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Antonello da Messina, Virgin Annunciate, (detail), c. 1476, Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo
Travel guide for Tuscany

Antonello da Messina (ca. 1430–1479)


Antonello da Messina was one of the most groundbreaking and influential painters of the quattrocento. Born Antonello di Giovanni d'Antonio around 1430 in the seaport city of Messina, Sicily, his formation took place in Naples during the rule of Alfonso of Aragon, in a brilliant artistic climate open to French and Netherlandish painting. Antonello absorbed these influences, so much so that many of his near contemporaries believed he was the first to introduce the use of oil painting – already current in the North – in Italy. The 16th-century writer Vasari tells the life of Antonello da Messina as a tale of borrowings and transformations, the origin myth of oil painting. The fabled inventor of oil paint was Jan van Eyck, an alchemist as well as an artist according to Vasari, who discovered it after years of occult experimentation. He managed to keep his find a secret despite the distinctive smell of his paintings. Then Antonello, "a person of good and lively intelligence, of great sagacity", happened to go to Naples and see a van Eyck painting owned by King Alfonso. Antonello was so struck that he dropped everything and set out for Bruges, where he charmed the aged van Eyck with gifts until he shared the secret.[1]
Antonello set up his studio in Venice, a city that suited his pleasure-loving temperament.
His trip to Venice in 1475 was a landmark occasion, and his great altarpiece for the church of San Cassiano there (now in fragmentary form in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) redirected the art of Giovanni Bellini and other Venetian painters, while his portraits mark a new stage the evolution of that genre in Italy. Antonello's portraits, including his enigmatic Portrait of a Man (1465) in the Museo Mandralisca, Cefalu, Sicily, translate his look from Flemish to Italian art. No greater artist emerged from southern Italy in the 15th century.

The Virgin Annunciate is perhaps the most famous of the Sicilian painter's works and is one of the art icons of all time, dating back to Antonello's stay in Venice. The former enchants and surprises in its masterly orchestration of light sources, generating an interplay of backlight and, at the same time, wholly unifying the composition. But what is truly innovative is the interpretation of the Virgin Annunciate from Palermo, in which the painter achieves absolutely modern results, breaking up the traditional composition of the Annunciation scene. Here, indeed, Antonello condenses the sacred event into the single figure of the Virgin and concentrates on the personal and intimist aspect of the scene, underlining the psychological effects of the event revealed to the pensive and realistic figure of the Virgin and making the viewer feel, due to the absence of the angel, that he is the sole witness to the sacred event.

The Virgin Annunciate is perhaps the most famous of the Sicilian painter's works and is one of the art icons of all time, dating back to Antonello's stay in Venice. The former enchants and surprises in its masterly orchestration of light sources, generating an interplay of backlight and, at the same time, wholly unifying the composition. But what is truly innovative is the interpretation of the Virgin Annunciate from Palermo, in which the painter achieves absolutely modern results, breaking up the traditional composition of the Annunciation scene. Here, indeed, Antonello condenses the sacred event into the single figure of the Virgin and concentrates on the personal and intimist aspect of the scene, underlining the psychological effects of the event revealed to the pensive and realistic figure of the Virgin and making the viewer feel, due to the absence of the angel, that he is the sole witness to the sacred event.

The Virgin Annunciate was created for a domestic interior. It is a haunting image of the adolescent Mary when the angel Gabriel announces to her that she will bear God's Son. The modest Sicilian female, attired in a simple blue mantle, is aloof and mysterious. She is shown bust-length and against a plain background. Mary looks up from behind a reading desk upon which her book of devotions rests. Her direct outward gaze and right hand raised in a blessing gesture engage the viewer, who replaces Gabriel as the provider of the miraculous news and becomes an active participant in the charming painting's story. The lack of a pendant or adjoining panel suggests that the angel's presence is implied.

