Galleria Borghese logo
Search results for
No results :(

Hints for your search:

  • Search engine results update instantly as soon as you change your search key.
  • If you have entered more than one word, try to simplify the search by writing only one, later you can add other words to filter the results.
  • Omit words with less than 3 characters, as well as common words like "the", "of", "from", as they will not be included in the search.
  • You don't need to enter accents or capitalization.
  • The search for words, even if partially written, will also include the different variants existing in the database.
  • If your search yields no results, try typing just the first few characters of a word to see if it exists in the database.

Portrait of a man

Antonello di Antonio called Antonello da Messina

(Messina c. 1425-30 - 1479)

As is usual with Antonello’s portraiture, the figure is depicted in a three-quarter-length view of a half-bust against a dark background. The very lively expression and gaze are the most striking aspects of the painting, considered a masterpiece among the artist’s mature works. The man portrayed wears a red robe and black cap, the typical attire of those Venetian patricians who admired and were patrons to Antonello da Messina. For stylistic reasons, the painting must be dated to the artist’s Venetian sojourn of 1475-1476. The panel is unsigned, but it has been assumed that the painter’s name was on a cartouche placed directly on the frame. The work was first listed in the Borghese inventories of 1790 with an attribution to Giovanni Bellini and only retraced to Antonello in 1869. Recent studies rule out the hypotheses, formulated in the past, that identified the portrait as that of the patrician Michele Vianello, found in an important Venetian collection in the 16th century, as well as its possible provenance from the 17th-century collection of Olimpia Aldobrandini.

Object details

c. 1476
tempera and oil on panel
cm 31 x 25,2

Double-ordered frame with plant and candelabra motifs, gilded in gouache with red bole.


Borghese Collection, mentioned for the first time in the 1790 inventory (Room III, no. 19); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, B, p. 23, n. 12. Purchase by the Italian state, 1902.

  • 1930 Londra, Royal Academy of Arts
  • 1935 Parigi, Petit Palais
  • 1953 Messina, Palazzo comunale
  • 2002-2003 Roma, Galleria Borghese
  • 2006 Roma, Scuderie del Quirinale
  • 2008 Bucarest, Muzeul Naţional de Artă al României
  • 2010 Messina, Museo regionale interdisciplinare
  • 2013-2014 Rovereto, Museo d’arte moderna e contemporanea di Rovereto e Trento
  • 2016 Forlì, Musei di san Domenico
  • 2019 Milano, Palazzo reale
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1903 Luigi Bartolucci (pest control)
  • 1909 (frame)
  • 1918 Tito Venturini Papari
  • 1936 Carlo Matteucci (cleaning)
  • 1953 Luigi Pigazzini - Istituto Centrale del Restauro
  • 1960-1961 Renato Massi
  • 2002 Elisabetta Zatti
  • 2002 Editech (diagnostics)


The first mention of the painting can be found in the Borghese Inventory of c. 1790, with an attribution to Giovanni Bellini. Platner (1842) had already expressed doubts about the autography of three male portraits attributed to Giambellino in the Galleria Borghese, however, he made no statement regarding the possible authorship of the paintings. Otto Mündler (1869) is credited with having traced the work back to the hand of Antonello da Messina in his edition of Burckhardt’s Cicero, putting forward the idea that it could probably be a self-portrait. In reality, as there are no compelling elements in favour of this thesis, it should instead be considered to be one of the numerous portraits the Sicilian painter made for merchants and members of the upper middle class during his stay in Venice, which lasted from 1475 to 1476. Apart from the typical garments of a Venetian patrician worn by the subject, there are eloquent similarities with some portraits painted by Antonello in those years, such as the examples in the Musée du Louvre and the Museo civico d’Arte Antica in Turin, both signed and dated 1475 and 1476 respectively.

