Antonello da Messina (ca. 1430–1479) was one of the most groundbreaking and influential painters of the quattrocento. 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. 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 in the evolution of that genre in Italy. No greater artist emerged from southern Italy in the fifteenth century.
This small, focused installation opens with a recently rediscovered, double-faced painting that may indeed be the artist's earliest, Madonna and Child with a Praying Franciscan Donor and Ecce Homo, now in the collection of the Museo Regionale di Messina. It provides a fascinating vision into the artist's training and earliest years. His innovative portraits, with their superb descriptive powers and glimpses into the psychology of the sitter, are represented by the Portrait of a Man from Cefalù (Museo della Fondazione Mandralisca), as well as by the Metropolitan Museum's own Portrait of a Young Man. These are seen alongside the mysterious Annunciate Virgin, who is shown isolated against a neutral background and behind a simple reading desk, her hand outstretched in blessing. Few fifteenth-century paintings have a similar quality of pure geometry and repose. A handful of other works, including the Christ Crowned with Thorns, a drawing attributed to the artist in the Metropolitan Museum's Robert Lehman Collection, and a double-sided panel of Ecce Homo and Saint Jerome from a private collection complete this display, which gives the public a rewarding introduction to this challenging artist.
The exhibition was organized and made possible by the Cultural Commissioner for the Sicilian Region, Hon. Alessandro Pagano, and the Foundation for Italian Art and Culture, with the generous support of Bulgari and ACP Group.
Additional support has been provided by the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund and the Italian Cultural Institute of New York.
The exhibition catalogue is made possible by the Drue E. Heinz Fund.
The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.