum attributed to the French artist Josse Lieferinxe). Acquired by the Museo Civico of Reggio in 1890-91 from the local aristocrat Giovanbattista Rota. The attribution to Antonello, as a very early work (1460-65?), was made in 1908 by Lionello Venturi (in L’Arte).
Saint Jerome. Wood, 41 x 31.
The saint kneels penitent before a crucifix. The picture is very damaged (the figure of the saint is particularly abraded, perhaps because of repeated devotional touching or kissing) and has been cut down on the right. Acquired at the same time as the Three Angels. It was ascribed to Antonello at the time of its acquisition. Following attributions to Jacobello di Antonello and to Antonello de Saliba in the 1930s, the picture is now usually accepted as a work of Antonello himself – an early work though perhaps not quite as early as the Three Angels. However, the attribution of the two Reggio pictures is still sometimes questioned (eg. by Luke Syson in his review, in the August 2006 Burlington Magazine, of the Antonello exhibition in Rome).
Rome. Galleria Borghese.
*Portrait of a Man. Wood, 30 x 24.
He wears a pleated red tunic and a black chaperon (capuzzo) with a tail of drapery (liripipe) that falls over his right shoulder. The panel has probably been cut down at the bottom, removing the usual parapet with a cartellino. It was listed as a work of Giovanni Bellini in a Borghese inventory of 1790 and first attributed to Antonello in 1869. It was identified by Crowe and Cavalcaselle with the portrait, dated 1475, of Michele Vianello (‘dressed in pink with a black hat on his head’) seen by Michiel in 1532 in Pasqualino’s house at Venice. This identification is not certain; other critics have dated the portrait a few years earlier, before Antonello’s visit to Venice. By 1611 it was in the collection of Cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini, which was inherited by Donna Olimpia Aldobrandini in 1638. When the last of Olimpia’s heirs died, the family fortune passed in 1769 to the Borghese. The white lead used for the highlights on the pleated red tunic has turned black. Restoration in 2002 removed greyish varnish and some old retouchings.
Sibiu (Romania). Muzeul National Brukenthal.
*Crucifixion. Wood, 39 x 24.
Usually regarded as one of Antonello’s earliest surviving works (datings have ranged from the late1450s to the late 1460s) and very Flemish in character. The figures of the crucified Christ and two thieves are strikingly similar to those in a Crucifixion by Jan van Eyck in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The figure of the crucified Christ is also very similar to that in two much later Crucifixions by Antonello at Antwerp and London. The harbour city in the background is believed to be Antonello’s native Messina (with the old castle, Rocca Guelfonia, and the monastery of San Salvatore on the far right, and the Aeolian Islands visible in the dark sea). Acquired by Samuel von Brukenthal, Governor of Transilvania, in the late eighteenth century for his house in Hermannstaadt (now Sibiu). Ascribed to a German artist in the nineteenth century, it was first recognised as a work of Antonello in the 1902 museum catalogue. In 1948 it was claimed for the Romanian Museum of Art in Bucharest. But, following the fall of the Communist regime, it was returned to Sibiu in 2005 after a long legal battle.
Syracuse. Museo Regionale di Palazzo Bellomo.
*Annunciation. Canvas (transferred from panel), 180 sq.
As in Piero della Francesca’s fresco at Arezzo, the Angel Gabriel and Virgin are separated by a classical column. This half-ruined picture is from the church of Santa Maria dell'Annunziata at Palazzolo Acreide (some 40 km from Syracuse). It was discovered there only in 1896 by Enrico Mauceri, a young art historian employed by the Syracuse museum. The contract was unearthed a few years later in 1903. It revealed that the picture was the chief panel of an altarpiece commissioned on 23 August 1474 by a certain Giuliano Maniuni of Palazzolo Acreide. The work was to be completed by end-November of the same year. The predella mentioned in the contract is lost, along with the original frame. The Annunciation was acquired in 1907 by the Italian State for the Archaeological Museum of Syracuse and transferred to the new museum at the Palazzo Bellomo in 1940.
The picture has been greatly damaged, particularly in the lower part, by flaking. Heavy repaint was applied early in the twentieth century by the famous Milanese restorer Luigi Cavenaghi, who transferred the painting from panel to canvas. Cavenaghi's repaint, which had become violently discordant with the original colour, was subsequently removed in a radical restoration directed in 1942 by Cesare Brandi. The losses were not filled in and the missing areas left exposed. In the latest restoration of 2006-8, some in-painting was carried out in watercolour and the remaining areas of bare canvas were darkened to make them less obtrusive. The surviving paint surface has an extensive and deep craquelure.
Turin. Museo Civico (Palazzo Madama).
*Portrait of a Man ('Trivulzio Portrait'). Wood, 37 x 28.
The man of late middle age, shown bust-length and in three-quarter view like all Antonello’s sitters, looks out at the viewer with an expression of haughty detachment. He wears a chaperon (capuzzo) with a tail of drapery (liripipe) that falls over his right shoulder. One of Antonello’s masterpieces in portraiture. Signed and dated 1476 on an illusionistic unfolded scrap of paper affixed to the parapet with red sealing wax. It was possibly painted in Venice (where Antonello is recorded in March 1476), and it has been suggested that the sitter might be Pietro Bon, Antonello’s patron in the city. However, it is perhaps more likely that the portrait was painted after Antonello’s return to Sicily, as the wood used for the panel is walnut, which was rare in the Veneto. Once in the Galleria Rinuccini at Florence, it passed into the Trivulzio collection at Milan in 1852 with the marriage of Marianna Rinuccini and Giorgio Teodoro Trivulzio. Donated to the city of Turin in 1935. Restored in 2005-6, when three layers of discoloured varnish were removed. (Previously, the man's black headwear could be barely distinguished from the dark background.)