Noteworthy in The Virgin Annunciate is Antonello's use of light to build convincing forms. To paint Mary's foreshortened right hand, he may have employed a velo, a stringed grid through which an artist observed objects and then recorded their contours onto a squared piece of paper. [2]

The panel is a compelling depiction of Mary with an open devotional text on a simply rendered geometric lectern. She acknowledges the implied presence of the angel Gabriel, who is about to tell her that she will be the mother of the Son of God. In response to the angel's greeting, Mary clasps her blue cloak closed and holds it modestly in front of her chest. Meanwhile she gestures outwardly with her right hand extending beyond the picture plane's surface to Gabriel, who occupies the viewer's space. Some art historians feel that the foreshortened quality of the Virgin's right hand was achieved through the use of a velo (a string grid through which shapes were observed, drawn onto a squared piece of paper and then transferred to a painting). Although the subject is religious in nature, Antonello consciously chose a young and humble Sicilian girl for the model of the Blessed Virgin. In this way, he took a theme from the remote Biblical past and made it spiritually relevant, if not awe-inspiring, to anyone who saw the painting.


Antonello da Messina, Virgin Annunciate, c. 1476, Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo


Antonello da Messina, Virgin Annunciate, (detail), c. 1476, Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo

Antonello da Messina, Virgin Annunciate, (detail), c. 1476, Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo

The Christ at the Column from the Louvre constitutes the pinnacle of Antonello's explorations of this theme. The bold and highly original iconographic scheme conveys the sufferings of the martyred Christ in extreme close-up. Christ at the Column was intended for private devotion. The picture was painted late in Antonello's career - but whether in Venice or Sicily is not known.

A devotional work

His back against the whipping column, a crown of thorns on his head, and a rope around his neck, Christ is shown in three-quarter view. This near-portrait format focuses the viewer's attention on the face and its expressive intensity. Head thrown back and lips parted, Christ seems on the brink of ecstasy.
All the symbols of the various aspects of the Passion are here: the humiliation of the crown of thorns, the flogging at the column, and the bearing of the cross with a rope.
The smallness of the painting indicates a work for personal devotion and meditation. In the 15th century private piety was on the rise, with a host of images offering the faithful a focus for prayer and contemplation of the divine sacrifice. Here Christ's visibly acute suffering generates intense emotion in the viewer.

Great subtlety of execution

Antonello's acquaintance with the rules and foreshortenings of Tuscan perspective allow him here to show a living, monumental Christ whose Passion thrusts itself upon the viewer. This immediacy is enhanced by the illusionist handling of the knot in the rope: set at the bottom of the composition, it appears to rest on the frame, as if on the ledge of a window opening onto the divine. In this stunningly realistic treatment, Christ's face is quiveringly alive. During his apprenticeship in the Naples of the Princes of Aragon - collectors of the work of the Northern painters - Antonello acquired Flemish oil painting techniques: the layering of paint and glazes creates depth and subtle transitions from shade to light, while also enabling meticulous realism in physical terms and in the stroke by stroke rendering of Christ's hair and beard.

A late Antonello

Executed with impressive skill, this is a late work by Antonello. Probably painted between 1476, when he was still in Venice, and his return to Sicily in 1478, Christ at the Column met with great success, if the number of replicas and copies that have come down to us is any indication. It is representative of one facet of Antonello's output: the small portraits and panels so appreciated for private devotion. [3]

Antonello da Messina, Christ at the Column, c. 1476, Musée du Louvre, Paris
Antonello da Messina, Christ at the Column, c. 1476, Musée du Louvre, Paris


The expression Ecce Homo (Latin for "Behold the Man") comes from the New Testament Gospel According to John (19:5). They were the words spoken by Pontius Pilate when he presented Jesus Christ, scourged and wearing a crown of thorns, to the crowd who sought his crucifixion. The small size of this devotional panel suggests its portability desired by the original owner, who may have carried it during his travels in a special leather case.
Antonello revisited the Ecce Homo theme repeatedly in his career.
Christ Crowned with Thorns (possibly 1470) from The Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection has a profound impact on the viewer due to the immediacy of the painting's bust-length format inspired by similar Flemish works. A bare-chested Christ crowned with thorns is shown isolated behind a ledge. His facial features are in no way idealized or classically beautiful, emphasizing his humanity. And the expression of suffering on Jesus' anguished visage does not detract from the figure's sense of dignity. Despite certain abrasions to the panel's surface, Antonello's subtle modeling of Christ's nose and upper torso is still visible today.
The New York Ecce Homo, dated 1470, shows the intense sentimentalism typical of the Flemish interpretation of the subject.

