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Madonna with the Saints Nicholas of Bari, Anastasia, Ursula and Dominic

Antonello da Messina1475/1476

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

We know that a patrician by the name of Pietro Bon commissioned this altarpiece in 1475 for the Venetian Church of San Cassiano. While the painting was still being completed, the proud donor described it as a work that promised to be “one of the most splendid in the whole of Italy and beyond”. The painting was praised in the art literature of the years that followed, but in the 17th century it was cut (for unknown reasons) into five individual panels, which came to the Brussels collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, but only these three were preserved. Only in the early 20th century was it again recognised that the three panels belonged together and that they were the work of Antonello da Messina. The identity of the missing saints has been reconstructed with the help of works by David Teniers, who made miniatures of many of the paintings in the archduke’s collection: Cecilia and George were once seen on the left, next to Magdalene and Nicholas; Helen and Sebastian stood on the right behind Ursula and Dominic – the trace of a profile can still be seen at the right edge. The space below Mary’s throne was probably occupied by music-making angels. Finally, the uniformly illuminated group was probably originally set into niche architecture seen from a central perspective. Thus the artist created a sacra conversazione, a grouping of saints around the Madonna and Child, which had been used by artists for a long time. When Antonello da Messina received this commission, he had just returned to Venice from Sicily. He had become familiar with Netherlandish painting in Naples, perhaps even earlier in Bruges. There had been efforts before him to introduce the northern technique of oil painting to Upper Italy, but Antonello da Messina’s contribution was important. By comparison with tempera painting, the new technique made it possible to depict the material qualities of things in a more differentiated manner and to create more subtle lighting effects. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010

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  • Title: Madonna with the Saints Nicholas of Bari, Anastasia, Ursula and Dominic
  • Creator: Antonello da Messina
  • Date Created: 1475/1476
  • Style: Early Italian Renaissance
  • Provenance: 1659 Collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm
  • Physical Dimensions: w1462 x h1255 x d35 cm (without frame)
  • Inventory Number: GG 2574
  • Artist Biography: Antonello da Messina was one of the first Italian painters to master the oil-paint technique. His further significance stems from his relationship to Flemish painting and his influence on Venetian painters of the late 15th century.
  • Type: paintings
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/picture-gallery
  • Medium: Oil on Wood

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