Carlo Crivelli

Carlo Crivelli is my favourite Italian painter that you’ve never heard of. He’s considered a late gothic conservative & was active in the 1490s. As a gothic, his work is loaded with patterned details and gold leaf. Looking on his work from my position now it seems to me he was obsessed with the detail of the odd- cracks in rock, tiny beetles and flowers crowd the ground of his work, which is focused exclusively on Catholic themes.

As a young art history student, I spent hours staring at his crucifixion scene at the Chicago Museum of Art, where I was a frequent visitor. I never tired of staring at the crumbly rockface of Golgatha or the hands of Christ reaching with seemingly aching fingertips up toward the sky.

I love the jaundiced colour of it all!

The agony in the faces I admired too, but mostly the hands. I think Crivelli should be remembered mostly for his hands. Such hands, I think, were not seen again in my art history book until Egon Schiele. Just check out one of his takes on the Pieta:

From 1493 & like all of Crivelli’s work this Pieta is tempera on panel.

And then the detail of the christ’s dead left hand held in the left hand of Mary. Sometimes art historians will refer to the “plasticity” of Crivelli’s hands. Other times you may see his figure style described as “mannerist” or “pre-mannerist.”

In the above detail, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s some kind three-hands-melting-into-one Hieronymous Bosh nightmare, but get move back from it a little and things become more clear. Crivelli exaggerates where he chooses and mutes down details with the same enthusiasm. It’s amazing to recall that ALL of Crivelli’s paintings were done with tempera on panel. Knowing a little about how fast tempera dries and how fickle it can be, the lasting effect of the detail work is incredible. What I would give to see a vision of them as they originally were, 500 years ago.

For better or worse, Carlo never had any students of note. That is, he likely had students but none of them rose to a level of prominence that they have been remembered. A contemporary (though in a rival style) to Giovanni Bellini, Carlo’s art fell somewhat out of favour after his death. Bellini’s softer, hazier, Florentine style won out. Art history is a fickle mistress.

I ADORE this Catherine. She’s in the U.K. National Gallery, though, so it’s unlikely she and I will meet in person.

A detail of St. Catherine in Crivelli’s The Madonna of the Swallow (above) is another favourite of mine. The juxtaposition of gothic framing elements against the overtly expressive figure herself makes me smile every time. Despite painting exclusively religious themes, Crivelli has such a strong personality shining through. I’ve posted the full painting below, Catherine is in the lower left foot of the reliquery. I have no idea how large or small the whole piece is.

Multitudes of hands, for your expressive-hand gazing pleasure!

If Carlo Crivelli interests you, you can check out a catalogue of his work here:

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