Lines and Colors art blog

Antonello da Messina (Antonello di Giovanni d’Antonio)

I will persist in my assertion that the early masters of oil painting were the special effects wizards of their day, astonishing those who viewed their works with the rich colors, brilliant luminosity and uncanny level of detail made possible by the new medium.

Not that there aren’t wondrously beautiful works done in tempera (Botticelli leaps to mind), but oil painting was a different painting technology, and allowed effects that were previously impossible.

Antonello da Messina, (which simply means Antonello of Messina, the town in Sicily where he was born, his family name was Antonello di Giovanni d’Antonio), was painter of the Italian Renaissance who combined the fanatical detail of the Flemish masters of oil painting (see my post an Jan van Eyck) with the openness and simplicity of the Italian painters.

His paintings often exhibit a remarkable sense of space, whether in the open, spacious skies behind his many unique visions of the crucifixion, or in voluminous architectural spaces, as in the amazing St. Jerome in his Study (above), in which Antonello plays with our sense of space and pulls us into his invented world.

(View the image larger by clicking on the preview image on this page on the Web Gallery of Art, and then clicking on “100%” at the top of the viewer window, or view the same image here, from this post on the French blog, La Boîte à Images which prompted me to do this post. There is also a highly zoomable, but watermarked, image on the site of the National Gallery in London, where the painting resides.)

Antonello invites us to step through a trompe l’oiel doorway, its reality emphasized by the tactile details in the way he represents the texture of stone, and reinforced by the carefully rendered birds and brass bowl in the foreground.

Once inside, our eye can wander through the fascinatingly divided space, through passages of dark and light, over the minute details of the objects arrayed on the shelves and platform on which St. Jerome sits at his study. We can gaze at the underside of the dimly lit curves of stone arches, and let our eyes pass across the intricate patterns of the tiles floors, through arches, doorways and colonnade and finally out through windows at the far side of the building, to the broad sky and distant hills of the landscape beyond.

What a remarkable journey Antonello has taken us on in the space of an 18 x 14 inch (46 x 36 cm) wood panel.

As I said, a master of special effects.