There are four other versions of the subject by Antonello. One in the Galleria Alberoni, Piacenza, bears a date that is usually read as 1473. One formerly in the Ostrowski collection (disappeared from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, during World War II) was dated 1474. Two others are in the Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola, Genoa, and a private collection, New York (with a depiction of Saint Jerome in the Desert on the verso).

Art in Tuscany | Antonello da Messina, Ecce Homo


Antonello da Messina, Christ Crowned with Thorns, possibly 1470, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In addition to religious painting, Antonello excelled in the art of secular portraiture to a degree that rivaled his Northern Italian contemporaries.
Previously Italians had painted in tempera, their colours lacking the lucidity, depth and finesse that van Eyck and other northern Europeans achieved with oils. The earliest oil portraits relish the mimesis of the face that the new medium made possible.

The mysterious and very famous Cefalù Portrait of a Man by Antonello, known for a long time as the Portrait of an Unknown Sailor - formerly in Lipari and used as the door of a pharmacy cupboard - who rivets the viewer's attention with his direct and ironic gaze, and enigmatic, inscrutable smile.

His innovative portraits, with their superb descriptive powers and glimpses into the psychology of the sitter form part of a celebrated series of baruni or barons that Antonello painted from about 1470 until his death in 1479. In the oil on panel piece from Cefalù in Palermo, Italy, the artist's sharp visual insight into the sitter's personality is clear. Placed against a neutral background, Antonello portrayed the bust-length man in a three-quarter view common in the Netherlands. This allowed for a wider range of facial expressions and gave the viewer greater appreciation of the sitter's engaging glance, slightly mischievous smile and distinctly Sicilian features. Portrait of a Man draws the observer psychologically into the sitter's gaze.
This portrait is one of the best among the (more than ten) portraits painted by Antonello. It is assumed that it represents a military commander.

Antonello da Messina's male portraits differed from conventional medallion-style profile views by setting three-quarter bust portraits against a dark background and behind a parapet. The face in the Louvre painting is highly individual; no detail has escaped the artist's attention: the rings under the eyes, the scar on the upper lip, the tension in the jaw. The imperious gaze meets the spectator's, as if seeking to detain him. The technique of oil painting used here, which Antonello had learnt in the court of Naples, enabled him to render the subtlety of the reflections in the irises, the hairstyle with the thick fringe that catches the light, the precision of the shadows on the right wing of the nose, the right cheekbone, and the chin. The face emerges out of the dark background and the black garment highlighted by a simple white edging.
The Louvre portrait is signed "Antonellus messaneus me pinxit 1475" on the cartellino fixed to the stone parapet by two dots of red wax. At that time, the artist was in Venice. The technique he employed here spread northwards from Naples to Venice, and was soon used by his contemporaries.
Antonello da Messina's male portraits were inspired by those of the Netherlandish painters Van Eyck and Campin, in which the frame was extremely tight. He must have been particularly struck by the way that the sitter's eyes addressed the spectator; this was, of course, impossible to reproduce in the profile view adopted in Italian portraits until then.

Tradition has it that when Antonello da Messina returned from Flanders he introduced the technique of oil painting to Venice. He was also influenced by northern painting in his Sicilan search for the individual character of people and things, as is evident from the extraordinary Portrait of a Man.
His objective and incisive analysis of forms combines Piero della Francesca's stereometric achievements, Mantegna's use of perspective in his busts and venetian colour. Its present state or preservation shows that the highlighting on the red robe, has now become blackened by the lead base of the white pigment.

Antonello da Messina, Portrait of a man
(1475 ca.), Galleria Borghese, Rome
This was said traditionally to be a self-portrait by Antonello, but there is no evidence of the man's identity.
The light is held in the man's eyes, which are big, shiny orbs. This is not a Bruges merchant, but an Italian whose unshaven face is tough as well as pensive. This Renaissance man has more important things to think about than shaving, and his stubble is painted with realism, the pores just darkening. The hairs sticking out from his red cap are just as sharply real, contrasting with the rich, smooth skin tones, the finely sculpted and shadowed cheekbone.
The behaviour of light - sinking into the flesh at some places, making his cheek red and brown, reflecting off his eyeballs and nose as it reflected on the water rippling in the Venetian lagoon - is painted here in a way that would have astonished the painting's first beholders. To them, the new art of oil painting was almost a magical practice, so convincingly did it simulate life. This painting might feel gimmicky in its naturalism, a demonstration work. But it has an emotional strength, a gravitas that gives its subject the look of an intellectual or a man involved with art and science.
You can see why it was long identified as a self-portrait, because this man does not have the look of a noble. He's a bit hard, maybe quick to anger, maybe with a saturnine temperament. This man is a mysterious character, guarded, as if he doesn't quite trust us.



