Loading color scheme

#If you hadn’t been here#

Antonello Da Messina.


One of the original note-book by Giovan Battista Cavalcaselle, presented at the exhibition of ‘Palazzo Reale’ in Milan, here with the reconstruction which allowed the art critic to attribute with certainty the "San Girolamo nello studio" (1474-1475) to Antonello Da Messina. The enlargement of details from Antonello’s Da Messina works and now being at the exhibition of ‘Palazzo Reale’ in Milan, are by the ‘Centro di Ateneo di Arti visive’ of the ‘Università degli Studi’ of Bergamo.




With the loving gaze of a son who proved himself, Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa(1) did care the exhibition now being at ‘Palazzo Reale’, and named after Antonello Da Messina.

We are very interested in following the thinking of this cultured and passionate Curator, as he realized and got that special love that surrounded the master Antonello, not a ‘massive’ love indeed nor shouting but clearly perceptible at his contemporaries – we don’t refer only to Jacobello, Antonello’s son who finished and signed the magnificent "Madonna col Bambino", just sketched by his father, who was dead one year before : " 1480 XIII Mesis Decebris / Jacobus Anto.lli filiu no / humani pictoris me fecit(2)".


As a matter of fact, of Antonello Da Messina it can be said that he knew how to move in the real, while he knew thoroughly the reality itself.


Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa so introduces in this special exhibition someone who, four centuries after, at the end of '800 acted as a son who cares with passion and patience to reconstruct a hidden heritage which was proving not only to be unvaluable, but also indispensable to understand the novelty of the Renaissance and its future weakness too…


It’s about Giovan Battista Cavalcaselle, passionate historian and a qualified critic who was able to recover and inventory mostly of the Sicilian painter’s surviving paintings, as survivors to earthquakes and floods or stolen too, or even covered and to someone else falsely attributed (3).  The exhibition places ahead the work of the man – i.e. both of the painter and of the historian-critic – instead the final object which would risk to end into a collector’s bulimia.


Several works by Antonello Da Messina were destroyed in the 1693 earthquake in Sicily. Then the 1860 flood wiped away even the Antonello’s humble tomb, at the Friars Minor church "Santa Maria del Gesù" where he himself, surprising his fellowes citizens, called to be buried. And already in life he had aroused astonishment, marrying in 1455 Giovanna Cuminella, widowed with the daughter Caterinella so that he could buy a dowry for her, even financially committing himself.


Giorgio Vasari dedicated a biography-romance to Antonello Da Messina in his "Vite" (1550-1568), indicating him as the one who bewitched 'Giovanni Da Brugia', i.e. the excellent Flemish Jan van Eyck from whom Antonello would have received the secret of oil painting. Cavalcaselle so was able to understand that, after staying at van Eyck until he died, Antonello didn’t immediately come back to Messina, from which he had suddenly leaved stopping his good worksop business but, as a matter of fact, he moved to Venice with all his family.


And right in his Sicily, governed by Alfonso D’Aragona and the nerve centre of Europe in 1430 both for trade and culture, Antonello knew those excellent technicians works who were the Flemish artists for the Art to come. Suddenly he had decided to go and meet them in person, with the invincible charge of a wise intuition.


Around 1860 Cavalcaselle - who previously had been entrusted by a London publisher to carry out field researches for a critical edition of “Le vite” but the job proved too big to handle – received a new assignment from the Ministry of Education to draw up a Catalog of the church-owned works of art in Umbria and Marche : the historian could build a large inventory which deserved him the appellation of Vasari work ‘continuer’.

Really provided of an exceptional visual memory as well as an excellent draftsman, Cavalcaselle suceeded in attribute with certainty to Antonello Da Messina a number of works which seemed vanished or fakes, and as a consequence he literally traveled on foot or by mule for kilometres and kilometres between Museums, private and public Art Galleries and Churches, animated by a sincere passion which still today would excite us.


His own notebooks, full of strokes taken from Antonello’s works which he could easily link to those of other authors who met or had been working with the master and become little at a time his own ‘navigator’, allowed Cavalcaselle to reconstruct and at last to locate the routes made by Antonello even out Italy bounds(4), as well as the works carried out over the years but now obscured by the rough of forgery and oblivion.


In the path suggested by the exhibition we suddenly face "L'Annunciata"(5), taken up by Antonello at the end of 'meritatio'(6) when Mary, overcome the fear and perplexity of an announcement of which she offers to us only the certain elements – i.e. she herself and the book opened at the page she was reading – she ‘thinks’ possible the real she guess and she receive it.

