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Antonello da Messina and the Independent Portrait in Fifteenth-Century Italy

Perkins, Elizabeth A.

This dissertation presents the first full length study of Antonello da Messina's portraits. While Antonello has been justly acknowledged as the first Italian painter to consider the portrait an independent work of art, his portraits are often characterized as imitations of Netherlandish models, and they are rarely discussed outside of the context of Venetian or Netherlandish portraiture. This study reintegrates Antonello's portraits in the wider context of fifteenth century Italy and argues that his portraiture is deeply rooted in the interests of the most prominent early Renaissance theories of painting. Antonello is among the first Italian painters to claim the face as a locus for identification, and to answer the demand that painting capture both the physical and mental aspects of the sitter. The first chapter analyzes the recent literature on the portraits and demonstrates how they have been marginalized by scholarship despite being lauded as highly influential. The second chapter evaluates the portraits as a body of work from the standpoint of form and technique, and incorporating the most recent technical analyses, demonstrates how Antonello achieved certain effects to arrive at what may indeed be considered a wholly independent work of art. The third chapter relates how Antonello's innovations in portraiture corresponded with a growing desire for a new kind of painted portrait in the mid fifteenth century. It reconsiders the origin of the painted, three quarter view portrait in Italy and explains how ancient authors presented a challenge for the painted portrait that could only be met in fifteenth century Italy by an entirely new form and style, represented in the work of Antonello da Messina. The fourth chapter examines the portraits in the context of Venetian patronage, looking more closely at his only known portrait sitters, Alvise Pasqualino and Michele Vianello, and the social and personal identities of Venetian citizens and nobles. This chapter relates how the theoretical demands of humanists translated for real patrons and collectors, and clarifies Antonello's relationship to extant portraiture in Venice at during the last decades of the fifteenth century, particularly the work of Giovanni Bellini. Ultimately Antonello da Messina's portraits had far reaching influence because they addressed some of the fundamental problems and challenges of representation in the early Italian Renaissance, for the first time, in portraiture.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Rosand, David
Freedberg, David A.
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 6, 2015