ANTONELLO DA MESSINA, THE RENAISSANCE, AND THE HISTORY OF ART
LECTURE BY PROFESSOR GERVASE ROSSER
Amongst the most highly regarded painters of the Italian Renaissance, Antonello da Messina remains perhaps the least well known. Visitors to the National Gallery in London can admire both his St Jerome, vividly portrayed amongst his books in a theatrical architectural setting, and his arresting, icon-like Face of Christ.
Yet the two images - the one inviting the viewer into its illusionary space to dwell upon material details, the other uncompromisingly lacking in spatial context and confronting the viewer with Christ's direct gaze and outstretched hand - seem to face in different artistic directions, and their relationship is not easy to resolve.
Antonello's great importance, not only in the Renaissance but in the longer history of art, was established a century ago by the influential critic Roberto Longhi. For Longhi, Antonello formed part of a Holy Trinity of painters, including also Piero della Francesca and Giovanni Bellini, which was nothing less than the fountainhead of all modern painting.
Following Longhi, Antonello has been canonised as a revolutionary artist, innovatory both in his lifelike technique and in his secular sensibility. The praise is not entirely misplaced - Antonello was an exceptionally brilliant painter - but it overlooks the artist's roots in the traditional visual culture of his native Sicily. It is, moreover, an example of cultural history constructed as a series of 'turning points' - in this case, from 'medieval' to 'modern' - which (this lecture will suggest) we should regard with suspicion.
Gervase Rosser is a Professor of the History of Art in the Department of Art History and a Fellow of St Catherine’s College. He trained as an art historian at the Courtauld, and additionally as a historian at the Universities of Oxford and London. His recent research has engaged with belief in the supernatural power of certain statues and pictures. This has been published as a book, co-written with Jane Garnett: Spectacular Miracles: Transforming Images in Italy from the Renaissance to the Present (London: Reaktion Books, 2013). His recent and current work on Italian painting between 1300 and 1500 engages with Dante and sight; the early 14th century Sienese painter Duccio; and the later 15th century Sicilian painter Antonello da Messina. He also works on medieval guilds and fraternities, about which he is preparing a forthcoming book.
The Mary Ogilvie Lecture Theatre, St Anne’s College, Woodstock Road, 7.30 p.m. drinks reception, 8.00 p.m. lecture on Thursday, 17th November Entry: Members £2, non-members £5, students under 30 free of charge. Non-members are welcome to events; please consider supporting the Association by becoming a member – you can join at the door.