Maybe the first woman in paintings History, this young Sicilian lady can allow herself to approve her own intuition – or project we don’t know : her innocence and glance with satisfaction don’t let any doubt. Not at all we face an ‘angelic woman’ of the ‘courtly’ tradition(7) and that causes the comparison with “The Virgin reading” (1460) (8) which has a well distinct Flemish flavour even in the melancholic transparence of her face and is light years away from this innovative Madonna.


We can wonder what happened in the refined thought of the Sicilian master who, overcoming his own aesthetic talent and technical skill, attributed with unsuspected vigour and already at the end of his career, to a well connoted face and also recognizable maybe, that intelligent and imputative look, even with a nod of veiled satisfaction which he so often portrayed only on virile faces(9).


However Antonello’s devoted fidelity dedicates to Christ a completely different register, and to the many interpretations that see him suffering, caught in the sudden temptation of having been abandoned by Father...(10)


Perhaps much still remains to be investigated into Antonello Da Messina’s work because he - in the early turbulent Renaissance in which he lived – was already able to wonder if the absurd guilt indeed of which Christ was accused, wasn’t his own fault of kneeling in front of the woman he didn’t knew. (11).



Marina Bilotta Membretti / Cernusco sul Naviglio - May 30, 2019 




  1. Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa (Torino, 1971) is teacher of ‘Storia dell’Arte Moderna e Museologia’ at the Faculty of ‘Scienze Umanistiche’ at the ‘Università degli Studi’ of Bergamo, where he is director of the ‘Centro di Ateneo di Arti Visive’. He is art historian and Art and History consultant at the ‘Direzione dei Musei Civici di Vicenza e Conservatoria dei Pubblici Monumenti’. He cared for the ‘Scuderie del Quirinale’ in Rome the exhibtions : ‘Antonello da Messina’ (2006), ‘Giovanni Bellini’ (2008), ‘Lorenzo Lotto’ (2011), ‘Tintoretto’ (2012), ‘Tiziano’ (2013) e ‘Antonello da Messina, pittore non umano’ a Palermo (2018), now being at Milan until the next June 2. He personally cared exhibitions at Bruxelles, Moscow and Paris. He published for Einaudi ‘Venezia, l’altro Rinascimento’ (PBE Arte, 2014).
  2. “1480 del mese di dicembre, Jacobo figlio di Antonello, pittore non umano mi fece”, is the autograph reported down on the right on the label of ‘Madonna col Bambino’ at the ‘Accademia Carrara’ of Bergamo.
  3. Giovan Battista Cavalcaselle, Italian historian and critic, participated in the Revolution of 1848 and for that he was condemned to death by the Austrians, he run away from ‘Lombardo-Veneto Realm’ to Rome where he fighted under the leadership of Giuseppe Mazzini. After the fall of the ‘Repubblica Romana’, he took refuge in England, working as an excellent draftman and restorer in the ‘Select Committee’ of the National Gallery in London. He expressed doubts on the traditional attribution, he imputed without hesitation the work ‘San Girolamo nello studio’ to Antonello da Messina and between 1857 and 1861 he came back to Italy where the political situation had become favourable again.
  4. In 1476, called by Leonardo Da Vinci to the Court of Galeazzo Sforza, enlightened but intemperant Duke of Milan, Antonello Da Messina preferred to remain in Venice where he already was working : a few months after, when in December of the same year Galeazzo was killed due to a conspiracy of noble men with consequent dramatic turmoils in the town, Antonello came back directly to Sicily.
  5. The work (1475-1476) is permanently located at ‘Palazzo Abatellis’ in Palermo.
  6. ‘Meritatio’ is the fourth moment, ending the ‘L’Annunciazione’ and preceeded by : ‘conturbatio’, ‘interrogatio’, humiliatio’.
  7. ‘Court woman’, or ‘Court lady’ from  Latin ‘domina’. She’s the woman sung in the romances of ‘courtly love’ in France, from where it spread starting from the XII century as a reaction to the social rigidity of customs : she’s the woman whose beauty blinds the man who submits to her without any reward, an ecstasies indeed.
  8. Dated 1460 and attributed to Antonello da Messina, ‘The Virgin reading’ is in Milan, at the ‘Museo Poldi Pezzoli’.
  9. First of all I think of the ‘Portrait of a young man’ (1473-1474), London – The National Gallery; but also of the ‘Portrait of a man - Trivulzio Portrait’, (1476) Turin – ‘Palazzo Madama’, ‘Museo Civico d’Arte Antica’.
  10. ‘Ecce homo’ (1475), Piacenza – ‘Collegio Alberoni’; ‘Ecce homo’ (1468-1470), Genoa – ‘Galleria Nazionale di Palazzo Spinola’; ‘Cristo alla colonna’ (1478) Paris, ‘Musèe du Louvre’.
  11. Thanks to prof. Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa at whom I could listen in the introduction of last April the 11th, at the ‘Sant’Andrea Apostolo’ church at Bergamo Alta, on invitation received by the parish Don Giovanni Gusmini. And afterwards I’ve listened him in Milan, during his own introduction at ‘Palazzo Reale’ lasto May the 4th.