Venice. Museo Correr.
Pietà. Wood, 117 x 85.
The heads of Christ and the three angels have been seriously damaged by early restorations. The background is better preserved; the church has been identified as San Francesco at Messina. Eighteenth-century repainting was removed in a restoration of 1938. The picture was formerly ascribed to Giovanni Bellini; the hand of Antonello was first recognised in the early twentieth century by Gustavo Frizzoni and Roger Fry. It is the only one of the artist’s works to have remained in Venice, where it was presumably painted in 1475-76. From the collection bequeathed to the city of Venice in 1830 by Teodoro Correr; its earlier provenance is unknown. From its size, it could have been either a small altarpiece or intended for private devotion.
Vienna. Kunsthistorisches Museum.
*San Cassiano Altarpiece (fragments). Wood.
Commissioned by Pietro Bon, a Venetian nobleman, for an altar of the church of San Cassiano at Venice. Bon was elected Venetian consul to Tunisia in 1469, and it is possible that he visited Messina on his way to North Africa and extended an invitation there for Antonello to work for him in Venice. The altarpiece is described as almost finished in a letter of 16 March 1476 from Pietro Bon to Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza. It showed the Virgin and Child surrounded by standing saints and enthroned in a domed Renaissance chapel. Sansovino (1581) describes the picture in situ over the first altar on the right of the nave. It had left the church by the early seventeenth century, and subsequently passed through the great collections of the Venetian merchant Bartolomeo della Nave and the Scottish nobleman the Duke of Hamilton. In 1659 five fragments from the picture are recorded, with an attribution to Giovanni Bellini, in the Gallery of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm at Brussels. The fragment (115 x 63) of the Madonna Enthroned was identified by Berenson (1917) as part of the altarpiece. Two other fragments (each about 56 x 35), showing St Nicholas and a female saint holding a glass vessel (variously identified as Lucy, Mary Magdalene or Anastasia) and SS. Dominic and Ursula (originally full-length but now truncated at the waist), were discovered (by the gallery’s keeper Joannes Wilde) in a storeroom in the 1920s. The two other fragments are lost, but are known through small painted copies and engravings made in the mid-seventeenth century for Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s Theatrum Picturium. That from the left of the altarpiece showed a saint in armour, probably George or Liberalis, and a female saint with a headdress of flowers, possibly Cecilia or Rosalia. (David Tenier’s small copy is now in the Courtauld Institute in London.) These two saints were balanced on the right by St Sebastian, bound to a column, and St Helen (parts of whose profile and cross are visible behind St Dominic). (Tenier’s copy of the upper half of the St Sebastian is in Vienna.) Antonello’s altarpiece was much imitated in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries by Venetian artists, particularly Cima and Alvise Vivarini.
Washington. National Gallery of Art.
Madonna and Child (‘Benson Madonna’). Wood, 58 x 49.
Damaged (the right of the Virgin’s face has been repaired and the green pillow and the sky have been completely repainted). In 1912, when it was in the Benson collection in London, Tancred Borenius (in his edition of Crowe and Cavalcaselle’s History of Painting in Northern Italy) ascribed it to Antonello’s son Jacobello on the strength of its similarity to a Madonna and Child signed by Jacobello and dated 1480 in Bergamo. Almost immediately afterwards, in 1913, Bernard Berenson attributed it to Antonello himself. Berenson dated it about 1475; Longhi put it slightly earlier, before Antonello’s visit to Venice, while Previtali (1980) thought it a very late work (1476-79), painted in collaboration with Jacobello di Antonio. David Brown (in the 2003 catalogue of fifteenth-century Italian paintings in Washington) agrees with Berenson, judging it a fully autograph work of about 1474-75. After the Benson collection was sold in 1927, the picture was acquired (via Duveen) by Clarence H. Mackay, a New York financier, who built up a fine collection of Renaissance art before losing his fortune in the 1929 stock market crash. Sold in 1936 to Andrew Mellon, whose bequest in 1937 formed the nucleus of the collection of the new National Gallery of Art.
Portrait of a Young Man. Wood, 33 x 25.
He wears a pleated red tunic and is bareheaded, his thick hair curled inwards in a ‘helmet’ style. The panel has been cut down at the bottom and may originally have had a parapet, but it is otherwise well preserved. The finish is unusually hard and smooth. Described as a work of Antonello in the 1871 inventory of the famous Venetian collection of Prince Giovanelli. It remained at the Palazzo Giovanelli at San Felice until the early 1930s, and was acquired by Andrew Mellon in 1936 from Duveen. The attribution was rarely questioned until the 1980s. Since then, however, a number of critics have seen the hand of Antonello’s son and heir Jacobello. It has been variously suggested that the portrait was started by Antonello and finished by Jacobello, that it was designed by Antonello and executed by Jacobello, or that it was painted independently by Jacobello shortly after his father’s death. (Some tentative evidence for this last position is that the sitter’s ‘helmet’ hairstyle does not seem to have become fashionable until the early 1480s.) The portrait was merely ‘attributed to Antonello’ in the 2003 catalogue of fifteenth-century Italian paintings at Washington.