The first painter of true European art of 15th century, besides being an Italian artist, was Antonello da Messina. He had acquired knowledge of European art and other emerging trends during his time through the works of Jan Van Eyck, Petrus Christus, and the Master of Enguerrand Quarton and Aix Annunciation. With that, even the art historians can’t even question the talent and achievements of da Messina during the Renaissance period.
Antonello da Messina was responsible for combining traditional Italian art with Flemish and/or northern Europe artistic style and techniques. He used his influence and credibility as an artist to introduce Flemish painting, which is the use of slow-drying oil paints on canvas, to Italy. And he was the first artist to utilize such a technique and was then followed by Giovanni Bellini.
Antonello di Giovanni di Antonio, also known as Antonello da Messina, was born on 1430 in Messina, Sicily. He grew up to a simple life with Giovanni de Antonio Mazonus as his father and Margherita as his mother. Little is known about his early life, though, but he left with so many significant contributions that shaped the development of Europe’s art.
According to a letter written by Pietro Summonte in 1524, Antonello first received his training in the arts under the mentorship of Niccolo Colantino in 1450’s. Colantino was a painter based in Naples, where Dutch painting was flourishing over there at that time. Historians believed that Antonello might have acquired his knowledge of other European art techniques through his travels from Naples to Sicily.
Most of Antonello’s trips all over Italy have been undocumented and those accounts about Naples and Sicily are the accepted sources of information. What makes Antonello very intriguing and interesting as an artist is his remarkable knowledge of Dutch and Franco-Flemish art, considering the fact that he could not have been traveling to those countries throughout his professional career because he stayed in Sicily and Naples only almost all his life.
But could it be possible that Sicily, being a marketplace for various consumer goods, exposed Antonello to different paintings passing through Messina and to the Northern part of the country? Regardless of the case, Antonello was able to master his craft as a painter of landscapes and portraits.
In 1455, he executed Sibiu Crucifixion which depicts Flemish behavior and treatments. This painting has Flemish influence all over it, which art historians believed that Antonello might have learned of this through Colantino and the art works of Jan Van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. Colantino acquired these paintings through Alfonso V of Aragon, his art patron of that time. Thus, he was able to learn how to paint in oil and other Flemish painting techniques.
In 1457, Antonello da Messina had his first commissioned work for the Confraternita di San Michele dei Gerbini. He even had to set up a studio in order to produce this work that consisted of religious images and banners. Within this decade, anywhere between 1450’s and 1460’s was when he had been married and had his first son, Jacobello. The family were said to be living in Amantea in Calabria before they returned to Antonello’s home town in 1460.
It was on that same year when Antonello painted Salting Madonna. Similar to his previous works, this painting depicts conventional iconography that uses Flemish technique but one can observe that he provided greater attention to detail in this painting to effect meteoric proportions, which would somehow resemble the works of Piero della Francesca.
Antonello da Messina had been to Venice from 1475 to 1476. Throughout this period, he painted the San Cassiano Altarpiece, Saint Sebastian and the Condottiere. Venetian painters particularly found the San Cassiano Altarpiece to be a magnificent source of inspiration for perfecting the sacra conversazione format. It could have been a lucrative stint for Antonello in Venice had he accepted the offer of the Duke of Milan to become his personal painter of family portraits.
Antonello’s art is emotive, moving and illusionistic. The paintings, particularly the portraits, seem to look like very alive that makes them an extension of reality. He used catellino and parapet as devices to emulate a very realistic feel from the figures and sceneries in the painting to the reader’s mind. Like how art is supposed to be experienced, transformative and transcendental, Antonello’s works will make someone feel like standing on the edge and be blown away by sheer brilliance.
The Sicilian artist drew inspiration from the works of other famous Italian painters like Bellini, Mantegna and della Francesca. Most of his paintings in Venice were his personal interpretation of the works of the Venetian painters, but he added some twist into it by putting greater detail into the painting like what he did in the San Cassiano altarpiece which is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
In order to execute these emotive, devotional images, Antonello would paint figures of Christ and Madonna in a usually sorrowful look. The viewers will then feel the suffering that the painting was trying to evoke onto them, thus giving them a unique and quite transformative devotional experience.
In 1476, Antonello da Messina had gone back to Sicily to be with his family. He died as an artist, working on some commissioned works until old age. Some of his last works were the Virgin Annunciate in Palermo and the San Gregorio Polyptych. Other works remained unfinished, but Jacobello felt the need to complete them to continue his father’s legacy. Antonello died in 1479 at Messina, Italy.
After his death, Antonello’s works became much appreciated by his contemporaries. These works include but not limited to the following paintings: