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Antonello da Messina, San Cassiano Altarpiece, 1475–76, oil on panel, 55.9 cm × 35 cm, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna

Left side: Saint Nicholas and Saint Maddalena, 56 x 35 cm
Center: Madonna, 115 x 65 cm
Right side: Saint Ursula and Saint Dominique, 56,8 x 35,6 cm

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Antonello da Messina | San Cassiano Altarpiece


The San Cassiano Altarpiece is a painting by the Italian Renaissance master Antonello da Messina, dating to 1475-1476. Commissioned for the church of San Cassiano in Venice, it is now housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.[0] It was one of the most influential paintings in the Veneto area of the time.[1]
In 1475 Antonello da Messina was staying in Venice and the San Cassiano altar-piece came as a sequel to a series of works, including the Antwerp crucifixion, and a number of portraits.

Originally a larger altarpiece, it now comprises only the central panel with the Virgin Enthroned, and four half-busts of saints: St. Nicholas of Bari, St. Mary Magdalene (or Ursula), St. Lucy and St. Dominic.
Allegedly inspired by another Holy Conversation by Giovanni Bellini in the church of San Giovanni e Paolo (now known only through copies), it feature however a more balance composition and a more sober architecture. Antonello adopted a pyramidal layout, enhanced by the accurate use of light.
The book with three golden balls held by St. Nicholas alludes to the episode in which he gave them to three girls to be used as dowry.


Designed round a novel architectonic skeleton, this canvas came to be the inevitable model and paragon for all the prestigious painters of the age, from Bellini, with his San Giobbe altarpiece, to Giorgione, the painter of the Castelfranco altar, and Alvise Vivarini, whose altarpiece was destroyed in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum at Berlin in 1945.

This particular work of Antonello's, which had so significant an influence on his artistic career, and also on the history of subsequent Venetian painting, disappeared from the Church of San Cassiano in the first decades of the 17th century. Ridolfi mentions it in 1648. Reduced to fragments, it reappeared in the collection of the Archduke Leopold William in Brussels, and was attributed to Giovanni Bellini. About this time, Teniers made copies and engravings of them. In 1700 three or so of the large fragments found their way to Vienna. The two side-wings remained unrecognised until 1928, when they were put on show by Wilde. The Madonna was displayed, attributed now to Bellini, now to Boccaccino (Wickhoff, 1893 and Berenson, 1916-17); the latter was the first to identify in this picture the centre-piece of the San Cassiano altar. Finally Wilde managed to trace the two lateral fragments and tried to reconstruct the whole (1929).

This ambitious altarpiece was probably Antonello's most influential work. It has come down to us as a fragment, although by means of old copies, the sensible reconstruction indicates that even before Giovanni Bellini, Antonello produced a characteristically Venetian altarpiece.



Pala di San Cassiano, Reconstruction of altarpiece with existing fragments and existing copies of lost fragmentsReconstruction of altarpiece with existing fragments and existing copies of lost fragments


[1] The main exhibit among works from the late fifteenth century is the monumental fragment of what is known as the Pala di San Cassiano by Antonello da Messina, who originated from Sicily. Even in its fragmentary state the first manifestation of this type of altar and the importance of the Pala which attracted a school of followers can still be appreciated, and Antonello's interest in the material appearance of the surface resulting from his contact with Early Flemish painting in association with a downright cubic corporeality can be admired.[Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna: The Paintings, Volume 2]

Art in Tuscany | Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists | Antonello da Messina

Antonello da Messina || Download the Exhibition Guide in English [PDF - 1.4Mb]

This article incorporates material from the Wikipedia articles Antonello da Messina and San Cassiano Altarpiece, published under the GNU Free Documentation License.
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Hidden secrets in Tuscany | Holiday home Podere Santa Pia


Podere Santa Pia, giardino
Podere Santa Pia

The abbey of Sant'Antimo

Spoleto, Duomo
San Marco a Firenze
Siena, Piazza del Campo

Massa Marittima


Crete Senesi, surroundings of Podere Santa Pia

Podere Santa Pia is situated in the unspoiled valley of the Ombrone River, only 21 kilometres from Montalcino. This valley is famous locally as being of great natural beauty and still very undeveloped.