The transparent mystery in Antonello da Messina’s portraits

Roman art critic, Claudio Strinati once commented that Antonello da Messina (1429-1479) painted portraits with such “personal style […] that they are instantly recognizable; after seeing just two or three of the portraits by this Sicilian artist, a good art expert or art lover can easily attribute the fourth one he encounters.”

But while their authorship may be evident, there is a great mystery about these paintings – a mystery conveyed in the look of the faces portrayed: a paradoxically clear mystery, as transparent as a stark question aimed straight at the viewer… “And who are you?”

Not many people would be able to answer that question going beyond their first and last name, venturing to truly define their identity.

We agree with both Strinati and Karl Kraus, who in a famous aphorism claimed, “In a true portrait, one must recognize which artist it represents”. But the greater mystery remains unsolved, on the canvas and within every man’s soul.

Antonello da Messina Ritratto virile Museo Mandralisca, Cefalù, 1460-1470

Museo Mandralisca, Cefalù, 1460-1470

Antonello da Messina Galleria Borghese, Roma, 1475

Galleria Borghese, Rome, 1475

Antonello da Messina Fundación Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, 1475-76

Fundación Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, 1475-76

Antonello da Messina Ritratto Trivulzio Museo Civico d'Arte Antica, Torino, 1476

Museo Civico d'Arte Antica, Turin, 1476

Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1478

Antonello da Messina Museo Civico Malaspina, Pavia, 1460

Museo Civico Malaspina, Pavia, 1460

Antonello da Messina, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1473-1474

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 1473-1474

Antonello da Messina Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1474-1475

Staatliche Museen, Berlin, 1474-1475

Antonello da Messina National Gallery, London, 1475

National Gallery, London, 1475

Antonello da Messina Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1475

Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1475

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