Carlo Crivelli

Carlo Crivelli, Polyptych of St Emygdius, Duomo di Sant'Emidio
Carlo Crivelli, Polyptych of St Emygdius, Duomo di Sant’Emidio

I confess that I had never heard of Carlo Crivelli until I visited Ascoli Piceno, but his polyptych in the Duomo there was definitely one of the highlights of the visits.

Crivelli (c1435-c1495) was born in Venice, a contemporary of Giovanni Bellini. But fairly early in his career he moved south to the Le Marche region and spent the greater part of his working life in Ascoli Piceno. He is known to have died there. He also attracted to Ascoli Piceno a number of followers, notably Pietro Alemanno.

Crivelli’s work is a useful reminder that the migration of Western Art from a ‘Medieval’ to ‘Renaissance’ sensibility was a long drawn out affair. Although the dates of his life put him firmly in the Renaissance period, his work has a formal, stylistic character which you might think of as High Gothic, as you can seen in the example above. In fact it is a fusion of a Gothic style with a Renaissance humanity. The individual figures clearly sam to be drawn from life and represent real characters.

In addition to the Duomo there are a number of Crivelli works on the Pinacoteca Civica, and rather more by Piero Alemanno, nearly all drawn from churches and monasteries in Ascoli Piceno. Most go his polyptychs though have unfortunately long been broken up and there individual panels in major museums across the world. Sadly, one suspects that the panels on their own are of little interest to anyone other than serious scholars of the period.

Intrigued by what I had seen I discovered that the earliest known work by Crivelli in Le Marche was in an otherwise undistinguished church at Massa Farmana, only a few kilometres from where we are staying. We went to visit it this morning, though it was frankly quite hard to fully appreciate it in a rather dark church.

Carlo Crivelli, Madonna enthroned with the Child Jesus and Sts Francis, Sebastian, Laurence and John the Baptist, Church of San Lorenzo, Massa Fermana
Carlo Crivelli, Madonna enthroned with the Child Jesus and Sts Francis, Sebastian, Laurence and John the Baptist, Church of San Lorenzo, Massa Fermana

In finding out something about Crivelli, I also discovered to my embarrassment that what is perhaps his best work is hanging in the National Gallery in London (one of 27 Crivelli’s in the collection). The Annunciation is a truly superb picture, and perhaps the most Renaissance of his works. The picture is unusual in showing Archangel Gabriel with another saint, in this case St Emidius the patron saint of Ascoli Piceno. St Emidius is holding a model of Ascoli Piceno which is still instantly recognisable some 700 years later.

Allin all, Carlo Crivelli may not have been a great Renaissance innovator but he is a highly accomplished painter, unfashionable because his his gothic sensibilities but deserving to be better known.

Carlo Crivelli, The Annunciation with St Emidius, 1486
Carlo Crivelli, The Annunciation with St Emidius, 1486
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