ANTONELLO da Messina
(b. ca. 1430, Messina, d 1479, Messina)

Portrait of a Man

c. 1475
Oil on wood, 31 x 26 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

Tradition has it that when Antonello da Messina returned from Flanders he introduced the technique of oil painting to Venice. He was also influenced by northern painting in his Sicilian search for the individual character of people and things, as is evident from the extraordinary Portrait of a Man, circa 1475. His objective and incisive analysis of forms combines Piero della Francesca's stereometric achievements, Mantegna's use of perspective in his busts and Venetian colour. Its present state of preservation shows that the highlighting on the red robe, has now become blackened by the lead base of the white pigment.

By the 1470s Netherlandish pictures were being imported to Venice in great numbers, together with some of the Netherlandish-inspired portraits by Antonello da Messina. While Antonello's portraits show less of the figure and the surrounding space than earlier Venetian examples, their sharp lighting from the left, strongly individualised expressions, and outward-turned eyes give them a powerful physical and personal presence.