Antonello da Messina, Saint Jerome in his Study, about 1475, The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London

The painting is recorded in a Venetian collection in 1529 as by Antonello, Van Eyck or Memling. Antonello may have painted it when in Venice in the 1470s. His style was much influenced by Netherlandish painting seen in the detailed treatment of objects such as the hanging towel and the view through the window. The 4th-century Saint Jerome was one of the four Fathers of the Church, and is often represented in the Renaissance. He was famous for the Vulgate — the translation of the Bible into Latin — and is often depicted in his study.

A painting of Saint Jerome, thought to be by Jan van Eyck, is known to have been in Naples in 1456 and Antonello may have seen it. He certainly worked in Naples as well as his native Sicily.

Saint Jerome in his Study is one of the most famous of the artist's mature works. The painting which Marcantonio Michiel - a cultivated art connoisseur - saw in 1529 in the house of a rich merchant Antonio Pasqualigo, clearly shows why the Venetian aristocrats competed to acquire Antonello's portraits and small devotional paintings as soon as the artist from Messina set foot in Venice. The ingenious architectural setting in this picture must immediately have appeared an unprecedented novelty to everyone, with Jerome's study inserted into a powerful, dark church, rather like a set of Chinese boxes, backlit from windows opening onto an airy rural landscape. The Saint Jerome, with its silent luminosity, its minute descriptive detail, the highly skilful syntax of perspective obtained through the light that makes everything clear and limpid, must have been admired as an absolute masterpiece, on a par with the great Flemish painters such as van Eyck or Memling, to whom it has sometimes been attributed.

Art in Italy | Antonello da Messina, Saint Jerome in his Study


Antonello da Messina arrived in Venice in the winter of 1474-75, staying there until the autumn of 1476. Venetian documents record his presence in the city and his relations with the nobleman Pietro Buon, who commissioned from him the large altarpiece for San Cassiano (parts of which are now in the Vienna Kunsthistorishes Museum).
The Pietà is the only work left in Venice to bear witness to the artist’s presence in the city.
It is also interesting to note that though the subject of the Pietà was frequently explored by Mantegna and Bellini, this is the only known version of the theme painted by Antonello da Messina.
The Pietà with three angel was probably painted at the beginning of his stay in the city. The splendid background scene, one of the best preserved parts of this very badly damaged painting, with the apse of the church of San Francesco d'Assisi in Messina, is the artist's tribute to the city of his birth, Messina.

The Museo Correr is Venice's civic museum, dedicated to the history of the Republic. Based on the private collection of Venetian nobleman Teodoro Correr (1750-1830), it is elevated beyond mere curiosity value by the second-floor gallery, which is essential viewing for anyone interested in early Renaissance Venetian painting.

Cristo morto sostenuto da tre angeli
Antonello da Messina, Pietà with three angels (after restoration), c. 1475, oil on panel, 115 x 86 cm, Museo Correr, Venice


Antonello da Messina, Portrait of a Man
Antonello da Messina, Portrait of a Man, 1474, oil on panel, Berlin, Staatliche Museen

This work was signed by Antonello, and has been considered his very last work if the date on it is interpreted as 1478. It is therefore his last male portrait, and it housed in the Staatliche Museen (Gemäldegalerie) of Berlin, Germany.

Relevant is the insertion by Antonello of a landscape in the background, as other artists (including Giovanni Bellini) used this innovative feature only starting from the 1490s. The picture shows influences from the late Flemish paintings, as can be seen from the rendering of the dress, similar to a Van Eyck portrait now at Sibiu.