Due to the Venetian context to which the painting must therefore be related, Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1871) argued that this portrait was one of the “two heads on two panels smaller than the original” mentioned by Marcantonio Michiel - that of Michele Vianello, to be exact - in Antonio Pasqualino’s house in 1532, “both made in the year 1475, as appears per the signature” (M. Michiel, Notizia d’opera di disegno nella prima metà del secolo XVI esistenti in Padova, Cremona, Milano, Pavia, Bergamo, Crema e Venezia, 1521-1543, edited by Gustavo Frizzoni, Bologna 1884, pp. 150-152). However, Crowe and Cavalcaselle explained that the reason that the painting in the Galleria Borghese had no signature or date was because the panel had been cut. Della Pergola (1955) rejects this, having seen no signs of such an intervention on the work as “the painted surface ends around half a centimetre higher than the panel, which is absolutely homogenous on all four sides and has certainly not been cut after it was painted”. It has been repeatedly suggested (Della Pergola 1955; Sricchia Santoro 1986, 2017; Lucco 2006; Bologna and De Melis, 2013) that the cartouche, recurring in many of Messina’s small-format paintings, could have been on the frame, as in the case of the Ecce Homo in the Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola in Genoa. However, the latter argument cannot be used to force the relationship between the testimony of the source and the identity of the effigy, which to this day remains unknown.

The fate of the panel before 1790 also remains to be clarified, although a number of hypotheses have been made in studies. Della Pergola’s (1955) thesis that the painting came into the collection through the marriage of Paolo Borghese and Olimpia Aldobrandini has been refuted or accepted with little conviction (Barbera 1998; Sricchia Santoro 1986, 2017; Tarissi de Jacobis, in D’Orazio 2002, pp. 104-105; Lucco 2006;) because the description in Olimpia’s inventory of 1682 does not correspond with our portrait and because, moreover, the bulk of the princess’s collection passed to her second-born son Giovanni Battista Pamphili (Tarissi de Jacobis, in D’Orazio 2002, pp. 104-105). Arbace (1993) does not abandon the idea of recognising Michele Vianello in this portrait, believing it to be the “beautiful head of the Missinese’’ purchased by Isabella d’Este after the Venetian’s death in 1506, later donated to her brother cardinal and archbishop Ippolito d’Este and passed to Pietro Aldobrandini, and then finally to the Borghese. This suggestion has been rejected (Tarissi de Jacobis, in D’Orazio 2002, pp. 104-105; Lucco 2006) since, if the painting had belonged to Enrico I’s son, Ippolito, upon the latter’s death in 1520, it would have been subject to inheritance issues that would not explain its possible identification with the work in Venice in 1532, signed and dated, as Michiel relates.

In any case, the painting is one of the best examples of the portraits made  by Antonello in Venice. With the exception of some warping and some horizontal cracks, the panel is in good condition. One alteration that stands out are the highlights on the mantle that, executed in cinnabar, have taken on a grey colour due to oxidation, and appeared as green before the 2002 restoration, which fully restored the clarity of the work and also made the head covering of the subject easier to discern (Seracini, in D’Orazio 2002, pp. 108-113).

Although the difficulty in identifying the painting with the portrait of Michele Vianello has on several occasions even led some scholars to backdate the panel to the years prior to the artist’s stay in Venice (L. Venturi 1907; Longhi 1914; A. Venturi 1915; Bottari 1939; De Rinaldis 1949; Della Pergola 1950, 1954; De Logu 1958; Wright 1987), the painting does not hide its close relationship with other portraits from the mid-1970s, as mentioned at the beginning.

The man, portrayed here in a three-quarter profile against a dark background, looks at the observer, with a hint of a smile and an expression of veiled irony: Antonello’s ability to convey the psychological depth of the subject is admirable. The facial features are also distinguished by a skillful use of light. Similar to the portrait in the Louvre, light sculpts the facial volumes. The pulsating temples and soft flesh are defined by contrasts of light and shadow that extend to the underside of the chin, and small glimmers of light that bathe the lips, tip of the nose and the grooves extending from the caruncles to under the eyes, with an “astonishing ability to render the almost tactile sensation of physical matter”. (Marabottini 1981, p. 44). 44). The visual influences of Flemish painting that had interested Antonello in his youth are relaxed here to leave room for a more fluid and warmer pictorial draftsmanship that lingers “over a microscopic detail without falling into realism” (Longhi 1914): the eyebrows, for example, are now resolved with a less calibrated gesture, entirely comparable to the one that informs the same piece in the Portrait of a Man in Turin; the brushstroke acquires a more compendium-like narrative in the rendering of the lips, as well as in the shaded areas of the eyes and particularly the right one, which already seems to be exploring the path towards a reduction ending in volumetric absoluteness. Moreover, in the panel in the Galleria Borghese, there seems to be an incipient approach to prospective and formal synthesis that Antonello was soon to conquer - fully embracing Giovanni Bellini’s ideas - in the aforementioned portrait in Turin and the Annunciation at the Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo.

