Friday, June 30, 2006

A Sicilian Master

If the word "Sicily" grazes your ears, and all your mind summons up is square pizza and The Godfather movies, let me add a third image - the Sicilian Renaissance master Antonello da Messina. How I managed to miss appreciating this painter, I am not sure, but it may have to do with the fact that Renaissance art books, beginning with Vasari, routinely favor Florentine and Roman artists.

I don't get many secular magazines, but the ones I do receive are worth their weight in gold, namely The New Yorker ("the greatest magazine ever"), and more recently The New York Review of Books. I've stopped getting home delivery of The New York Times, because frankly it's too expensive and environmentally unfriendly (and the website gives you all you need anyway), but one must have a book review! So in the current issue of The New York Review of Books, is a review of a recent exhibition of Antonello da Messina, which is one of the things I love about the NYRB, you get editorials and art reviews. Anyway...I was stunned by the works of this artist, so much so I immediately ordered the Yale edition of his works ($14.95 at, not bad - don't you love instant gratification?).

Just take a look at the face of this Madonna (1465). She is interrupted from her reading by the archangel Gabriel, who is not pictured. She ponders the message in her heart, and her hands hover, frozen in a moment of time as she comes to grips with the Annunciation. But it is her face we drawn to. There is solemnity, but also a hint of a smile emerging from the left side of her lips, a Mona Lisa smile. Her eyes, looking off to the right are fixed upon nothing - "the things of earth have grown strangely dim" as the old hymn says. Her world has been turned upside down, but she retains her full Sicilian humanity and femininity. This is no cardboard cut-out Madonna, but a real person bathed in light.

I can't wait to see more.


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