The San Cassiano Altarpiece


The San Cassiano Altarpiece and the Saint Sebastian from Dresden are all that remain of Antonello’s work for the Venetian churches.
In August, Antonello begins working on the San Cassiano Altarpiece, fragments of which are held by the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. It is commissioned by the aristocrat Pietro Bon in Venice.
'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 Netherlandish painting in association with a downright cubic corporeality can be admired.'[5]

Art in Italy | Antonello da Messina | San Cassiano Altarpiece

Group of figures in a square, Musée du Louvre, Paris

San Cassiano Altarpiece, 1475–76, Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna
Purchased in 1983, this drawing was recognized as the work of Antonello da Messina the following year. 
Antonello da Messina's contact with Northern European art during his apprenticeship in Naples in the 1440s and 1450s had a profound influence on his style. Several features of this drawing—in particular, the elongated proportions of the figures and the heavy drapery arranged in sharp, angular folds—demonstrate Antonello's absorption of Flemish and Burgundian art.
This drawing demonstrates 'a Northern influence in the treatment of figures and drapery, which reveals a familiarity with the work of Petrus Christus and Jean Fouquet, while the depiction of a moment of everyday life also suggests familiarity with the art of Northern Europe. Antonello's skill, however, allows him to combine these influences with the tradition of his own cultural milieu, expressed in the execution of the houses, rendered in Italian Renaissance perspective'.[6]

Antonello da Messina | Group of Draped Figures


  Antonello da Messina, Group of figures in a square, department of Prints and Drawings, Musée du Louvre, Paris
Imagini Antonello di Messina    
Antonello, virgo advocata   Antonello da Messina (1430–1479), Cristo in pietà (verso), 1465-1470 circa, tempera su tavola, 16×11,9 cm, Messina, Museo regionale   Antonello da Messina (1430–1479)

Madonna Salting, 1470 circa, tempera e olio su tavola, 43,2×34,3 cm, Londra, National Gallery
Antonello da Messina 061  

Antonello da Messina 062

  Antonello da Messina (1430–1479), Crocifissione, 1475 circa, olio su tavola, 52,5x42,5 cm, Anversa, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten


More images of Antonello da Messina


Giorgio Vasari, the 16th-century biographer, said that Antonello da Messina learned oil painting from Jan van Eyck, whom he had visited in Flanders. This is improbable as Jan van Eyck died when Antonello was 11 years old. Nevertheless, critics have continued to postulate a visit to Flanders to explain the Flemish qualities in Antonello's art as well as his mastery of oil painting. A different viewpoint, which has evolved recently, sees his apprenticeship to the painter Colantonio in Naples and his contact with Petrus Christus, a Flemish follower of Jan van Eyck, as the crucial factors in Antonello's early development.

[1] The late-medieval Kingdom of Naples, which included Sicily, was ruled by Alfonso V, the Aragonese monarch (r. 1416-1458) from the Iberian peninsula. He defeated his French rival, René I of Anjou (1409-1480), for political control of the region in 1442, having established his hegemony over southern Italy. Shortly thereafter, Alfonso commissioned the rebuilding of the thirteenth-century Castelnuovo, a residential fortress in Naples. The complex is best known for its monumental entrance gate. It incorporates a stone triumphal arch reminiscent of classical Roman architecture.

The deposed Good King René retreated from Naples in 1442 to Aix-en-Provence, the capital of Anjou in France. The realm that Alfonso captured from him had an already bustling seaside economy open to the artistic tastes of Northern European and Venetian merchants. René brought to the Kingdom of Naples his Angevin preference for the Provençal style of Late Gothic panel painting and delicate manuscript illumination from France. Alfonso subsequently displayed a distinct fondness for early Netherlandish and Spanish art. Along with the Aragonese king's interest in the Roman and Tuscan classical revival of the arts on the Italian mainland, Naples and Sicily witnessed a fervent period of artistic cross-fertilization encouraged by Alfonso's Humanist court. This development signaled the beginning of the Neapolitan kingdom's cultural transition from the Late Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

Antonello da Messina mastered the art of oil painting during Alfonso V's reign. He established himself as one of the Quattrocento's brightest painters. Antonello's imaginative compositions, characterized by French and Flemish influences, were not to be surpassed by those of any other Southern Italian painter of the Fifteenth Century. The scant available documentation about Antonello's early training reveals that he was an apprentice to the oil painter Niccolò Colantonio (born ca. 1420) in Naples sometime between 1445 and 1455. Scholars theorize that it was during this formative period in his training that Antonello possibly saw paintings by early Netherlandish and Provençal artists. He made one trip to Venice from 1475 to 1476. There he completed a number of significant commissions and exchanged intellectual ideas with Giovanni Bellini (ca. 1431-1516), the first master of High Renaissance painting in Venice. After his excursion to the Serenissima (the Latin designation for the Most Serene Republic of Venice), Antonello remained mostly in Sicily, having painted many religious and secular works of art.

