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Crivelli, Carlo (Italian, c. 1435 c. 1495)

Carlo Crivelli (b. 1430/35, Venezia, d. 1495, Camerino). Italian painter. He was born in Venice and always signed himself as a Venetian, but he spent most of his career working in the Marches, particularly at Asconi Picelo, and he also lived for some time at Zara in Dalmatia (now Croatia). His paintings are all of religious subjects, done in a n elaborate, old-fashioned style that owes much to the wiry Paduan tradition of Francesco Squarcione and Andrea Mantegna and yet is highly distinctive. Their dense ornamentation is often increased by the use of gesso decoration combined with the paint. The finest collection of his works is in the National Gallery in London and includes the delightful and much reproduced Annunciation (1486). Vittorio Crivelli (died 1501-02), Carlo's brother, was a faithful but pedestrian follower.

Biography

Crivelli was born around 1430-35 in Venice to a family of painters, and received his artistic formation there and in Padua. After a century's work in Italian archives, the details of Crivelli's career are still sparse: the only dates that can with certainty be given about his life as a painter are his first appearance, already a master of his own shop, in 1457, in a matter of adultery for which he was imprisoned for six months, the earliest and the latest years signed on his pictures, 1468 on an altarpiece in the church of San Silvestro at Massa Fermana, near Fermo, and 1493 on The Dead Christ between St John, the Virgin and Mary Magdalene (Brera Gallery, Milan).

Though the artist advertised his Venetian origin in his constant signatures varying upon Carolus Crivellus Venetos ("Carlo Crivelli of Venice"), Crivelli seems to have worked chiefly in Le Marche of Ancona, and especially in and near Ascoli Piceno; there are only two pictures remaining in Venice, in the church of San Sebastiano. He is said to have studied under Jacobello del Fiore, who was painting as late at any rate as 1436; at that time Crivelli was probably only a boy. He also studied at the school of Vivarini in Venice, then left Venice, initially, it is generally believed, for Padua, he is believed to have worked in the workshop of Francesco Squarcione and then for Zara in Dalmatia (now part of Croatia, but then a Venetian territory) in 1459, following legal trouble after he was sentenced to prison for six months for having an affair with a married woman, Tarsia Cortese, the wife of a sailor.

He painted in tempera only, despite the increasing popularity of oil painting during his life-time, and on panels, though some of his paintings have been transferred to canvas. His predilection for decoratively punched gilded backgrounds is one of the marks of the conservative taste, in part imposed by his patrons. He was a vegetarian. Of his early polyptychs, only one, the altarpiece Ascoli Piceno, survives complete in its original frame; all the others have been disassembled and their panels and predella scenes are divided among the world's museums.

An amorphous band of contemporaries and followers, termed Crivelleschi, show to varying degrees aspects of his style.

Work

Unlike the naturalistic trends arising Florence at the same time, Crivelli's style still echoes the courtly International Gothic sensibility. The urban settings are jewel-like, and full of elaborate allegorical detail.

He favored verdant landscape backgrounds, and his works can be identified by his characteristic use of fruits and flowers as decorative motifs, often depicted in pendant festoons, which are a hallmark of the Paduan studio of Francesco Squarcione, Crivelli may have worked. The National Gallery, London is well supplied with examples of Crivelli; the Annunciation with St Emidius, possibly his most famous painting, and the Beato Ferretti (of the same family as Pope Pius IX) in religious ecstasy, may be specified. Another of his principal pictures is in San Francesco di Matelica; in Berlin is a Madonna and Saints (1491); in the Vatican Gallery a Dead Christ, in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Strasbourg is an Adoration of the Shepherds and in the Brera of Milan the Madonna of the Candle. There are also examples of his work in several major American galleries.

Despite his Venetian birth, his paintings have a linear Umbrian quality. Crivelli is a painter of marked individuality; unlike Giovanni Bellini, his contemporary, his works are not "soft", but are clear and definite in contour and with an astounding attention to detail. His use of "trompe l'oeil," often compared to painters of the Northern Renaissance such as Rogier van der Weyden, includes raised objects, such as tears and "jewels" modelled in gesso on the panel. Commissioned by the Franciscans and Dominicans of Ascoli, Crivelli's work is exclusively religious in nature. His paintings consist largely of Madonna and Child images, Pietà, and the by-then-old-fashioned altarpiece known as the polyptych. Often filled with images of suffering, such as gaping wounds in Christ's hands and side and the mouths of mourners twisted in agony, Crivelli's work appropriately fulfills the spiritual needs of his patrons. These ultra-realistic, sometimes disturbing qualities have often led critics to label Crivelli's paintings "grotesque", much like his fellow Northern Italian painter, Cosimo Tura.

Few artists seem to have worked with more uniformity of purpose, or more forthright command of his materials; this singlemindedness was recognised by the number of prestigious commissions he was awarded. It is possible that Carlo was of the same family as the painters as Donato Crivelli (who was working in 1459, and was also a scholar of Jacobello) - Vittorio Crivelli, with whom he occasionally collaborated, was his younger brother. Pietro Alemanno, a painter who had travelled to Le Marche Germany/Austria, was his pupil/collaborator.

Carlo Crivelli died in the Marche (probably Ascoli Piceno) around 1495. His work fell out of favour following his death and he is not mentioned in Vasari's Lives of the Artists (which is notably Florence-centric). He had something of a revival, especially in the UK, during the time of the pre-Raphaelite painters, several of whom, including Edward Burne-Jones were admirers of Crivelli. Admiration for his work declined with the decline of the pre-Raphaelites during the Modernist period, but recent writings on his work and a rehang of his work in the National Gallery, London, are again bringing him more attention.

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