Albrecht Dürer[1].

The effectiveness of beauty in reality.


Original painting by Stefano Frassetto (5).



“What the beauty is I don’t know… There isn’t one that is not susceptible to further refinement…”[2]



Dürer was not an isolated genius but a cultured man, well introduced in the German society from which, however he could take distance with that refined expertise which made him a reliable interlocutor of those powerful patrons who called him, and without attracting the distrust which instead his contemporary Leonardo Da Vinci surrounded himself.

Son of the goldsmith Albrecht, named ‘the Elder’[3], since childhood Dürer was an excellent draftsman and with a keen talent for portraiture : soonest he began to cooperate wth scholars and printers in the nascent and promising editorial environment in Nuremberg, until he decided to switch to the difficult – and impressive – art of engraving, to which he would even entrusted the fold of the face of a mocked Christ in ‘Passion’ (1497-1510), and also the perverse shades of envy on the men in ‘Christ at twelve among the Doctors’ (1506).

However it was the religious question of that period, between the emerging Protestant Reformation – maybe launched by a loan of the Fugger Family to the Archduke of Tyrol in 1487, granted by a mortgage on the silver mine of the Archduke – and the following Counter-Reformation, which started in Dürer man a question not to be disregarded, the one of a unique individual thinking, not divisible between rationalism and mysticism, uniqueness that is removed only through short-sightedness, making the human turn pale into a rigid servile dull mechanicalness which, shifting and shifting, will be culminating into the Nazi insanity of a few decades ago.

It is a most severe criticism by Dürer, even is well-educated, hardly counterable due to its captivating sophistication, against the German and contemporaries artists, first of them the brilliant politician Lucas Cranach, piainter of Reformation and friend of Martin Lutero with whom Dürer was cooperating at the beginning. Just look at the different interpretations of St. Jerome, a model for the humanists at the crossroads between Protestants and Catholics.

The art of Dürer came to face the art of our Leonardo Da Vinci, for whom the old age of St. Jerome was only penance and loneliness, while Dürer was describing a saint and smiling old man, gladly aware.

In his own loyalty to the classsic canons, re-examined thanks to the rediscovery of artists like the painter Apelle, named by Plinius the Elder as capable to reproduce visually sounds and scents, Dürer enjoys the extraordinary individuals painted by Giorgione, Tiziano, Lotto and by Leonardo Da Vinci himself building in turn on the excellent Italian Colleagues’ achievements. He’s prepared the ‘Renaissance’ indeed, through his proverbial curiosity towards a real he deemed reliable even in his own old age, and in the effort of life that can always be processed.

At last he landed to his most puzzling work, “Melencholia” of 1511, where the leading character is the artist himself, as a processor of reality, without any other satisfaction than the work itself and the work in progress indeed. Dürer daringly themes the artist ‘fury’ as he can investigate the desorder of the world coming even to establish an order[4] thanks to the tools of logic at his disposal, but then he is alone when anticipates his contemporaries concluding a work that is inviting, for the world itself wants and is disposed to it, even if is still a project and not yet an experienceable reality.

Loneliness breeds ‘melencholy’ Dürer suggests, while pointing out the risks of a modern Ideal of sexual autonomy, already present in the authors of ‘Reformation’.

The liking of Dürer for the perfect monstrosity of “ Marine crab” (1495) which lets be admired without resistance is that of a curious man and fond of reality, not contaminated by prejudices but attentive student of the classic and measurable canons.

It is the same liking which you find again in “The satyr family”(1505), a ‘faun’ as wild as tender husband as well as a caring father in a quite different family compared to that where the educational rigour forges indeed risky weaknesses and inhibitions ready to explode.