[2] Barbera, Gioacchino, Keith Christiansen and Andrea Bayer. Antonello da Messina: Sicily's Renaissance Master (exh. cat.). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005, 12-30, 46-47.

[3]Cécile Maisonneuve, Dominique Thiébaut |

[4] Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects. Antonello da Messina, Andrea del Castagno, and Domenico Veneziano

From the time of Cimabue pictures either on panel or canvas had been painted in distemper, although the artists felt that a certain softness and freshness was wanting. But although many had sought for some other method, none had succeeded, either by using liquid varnishes, or by mixing the colours in any other way. They could not find any way by which pictures on panels could be made durable like those on the walls, and could be washed without losing the colour. And though many times artists had assembled to discuss the matter, it had been in vain. This same want was felt also by painters out of Italy, in France, Spain, and Germany, and elsewhere. But while matters were in this state John of Bruges, a painter much esteemed in Flanders, set himself to try various kinds of colours and different oils to make varnishes, being one who delighted in alchemy. For having once taken great pains in painting a picture, when he had brought it to a conclusion with great care, he put on the varnish and put it to dry in the sun, as is usual. But either the heat was too great or the wood not seasoned enough, for the panel opened at all the joints. Upon which John, seeing the harm that the heat of the sun had done, determined to do something so that the sun should not spoil any more of his works. And he began to consider whether he could not find a varnish that should dry in the shade without his having to put his pictures in the sun. He made many experiments, and at last found that the oil of linseed and the oil of nuts were the best for drying of all that he tried. Having boiled them with his other mixtures, he made the varnish that he, or rather all the painters of the world, had been so long desiring. He saw also that when the colours were mixed with these oils, not only were they safe from injury by water when once they were dry, but the colours also had more lustre without the aid of any varnish, and besides, which seemed more marvellous to him, the colours blended better than in tempera.

The fame of this invention soon spread not only through Flanders, but to Italy and many other parts of the world, and great desire was aroused in other artists to know how he brought his works to such perfection. And seeing his pictures, and not knowing how they were done, finally they were obliged to give him great praise, while at the same time they envied him with a virtuous envy, especially because for a time he would not let any one see him work, or teach any one his secret. But when he was grown old he at last favoured Roger of Bruges, his pupil, with the knowledge, and Roger taught others. But although the merchants bought the paintings and sent them to princes and other great personages to their great profit, the thing was not known beyond Flanders. The pictures, however, especially when they were new, had that strong smell which mixing oil with colours gives them, so that it would seem the secret might have been discovered; but for many years it was not.

It came about then that some Florentines who traded in Flanders and Naples sent a picture by John containing many figures painted in oil to King Alfonso I of Naples, and the picture pleasing him from the beauty of the figures and the new method of colouring, all the painters in the kingdom came together to see it, and it was highly praised by all.

Now there was a certain Antonello da Messina, a man of an acute mind and well skilled in his art, who had studied drawing at Rome for many and afterwards worked at Palermo, and came back to Messina his native place, having obtained a good repute for his skill in painting. He, going on business from Sicily to Naples, heard that this picture by John of Bruges had come from Flanders to the and that it could be washed, and perfect. He contrived therefore the vivacity of the colours, and the way 1n wmcn they were blended, had such an effect upon him that, laying aside all other matters, he set off for Flanders. And when he came to Bruges he presented himself to John, and made him many presents of drawings in the Italian manner, and other things, so that John, moved by these and the deference Antonello paid him, and feeling himself growing old, allowed Antonello to see his method of painting in oil, and he did not leave the place until he had learnt all that he desired. But when John was dead Antonello returned to his country to make Italy participate in his useful and convenient secret. And after having spent some months in Messina he went to Venice, where, being a person much given to pleasure, he determined to settle and end is days. T here he painted many pictures in oil, and acquired a great name.

