Five hundred and thirty-nine years: half a millennium, five centuries to bring together the visual legacy, gathering in Palermo, in the Regional Gallery of Sicily of Palazzo Abatellis, from December 14, 2018 to February 10, 2019, almost half of the existing works of Antonello Da Messina. The exhibition, included in the bill of events of Palermo Italian Capital of Culture 2018, is organized by the Sicilian Region – Regional Department of Cultural Heritage and Sicilian Identity, Department of Cultural Heritage and Sicilian Identity, and by MondoMostre – with the City of Palermo, edited by Professor Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa. The project is also the result of the active collaboration between the Sicilian Region and the City of Milan where the exhibition will be presented – at Palazzo Reale, in collaboration with MondoMostre Skira – after the closure of the Palermo stage.
Inauguration in the presence of the mayor of Palermo Leoluca Orlando, the regional councilor for Cultural Heritage Sebastiano Tusa, the general director Sergio Alessandro, the director of the Abatellis Museum Evelina De Castro, the director of the Uffizi Galleries Eike Schmidt, the AD of MondoMostre Simone Todorow. The curator Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa conducted the visit to the exhibition, which was presented by the art critic Vittorio Sgarbi.
Even De Antonio Antonello, from Messina, Antonellus Messanensis in the autograph, would rejoice, for the unique exceptionality, knowing on the other hand that it could not be done before. The reasons: what has survived earthquakes, dismemberments, failures of families, shipwrecks, floods, damp walls, carelessness of men, ignorance, greed, silly fears, dabbenaggini, is dispersed in collections and museums between Tirreno and Adriatico, beyond the Channel, across the Atlantic. Known and unknown seas crossed over the centuries by merchants and connoisseurs, antique dealers, critics, diplomats: all fascinated – like Enrico Pirajno baron of Mandralisca – from the eyes, the lights, the enigmatic charm of the greatest portraitist of the fifteenth century (perhaps always). Each piece has come to us fortunately, adventurously: many mysteriously. Taking a good part of it in Sicily was a business. Vasari told him in his famous Lives as the one who had received the secret of oil painting, the marvelous alchemy of Giovanni di Bruggia, a Jan van Eyck enchanted by the grace of the young Sicilian, that technique of mixture and endless drafts of translucent color he had learned, and from the North brought to the Mediterranean, making the tables of his started shop in Messina shine and then the ochres, the lapis lazuli, the lands softly reflected by the Venetian skies. Not a century had passed since the painter’s death, and Vasari was building a novel: because traces and documents had been lost, stories and legends were being talked about; then, for other centuries, silence.
Giovan Battista Cavalcaselle was a young art enthusiast, lovingly rebuilding the first catalog of the Messinese. There followed a formidable messinese scholar, Gaetano La Corte Cailler, who found and transcribed notarial documents that testified to the minute events of the painter’s family: the grandmother’s will, the return to brig from Calabria of the painter’s family, the daughter’s dowry; finally the testament of Antonello, dated February 1479.
There was no other one of him: a flood had dispersed the bones in an ancient cemetery, more earthquakes had destroyed documentary evidence in Noto and other Sicilian countries. The ancient Messina had already been destroyed and then rebuilt in 1783. Definitely at 5.21 of Monday 28 December 1908: an earthquake of the 10th and last degree Mercalli, then the tsunami. Nothing remains of Messina: and nothing of the anxious sketch of Cavalcaselle, nothing of the archive with the documents transcribed by La Corte Cailler. Except for these reports, today nothing of anything we would know of the greatest and most admired Sicilian painter.
Since then, however, much has been recognized, cleaned up, attributed: the fantastic catalog has become scientific, research continues, certain attributions follow each other. They begin Lionello and then the father Adolfo Venturi, Bernard Berenson gives fundamental contributions after partial uncertainties. Roberto Longhi already in 1914 relocated Antonello alongside the Venetians, and especially Bellini, making it the creative link between the Ponentines, the Flemish beloveds, and the great Venetian season, mediated precisely by the isolated reflection on perspective and the softness of the light central Italian, the volumes of Piero della Francesca.
