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Palermo: A Renaissance face full of wonder

Posted by Suzanne on 14 Oct 2016


A Renaissance beauty 

In a small room in Sicily’s Regional Gallery of Art in Palazzo Abatellis on Palermo’s Via Alloro, there is a beautiful 15th century painting by the Sicilian Renaissance artist Antonello da Messina,  the Virgin Annunicate (c. 1476), which focuses on the Virgin when she hears the news of her forthcoming child.

In this portrayal there is no archangel seen. The Virgin is depicted alone, 'interrupted in her reading by the Angel of the Annunication'. (Italy Magazine Feb 2015)



And her young face, tranquil, pensive and not alarmed is perfectly balanced and framed by a veil or 'mantle' of Marian blue. The viewer’s attention is drawn to the Virgin's face and then her hands.



With "symmetry, balance and perspective"

It is said, in the Gallery notes, that  ‘the painting reveals the full command of the values of  the Italian Renaissance, such as perspective, the quest after balance and  symmetry… by placing man at the very centre of the Universe’. 

And that Antonello da Messina had a ‘deep knowledge of the techniques of Flemish painting...reality with analytical attention...the moving pages of the book, the carefully pencilled eyelashes, and parted eyebrows’. 



The hands, the 'deep fold' in the mantle

The hands and even the creased fold in the veil have, it is noted, caused writers to comment with observations filled with careful detail and wonderful feeling.

The Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia, the Gallery notes read, is stated as saying that the ‘spectator should notice the deep fold at the centre of the forehead... to us it tells of an article of clothing that has been carefully kept in the chest together with other treasured things... taken out on special occasions or solemn festivities...'.


And, also mentioned are the splendid hands; the right one raised in 'a solemn gesture'. And, when referring to the forward movement of the raised right hand art historian Roberto Longhi, it is said, stated ... ‘the most beautiful hand I have ever seen in art’ .

This movement of the right hand, arts writer Jane Ure- Smith notes is, 'raised in response to the words of the angel'. It is!  And, the more my attention is drawn to these details the greater the presence of the archangel is felt.

There is a lot I enjoy about this painting: the blue of the veil; the Virgin's response; her young face; 'the most beautiful' hands and the fact that Antonello da Messina painted her alone and reading.

It moves people. And, I enjoyed seeing it again a couple of weeks ago in Palermo.






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