Life and works of Antonello da Messina, famous Sicilian painter

Besides an incredible variety of natural beauties and landscapes, Sicily can also boast an extraordinary cultural and artistic heritage.

Numerous are the literates, painters, sculptors, directors who have represented the splendors of the island, making known the immense beauty of this land to the whole world.

Among the various artists of the Sicilian culture, we have to mention the famous Antonello da Messina, one of the main painters of the fifteenth century.

So here is some more information about this famous artist and his art, renowned all over the world.

The life of Antonello da Messina

We do not have a lot of information on the life of Antonello da Messina. According to various sources, Antonello da Messina was born around 1430 in Messina, from Giovanni de Antonio, a stonemason, and Garita, probably a diminutive for Margherita.

His first apprenticeship took place almost certainly between Messina and Palermo, although a recently discovered document would testify that, as a teenager, the artist was also in Alcamo. Around 1450, however, we can place his apprenticeship at Colantonio, in Naples, where he comes into contact with Flemish art, which will influence his creations.

Seven years later, in 1457, Antonello returned to Messina, his native city, and opened a workshop: this return is testified by several documents mentioning the name of the painter. These are the years of first commissions, and in 1460 we can date two of his first masterpieces, the Crucifixion of Sibiu and the Madonna Salting.

Antonello, in the meantime, got married to a widow, Giovanna Cuminella. A document, always datable around 1460, attests that his father Giovanni requested the assistance of a bandit to recover Antonello along with some relatives, including his wife and son in Amantea, on the coasts of Calabria. The motives for that journey are not reported and we don’t have any further detail.

The trips through Italy and the stay in Venice.

These are flourishing years for Antonello da Messina: his brother joins his workshop and, in the meantime, the painter travels to many Italian cities including Rome, and different regions such as Marche and Tuscany, leading him to discover the paintings of Piero della Francesca.

Certainly of great importance was his stay in Venice, dated around 1474: in the lagoon city, Antonello comes into contact with the painting of Giovanni Bellini. He also enriches the local art, making a fundamental contribution to the typical Venetian Renaissance art. Later returns to Sicily and dies in Messina in 1479.

The art of Antonello da Messina

The extraordinary works of Antonello da Messina are initially influenced by Provencal and Flemish painting, particularly for the attention to detail and naturalism.

As already mentioned, the works of Piero della Francesca, an emblematic figure of the Italian Renaissance, and his journey to Venice were certainly fundamental for the evolution of the artist’s pictorial art.

Antonello da Messina was an innovator in the fifteenth-century art scene: the simple and carefully detailed forms, the faces painted with a focus on human psychology and the colors, so bright and pure, are characteristic elements unparalleled in the paintings of the time.

The main works of Antonello da Messina

Antonello da Messina was undoubtedly a prolific artist. Many of his works have given a fundamental contribution to the artistic world: it is impossible to make an all-encompassing list. Among the most important paintings we surely find the Crucifixion of Sibiu, dated around 1460 and currently kept at the Muzeul Național Brukenthal.

represents one of the basic themes of the entire artistic production of the acclaimed fifteenth-century painter; the Martyrdom of Christ. This work reflects the influence of Flemish painting and of its Calvaries, especially in the lower part of the panel. The upper part, however, shows a careful knowledge of spatial volume, with the orthogonal arrangement of Christ and the condemned thieves.

Another fundamental work of Antonello da Messina is the Salvator Mundi, which is also his first signed work, dated 1465 (his work should be framed in the decade 1465-1475). The signature and date are visible on the cartouche in the foreground. In this painting, the influence of Flemish iconography is very evident: we can see the dark background and the wooden parapet, as well as the use of warm oil colors characterizing the figure of the Saviour of the World. The work is currently exhibited at the National Gallery in London.

One of the best known works of Antonello da Messina is undoubtedly the Annunciazione di Palermo: this painting was realized around 1475 and is now kept in the Regional Gallery of Palazzo Abatellis in the Sicilian capital. The painting was completed after the painter’s return in Sicily.

It is a half-length portrait emerging from a dark background.

The representation of the Madonna clearly refers to the works of Piero della Francesca and Flemish art. The Virgin seems to be depicted while an interlocutor, perhaps the Archangel Gabriel or the viewer himself, appears in front of her during the reading. The elegance of the Marian features and the gentle chromatic tones used to depict the Virgin, make this painting a true masterpiece.

Other works by Antonello da Messina

Very prolific artist, with his works Antonello da Messina has written an important page in the history of national and international art. In addition to those already mentioned, there are many other paintings worth mentioning.

For example, the San Girolamo nello studio, now at the National Gallery in London. The painting depicts one of the Church Fathers, precisely St. Jerome, intent on translating the Holy Scriptures.

Antonello da Messina has also produced numerous portraits such as the famous Ritratto Trivulzio, or Ritratto d’uomo (Portrait of a Man), now preserved in the Museum of Ancient Art in Turin.

Datable to 1478 is the San Sebastiano, another fundamental work of the artistic activity of the famous painter from Messina. The painting, oil on panel transferred to canvas, represents the martyrdom of San Sebastiano and was part of a triptych: the Triptych of San Giuliano. The work is now preserved in the Gemäldegalerie of Dresden.

2 thoughts on “Life and works of Antonello da Messina, famous Sicilian painter

  1. do you know whihc painting Antonio took with him to Florence that influenced the use of oil paint?

    1. Hi Sharron! It may be “Giorgione, Le tre età dell’uomo” but we’re not 100% sure. Does that resonate with you?

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