Finally, it is an application sympathy, the one focusing the mistrustful judgement of Dürer towards an emerging social submission in Europe – favoured by the Culture of the contemporary ‘Reformation’ by Martin Lutero, to whom however Dürer will approach in the last years of his life – ready to generate real monsters, pale and lucid executors of anything they don’t share nor love, hating the even mild individuality of a child when he asks questions to which the adult has given up answering.


                                 Marina Bilotta Membretti / Cernusco sul Naviglio – September 8, 2018





[1] I owe the discovery of Albrecht Dürer (Nurberg 1471-1528) to a welcome surprise by my daughter : the visit to the exhibition in Milan “Dürer ed il Rinascimento fra Germania ed Italia” (a cura di B. Aikema) at ‘Palazzo Reale’ (February 21 – June 24, 2018).   

[2] “Dürer”, edited by Costantino Porcu – Rizzoli Editore Milano (2004)

[3] It is of 1490 the “Portrait of Albrecht Dürer, the Elder”.

[4] “Ordine, contrordine, disordine. La ragione dopo Freud”, Maria Delia Contri – SIC Edizioni (2016) : the author specifically deals the theme of ‘disorder’ which precedes and supports any psychopathology.

(5) Stefano Frassetto is born in Turin in 1968. After his degree in Architecture at ‘Politecnico’ he begun as graphic novelist for local magazines. In the ‘90s he edited in France too, on ‘Le Réverbère’ and on ‘Libération’ : then he created ‘Ippo’ for ‘Il Giornalino’ and then the stripe ‘35MQ’ for the swiss magazine ‘20 Minuti’. In 2000 he came into ‘La Stampa’ as portraitist for cultural page and the insert ‘Tuttolibri’, then for the weekly ‘Origami’. Today he works also for the swiss magazine ‘Le Temps’.

My introduction to "THINK !"

My introduction to "THINK !", by Giacomo B.Contri - SIC Edizioni 2017 

Speed Book Date edited by Alessandra Pagani, organized by Antonella Mansi.

October 28, 2017 - Cernusco sul Naviglio, Milan. 

Link=>                 https://youtu.be/SuiuEih6zJE



“My introduction to ‘THINK!’ by Giacomo B. Contri, SIC Edizioni 2017 is in reality a preview. 

It is infact a selection of leading articles of the first Freudian online newspaper, published on August 14, of which director is Giacomo Contri, psychoanalyst and doctor who took seriously Freud and his discovery of a thought that escapes consciousness – or better makes to conscience ‘marameo’ – striving in all ways to dribble the censor imposed, because of its stifling, clumsy and naive protectiveness… 

As our unconscious gets everytime away with it.

Then here is any lapsus, the failed acts, our night dreams which can lead men and women to their own aims : but nothing to do with istinct.

Animals have istinct but no conscience.   

That is exactly what a patient realizes in an analytical work. That is the conscience cheers for the social role that established it, and tends to become independent of the unconscious, on which instead it depends on its very existence.

 Because it is the conscience that must explain itself, and not the unconscious.”



                                                 Marina Bilotta Membretti / Cernusco sul Naviglio - October 28, 2017


Akira Kurosawa[1] : my practicable life.

Screenshot from ‘Kagemusha, the warrior shadow’, directed by Akira Kurosawa (1980, and winner of the ‘Palme d’Or’ at the Cannes Film Festival 1980).



I follow Akira Kurosawa in his patient unraveling the garbled knots of the life. A silent child, who preferred to draw, when unexpectedly he came to carry away his teacher who noticed him and even better suggested his own work to the class : an episode that opened to the youngest Akira the power of the novel to face the towering walls of conscience.

A family photograph portrays him at his earliest childhood, side by side with his elder brother Heigo who made Akira passionate about painting, first of all Van Gogh, and to the first black-and-white movies. However, unlike Heigo who drew from movies a melencholic distance, Akira when coming back home began to produce on his own, catching the same scenes in his drawing and the tales that passioned him. In that photograph, Heigo and Akira preceed their youngest and sad mother, as if they run for heroic Samurai. The unexpressive and severe father appeared checking the whole scene from the centre, and all around their brothers, sisters, some uncles and aunts.

Kurosawa is a noble family of Samurai, hard to tell something about...

Nonetheless Akira tried to do that, while taking serious the random offer of the drawing which always preceeds painting. And that Akira soonest substituted with the new screenplays as required by the rising movie industry. Were so Akira and Heigo partners before than being competitors in offering protection to their own woman and mother... ??