Among these finds will be on display a Crucifixion that Voll in 1902 suggests of Antonello, part of the collection of Baron Samuel von Brukenthal in Hermannstadt. Always on display is the discovery made at the very important Messinese conference in 1981 by Federico Zeri of a youthful work, a devotional tablet of 15 centimeters by 10, consumed by the kisses of the faithful who carried it in a leather case. It is now the Ecce Homo with San Gerolamo in the desert at the front.
From the Uffizi will arrive the very important triptych with the Madonna with Child, the St. John the Baptist purchased by the then Minister of Cultural Heritage Antonio Paolucci in 1996 and the San Benedetto of extraordinary pictorial quality that the Lombardy Region buys through Finarte in 1995, today in storage in the Florentine museum. From the Pinacoteca Malaspina di Pavia a portrait of a young gentleman (long considered his true face) is stolen from the museum on the night between 10 and 11 May 1970 and recovered seven years later from the nucleus of Cultural Heritage Protection of the Armory of the Carabinieri. And what about the fascinating story of the Baron of Mandralisca returning from Lipari with the portrait on the table of an unknown whose mocking smile has upset the mind of the daughter of the pharmacist in whose shop, furniture counter, arrived in mysterious ways? Become the beautiful novel The smile of the unknown sailor first masterpiece of Vincenzo Consolo.
Looking at the catalog today recomposed and presented in his absolute masterpieces at Palazzo Abatellis, in visual reconstruction, through a spectacular display that will visually narrate journeys and centrality of fifteenth-century Sicily, perhaps Antonello would smile, mockingly and ironically as one of his many portrayed. Of course he would be moved. But it would also remain bitterly amazed by the action of Devouring Time. Della Pietà of the Correr Museum, the sublime Annunciation of Syracuse or the amazing Polyptych of San Gregorio, commissioned by the abbess of the Monastery of Santa Maria extra moenia in Messina to Antonello, in 1473. Destroyed the monastery, dismembered the polyptych, then repainted by the painter Messina Letterio Subba in 1842.
And he would still ask, Antonello, who was from his shop, and his beloved son, who followed him to Venice, and his nephews: just a year after his death, regretting him, Jacobello signs himself in the sweet Madonna with the Child of Carrara of Bergamo: “Jacobus Anto.lli filius (s) no. / humans pictoris me fecit “. Yes: the father was a non-human, but a divine painter. His intuitions and his trials had aroused the admiration of all the courts of Padua, the anxiety to learn of the great Venetian families, the stimuli of the Bellini’s career workshop.
Because Antonello wrote a whole treatise on psychology. Stop the moment of the breath, the long twisted eyelashes, the quiver of a lip, the growth of the beard, the uncertainty of a look. Our century has adored the portraits of Antonello: Italian painting has been recognized all in those eyes, we have all identified in the concreteness of a painter who has given strength and character to the Italian face, to virtuous and sensual femininity, to grumpiness and to the forms of Italian woman.
The exhibition in Palermo tells all this, in an exhibition developed chronologically following the evolution and the novelties of the artist, opened by the Annunciation in the preparation for her imagined by a twentieth century master, Carlo Scarpa. Accompany the visitor to a full use of the exhibition a didactic designed to unveil, work by work, the art of Antonello placing it in the cultural and social context of the Mediterranean, highlighting the centrality of Sicily, and an audio guide where the curator leads the viewer discovering the artistic and technical innovations of the sublime art of the Messina master.
Where: Palazzo Abatellis, Via Alloro, 4
When: Until 10/02/2019
Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am to 7 pm December 25th and January 1st closed
Price: 13 euros in full | 11 euros reduced
If you also want to visit the great city of art, Palermo, we suggest you to stay at least 3 nights, minimum time to see the beauties that the city of Palermo can offer you. We at Federico Secondo bed and breakfast will be happy to welcome you to Palermo in one of our rooms equipped with every comfort.
Good stay in Palermo