On the strength of these arguments, although it is difficult to establish the precise chronological order of the works made in Venice, it is perhaps reasonable to accept Lucco’s (2006) idea of preferring a date around 1476, in agreement with the impression of Crowe and Cavalcaselle (1912) who saw the Borghese portrait as “perhaps more Venetian in air” than the Louvre painting.

Emiliano Riccobono

  • Catalogo della Quadreria Borghese (in copia del Piancastelli), 1790, Archivio Galleria Borghese, St. III, n. 19.
  • Inventario fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, B, p. 23, n. 12.
  • E. Platner, Beschreibung der Stadt Rom, III, Stuttgart 1843, p. 290.
  • O. Mündler in J. Burckhardt, Der Cicerone, III, Leipzig 1869, p. 831.
  • G. Morelli, Kunstkritische studien über Italienische Malerei. Die Galerien Borghese und Doria Panfili in Rom, Leipzig 1890, pp. 317-318.
  • J. Burckhardt, Das Altarbild, das Porträt in der Italienischen Malerei, Basel 1898, ed. it. L’arte italiana del Rinascimento. La pala d’altare. Il ritratto, a cura di M. Ghelardi, S. Müller, Venezia 1994, pp. 231-232.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 191.
  • L. Venturi, Le Origini della Pittura Veneziana, 1300-1500, Venezia 1907, p. 226.
  • J. A. Crowe, G. B. Cavalcaselle, A history of painting in North Italy: Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Ferrara, Milan, Friuli, Brescia; from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century, II, ed. a cura di T. Borenius, London 1912, p. 423.
  • N. Scalia, Antonello da Messina e la pittura in Sicilia. II. Antonello degli Antoni, in “Rassegna d’Arte”, XIII, novembre 1913, pp. 171-184.
  • R. Longhi, Piero dei Franceschi e lo sviluppo della pittura veneziana, in “L’Arte”, XVII, 1914, pp. 216-217.
  • N. Scalia, Antonello da Messina e la pittura in Sicilia, Milano 1914, p. 29.
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell’arte italiana. La pittura del Quattrocento, VII, parte IV, Milano 1915, pp. 26-27.
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie italiane. I. R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 216. Exhibition of Italian art: 1200-1900, catalogo della mostra (London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1930), a cura di L. Balniel, K. Clark, E. Modigliani, London 1930, p. 170.
  • D. A. R. L. Crawford, C. Kenneth, E. Modigliani, A Commemorative catalogue of the exhibition of Italian Art held in the Galleries of the Royal Academy, London 1931, p. 55.
  • J. Lauts, Antonello da Messina, in “Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien”, VII, 1933, pp. 57, 70.
  • R. Van Marle, The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting, XV, The Hague 1934, pp. 501-504. Exposition de l’Art Italien de Cimabue à Tiepolo, catalogo della mostra, Paris 1935, p. 10.
  • B. Berenson, Pitture italiane del Rinascimento. Catalogo dei principali artisti e delle loro opere con un indice dei luoghi, Milano 1936, p. 21.
  • S. Bottari, Antonello da Messina, Messina 1939, pp. 76-77, 82, 136-137.
  • A. De Rinaldis, La R. Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1939, p. 56.
  • J. Lauts, Antonello da Messina, Wien 1940, pp. 28, 38.
  • P. Della Pergola, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1949, p. 19.
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogue de la Galerie Borghèse Rome, Roma 1949, pp. 43-44.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese a Roma, Roma 1950, snp.
  • L. Venturi, R. Skira-Venturi, La peinture italienne. Les créateurs de la Renaissance, Genève-Paris 1950, pp. 169, 171.
  • G. Vigni, Tutta la pittura di Antonello da Messina, Milano 1952, pp. 14, 24-25.
  • S. Bottari, Antonello da Messina, Torino 1953, pp. 45-46.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1954, p. 57.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I dipinti, I, Roma 1955, pp. 97-98.