Who knows if begun as a possible heroic mission of an applicant Samurai of the movie the same profession of Akira... But, when Heigo[2] abandoned him, Akira himself stopped to be an hero.

By that prudency which since his first childhood defensed him from a too pressing and unavoidable familiar education, Akira silently cultivated his method, made of passioned humble strict application. Without leaving the screenplays which until the very end he cared firsthand, by then he unequivocally faced the direction.

He was leaving comments and struggle to others, about those meanings and inventions that Akira shared most of all with Alfred Hitchcock and with the best Fellini, and instead he preferred working hard to offer to his audience a thought able to describe solutions captured even in his night dreams, when the day of a man is heavy and forced in social traditions. The dream-like in the Kurosawa movies is never illusion then, but cultured memory to catch from childhood.

Akira soonest started with “A wonderful Sunday” of 1947, two years after the World War defeat, joking without spite about the impossible ‘daily’ dreams, burdened of unsustainable pretences. And he sketched out the pathological fear of failure of a young man, worn out by the sacrificial japanese ethics, who’ll find himself unable to build his own life together with the woman he loves. To the point of refusing some useful money to invest in, offered by a friend recently enriched.

With “Rashomon” (1950), Kurosawa undeterred proceeded sustaining ‘whom’ he recognized, time by time, capable of not deadly solutions. Also when that didn’t coincide with the claims of his own Nation, not appreciating maybe his appearing at the cinema in U.S.A., ancient and unforgetted enemy. In the movie Akira sides with the Samurai’s wife : the Samurai derided her because she succumbed to the bandid instead of sacrificing her own life and she now gets to stab her husband to death.

Then Kurosawa raises the bar with “Dodès'ka-dèn” (1970), where he dared to represent the ‘autism’ as a common pathology of desperation which, just to keep one’s own life, make anyone “blissful” in the illusion of a neverending dream. The young unemployed man who hires himself as an imaginary tram driver, and his most religious mother can continue to console him and herself repeating that the life ‘is ok’ when everything ‘is not okay’ : the young man gets even to obstinately reproach a careless pedestrian who ‘didn’t see’ the imaginary single track on which the young man was walking. The movie wasn’t applauded at all, neither in Japan where the government effort was all about building again the rubble after the war defeat. At Tokyo however the initial progress was flaunted in luxury neighborhoods, keeping difficulties and psychich diseases well hidden in the muddy alleys, where everything could be quickly removed. In front of the clear failure, Akira seemed tempted by the sacrificial tradition of the Samurai which however found him ‘not yet ready’[3]. His suicide failed, and he saved himself.

Without any rethoric, and with a cinematographic language capable of tracing his own night dream and never falling into the infantile, Akira succeeded in telling, with photographic precision, the humiliation suffered from a child facing the maternal punishment due to his curiousity for the marital relationship[4]. Almost calculating his own audience availability for attention, Kurosawa is able to tell them about anguish as only Hitchcock could. The agile Akira introduces a lightness which can get to solutions and to unforeseeable redeeming, that simple and resolutive “marameo” that allowed him, maybe since he was a child, to slip out from sacrificing without any benefit.

To the point of smiling and playing with his own proverbial prudency which in his life helped him a number of times. It is so in “Rapsody of August” (1991), one of the last films of the by then eighty director where a child was playing at ‘hide-and-seek’, and when his fellows asked him : “Madakay ?” – i.e. “Are you ready ?” – he every time answered : “Madaday !” – i.e. : “Not yet, not, yet, not yet... !”, so that succeeding in saving his own life and himself from (the ghost of) the Samurai.


                                                                  Marina Bilotta Membretti / Cernusco sul Naviglio - August 8, 2016



[1]    I thank Carlo G.Cesaretti, cinematographic critic, and the civic ‘Biblioteca Lino Penati’ of Cernusco sul Naviglio for the cycle of meetings titled “Akira Kurosawa (Tokyo 1910-1998). I mille colori del vivere”, April-May 2016

[2]    Heigo will suicide at 28.

[3]    “Not yet” is the transalation of the movie title “Madadayo-The birthday” (1993), where to the birthday is assimilated the death which “doesn’t find ready” the leading character.

[4]    “Dreams” (1990) and specifically the epysode “The marriage of the foxes”.

Cookies user preferences
We use cookies to ensure you to get the best experience on our website. If you decline the use of cookies, this website may not function as expected.
Accept all
Decline all
Tools used to analyze the data to measure the effectiveness of a website and to understand how it works.
Google Analytics