"Portrait of an unknown sailor"


Portrait of an unknown sailor by Antonello da Messina exhibited at the Mandralisca Museum in Cefalù, holds various mysteries.
The painting is a portrait of a man with a spontaneous smile, between the mocker and the accomplice, which over time has aroused various reactions in those who met him and which gave rise to a series of mysteries on the identity of the man portrayed, on the presence some scratches on the painting, on its discovery. The painting has also aroused the interest of writers such as Vincenzo Consolo and Leonardo Sciascia.
Various hypotheses have been made about the identity of the man portrayed: some say he is the apothecary of the shop where he was located. 'work, who maintains it is a nobleman, a wealthy man, by Antonello da Messina himself in a self-portrait, who is an ambassador-bishop of Cefalù. According to Leonardo Sciascia in his reflection "The game of similarities", the man portrayed could resemble all and none of us. Vincenzo Consolo with his novel The smile of the unknown sailor to resume the theory of the sailor protagonist of the painting and bring back a legend about the discovery: it is said that the portrait was kept in Lipari in a shop of an apothecary of the island that used it as a door to a cabinet and that the apothecary's daughter could no longer bear that "sneer", at times mocking, of the protagonist of the painting, inflicted the scratches in the painting.
It is also said that, during an operation of restoration of the upper part of the face, right next to the eyes, the man's grin has so annoyed the restorer to the point of leading him to gouge out his pupils.

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