  • S. Bottari, Antonello da Messina, Milano 1955, p. 12.
  • L. Ferrara, Tesori della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1957, p. 21.
  • G. De Logu, Della pittura veneziana. Dal XIV al XVIII secolo, Bergamo 1958, pp. 41, 231.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1960, p. 57.
  • B. Berenson, Pitture italiane del Rinascimento. La scuola veneta, I, London 1963, p. 7.
  • R. Causa, Antonello da Messina, Milano 1964, s.n.p.
  • G. Mandel, L’opera complete di Antonello da Messina, presentazione di L. Sciascia, apparati critici e filologici di G. Mandel, Milano 1967, p. 97.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese, Firenze 1972, pp. 28-29.
  • A. W. Robins, The Paintings of Antonello da Messina, in “The Connoisseur”, CLXXXVIII, 757, marzo 1975, pp. 186-193. Antonello da Messina, catalogo della mostra (Messina, Museo regionale, 1981-1982), a cura di A. Marabottini, F. Sricchia Santoro, Roma 1981, pp. 44, 122.
  • F. Sricchia Santoro, Antonello e l’Europa, Milano 1986, pp. 111, 164.
  • J. Wright, Antonello the portraitist, in Antonello da Messina, atti del convegno di studi (Messina, Università degli studi di Messina, 29 novembre – 2 dicembre 1981), Messina 1987, p. 183, 188-189.
  • M. Lucco, La pittura nel Veneto. Il Quattrocento, II, Milano 1990, pp. 443-444.
  • L. Arbace, Antonello da Messina. Catalogo completo dei dipinti, Firenze 1993, pp. 12, 70-71.
  • D. Thiébaut, Le Christ à la colonne d’Antonello de Messine, Paris 1993, pp. 105-106. Galleria Borghese, a cura di A. Coliva, Roma 1994, pp. 39-44. Galleria Borghese, l’arte, la storia, Roma 1996, p. 37 Barbera, Antonello da Messina, Milano 1998, pp. 26, 104, 107.
  • C. Savettieri, Antonello da Messina, Palermo 1998, p. 125. Galleria Borghese, a cura di P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Milano 200, p. 409. Incontri, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 2002), a cura di C. D’Orazio, Milano 2002.
  • L. Puppi, Antonello da Messina a Venezia, in Da Bellini a Veronese: temi di arte veneta, a cura di G. Toscano, F. Valcanover, Venezia 2004, p. 159. Antonello da Messina: Sicily’s Renaissance Master, catalogo della mostra a cura di G. Barbera, con la collaborazione di K. Christiansen, A. Bayer, New York 2005, p. 29. Antonello da Messina: l’opera completa, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Scuderie del Quirinale, 2006), a cura di M. Lucco, Cinisello Balsamo 2006, pp. 246-249.
  • F. P. Tocco, Proposta identificativa di due ritratti di Antonello, in Antonello (a) Messina, a cura di G. Molonia, Messina 2006, pp. 47-52.
  • T. Pugliatti, Antonello da Messina. Rigore ed emozione, Palermo 2008, pp. 90-91.
  • M. Lucco, Antonello da Messina, Milano 2011, pp. 162-169, 285-286. Antonello da Messina, catalogo della mostra (Rovereto, Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea di Trento e Rovereto, 2013-2014), a cura di F. Bologna, F. De Melis, Milano 2013, pp. 72-74.
  • R. Lauber, «Gran forza et gran vivacità». Per Antonello da Messina nel collezionismo veneziano rinascimentale attraverso le carte di Marcantonio Michiel, in “Artibus et Historiae”, XXXV, 70, 2014, p. 179.
  • F. Sricchia Santoro, Antonello. I suoi mondi, il suo seguito, Firenze 2017, pp. 198-208. Antonello da Messina, catalogo della mostra (Milano, Palazzo reale, 2019), a cura di C. Cardona, G. F. Villa, Milano 2019, pp. 216-219. Palazzi d’Italia. La Galleria Borghese, a cura di L. Lucchetti, F. Radetti, F. Dal Falco, Roma 2018, pp. 29, 328, 362, 399. La Galleria Borghese, a cura di A. Coliva, S. Barchiesi, Roma 2019, p. 12, 253-254.
  • R. Causa, Antonello da Messina, Milano 2019, pp. 20, 57, 132-133, 159.
  • S. Renzoni, Antonello da Messina, Pisa 2019, pp. 186-190.