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Antonello da Messina, Portrait of a Man

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Man
Artist Antonello da Messina
Artist dates active 1456; died 1479
Date made about 1475-6
Medium and support Oil on poplar
Dimensions 35.6 × 25.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1883
Inventory number NG1141
Location Room 27
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of a Man
Antonello da Messina

This small painting shows how Antonello revolutionised Venetian portraiture in the late fifteenth century: the three-quarter pose, dark background and strong lighting are all innovations from Northern Europe which focus attention entirely on the man’s face.

Antonello’s skill at painting in oil enabled him to mimic the very precise painting style of northern masters like van Eyck, whose works were highly sought after in Venice where he travelled around the time this picture was made. By building up colour through layers of varied shades he was able to emphasise the volume and contours of the face using colour, rather than harsh lines. The glossiness of the oil paint adds shine to the man’s eyes so they look as if they are catching the light.

These techniques made Antonello’s portraits vivid, intense and lifelike. His successful formula for painting portraits was quickly adopted by his contemporaries.

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