Antonello when he came to Venice with as much attention and courtesy as if he were a very dear friend. Antonello therefore, not to be outdone in courtesy, after a little while taught him the secret of painting in oil. No act of courtesy or kindness could have been more pleasing to him, for it caused him to gain lasting honour in his native place.

Now emulation and honest rivalry are things praiseworthy and to be held in esteem, being necessary and useful to the world; but envy, which cannot endure that another should have praise and honour, deserves the utmost scorn and reproach, as may be seen in the story of the unhappy Andrea dal Castagno, who, great as he was in painting and design, was greater still in the hatred and envy that he bore to other painters, so that the shadow of his sin has hidden the splendour of his talents He was born at a small farm called Castagno, from which he took his surname when he came to live in Florence. Having been left an orphan in his childhood, he was taken by his uncle and employed by him many years in keeping cattle. While at such work it happened one day that to escape the rain he took refuge in a place where one of those country painters who work for little pay was painting a countryman's tabernacle. Andrea, who had never seen anything like it before, excited by curiosity, set himself to watch and to consider the manner of such work, and there awoke within him suddenly such a strong desire and passionate longing for art that without loss of time he began to draw little figures and animals in charcoal, and carve them with the point stones, so as to who saw them. The fame of this new study of Andrea's spread among the country people, and, as fortune would have it, it came to the ears of a Florentine gentleman, named Bernardetto de' Medici, who had land in those parts, and he desired to see the boy. And having heard him talk with much quickness and intelligence, he asked him if he would like to be a painter. And Andrea answering that there was nothing he desired more, he took him with him to Florence, and placed him with one of the masters who were at that time held to be the best. So Andrea, giving himself to study, showed great intelligence in overcoming the difficulties of the art. His colour was somewhat crude, but he was excellent in the movement of figures and in the heads both of men and women. One picture of his which excited the astonishment of artists was a fresco of the Flagellation, which would be the finest of all his works if it had not been so scratched and spoiled by children and simple people, who destroyed the heads and arms of the Jews to avenge, as it were, the injury done to the Lord.

Among the other painters of name who were then in Venice, the chief was a Master Domenico. He received

Afterwards he was charged to paint a part of the larger chapel of S. Maria Nuova, another part being given to Alesso Baldovinetti, and a third to Domenico da Venezia, who had been brought to Florence on account of his new method of painting in oil. Then Andrea was seized with envy of Domenico, for although he knew himself to be more excellent than he in drawing, yet he could not bear that a foreigner should be caressed and honoured in such a manner by the citizens, and his rage and anger grew so hot that he began to think how he could rid himself of him. Nevertheless, Andrea was as clever in dissimulation as he was in painting, and could assume a cheerful countenance whenever he liked; he was ready in speech, proud, resolute in mind and in every gesture of his body. Being jealous of others as well as of Domenico, he used secretly to scratch their paintings. Even in his youth, if any one found fault with his works, he would let him know by blows or insults that he knew how to defend himself from injury

But now, resolving to do by treachery what he could not do openly without manifest danger, he feigned great friendship for this Domenico; and he, being a good fellow and amiable, fond of singing and playing the lute, willingly made friends with him, Andrea appearing to be both a man of talent and good company. And this continuing, on one side real and on the other feigned, every night they were found together enjoying themselves, and serenading their loves, which Domenico much delighted in. He also, loving Andrea truly, taught him how to paint in oils, which was not yet known in Tuscany.

Meanwhile, in the chapel of S. Maria Nuova, Andrea painted the Annunciation, which is considered very fine; and on the other side Domenico painted in oils S. Joachim and S. Anna and the birth of our Lady, and below the Betrothal of the Virgin, with a good number of portraits from life: Bernardetto de' Medici, constable of the Florentines, in a red cap, Bernardo Guadagni, the gonfalonier, Folco Portinari, and others of that family. But this work was left unfinished, as will be seen. Andrea, on his side, painted in oils the death of the Virgin, and showed that he knew how to manage oil colours as well as Domenico his rival. In this picture also he put many portraits from life, and in a circle himself like Judas Iscariot, as he was in truth and deed.

Then having brought this work to a successful termination, blinded by envy at the praises he heard given to Domenico, he meditated how to rid himself of him; and having thought of many ways, he at last proceeded in this manner. One evening in summer, Domenico as usual took his lute and departed from S. Maria Nuova, leaving Andrea in his chamber drawing, he having refused to accompany him on the excuse of having to make certain drawings of importance. So Domenico being gone out to his pleasure, Andrea disguised himself and went to wait for him at the corner, and when Domenico came up, returning home, he struck at him with a leaden instrument, and breaking his lute, pierced him in the stomach at the same moment. But thinking he had not done his work as he wished, he struck him on the head heavily, and leaving him on the ground, returned to his room in S. Maria Nuova, and sat down to his drawing as Domenico had left him. In the meantime the servants, having heard a noise, ran out and heard what had happened, and came running to bring the evil tidings to Andrea, the traitor and murderer, whereupon he ran to the place where lay Domenico, and could not be consoled, crying out without ceasing, "Oh, my brother, my brother!" At last Domenico died in his arms, and it could not be found out who it was that had slain him. Nor would it ever have been known, if Andrea on his deathbed had not made confession of the deed.

He lived in honour; but spending much, particularly on his dress and in his manner of living, he left little wealth behind him. When Guiliano de' Medici was slain, and his brother Lorenzo wounded, by the Pazzi and their adherents, the Signory resolved that the conspirators should be painted as traitors on the facade of the palace of the Podesta. And the work being offered to Andrea, he accepted it willingly, being much beholden to the house of Medici. He painted it surprisingly well, and it would be impossible to describe how much art he displayed in the portraits, painted for the most part from the themselves, representing them hanging by feet in all sorts of strange attitudes. The pleased the people so much that from that time he was called no more Andrea dal Castagno, but Andrea degli Impiccati, Andrea of the hanged men.

[5] Source: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna: The Paintings, Volume 2

[6] Mancini Federica, Group of figures in a square
Department of Prints and Drawings, Musée du Louvre, Paris |


Crucifixion (detail), 1475, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp
Crucifixion (detail), 1475, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp


Crucifixion (detail), 1475, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp
Crucifixion (detail), 1475, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp




Antonello da Messina, St. Sebastian, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden


The Dresden St. Sebastian is a late work of Antonello showing Venetian influences.
Antonello's Saint Sebastian is an appealing picture which offers a wide range of visual stimuli. Seemingly oblivious to the arrows which pierce his body, the young Saint Sebastian is tethered to a tree, partially nude and in discreet contrapposto. The vanishing point is low on the horizon, so that the recession into space is sudden, if not dramatic, emphasized by the foreshortened column fragment in the right foreground.

Villa Cahen

Panorama of Sant’Angelo in Colle, hamlet of Montalcino
Vasari Corridor, Florence
Panorama Sant’Angelo in Colle, Montalcino

Florence, Duomo


Art in Tuscany | Male portraits by Antonello da Messina (1430–1479)

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

Antonello da Messina | L'Annunciazione della chiesa di Santa Maria Annunziata di Palazzolo Acreide, 1474

Art in Tuscany | Italian Renaissance painting

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

Barbera, Gioacchino, Andrea Bayer and Keith Christiansen, Antonello da Messina: Sicily's Renaissance Master (exh. cat.), New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005.

The Museo Correr | Pinacoteca

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain, and uses material from the Wikipedia article Antonello da Messina published under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ecce homo and Antonello da Messina.



Found in the beautiful Maremma, close to San Quirico d'Orcia, Montalcino, Pienza, Montepulciano and the medieval hilltop village of Castiglioncello Bandini. Podere Santa Pia is a perfect Tuscan getaway. The location of Podere Santa Pia is unique and the landscape a once-in-a-life sight. Enjoy Tuscany's life and atmosphere relaxing in the comfort of a beautiful small cloister and discover the region's passion for food and wine.

Holiday accomodation in Toscany | Podere Santa Pia




Podere Santa Pia
Podere Santa Pia, garden view, December
Cypress trees between San Quirico d'Orcia and Montalcino

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.