CRESPI, Giuseppe Maria
(b. 1665, Bologna, d. 1747, Bologna)


Self-Portrait, 1700

Giuseppe Maria Crespi, called Lo Spagnuolo, Bolognese painter. He reacted against the academic tradition on which he was trained (Cignani was one of his teachers) and specialized in genre subjects, with violent chiaroscuro effects of brilliant colour against dark backgrounds. They are in the tradition of the everyday-life paintings of the Carracci, but go far beyond them in their sense of unvarnished reality (The Hamlet, Pinacoteca, Bologna).

After his early frescos in Bologna, Crespi spent a fruitful time in Florence in the opening years of the eighteenth century. Here he was able to rival Magnasco and Flemish genre painters, painting scenes of market places, kitchens, farm houses, and domestic interiors. His masterpieces are the canvases from the cycle dedicated to the Seven Sacraments (now in Dresden). In them, various scenes are interpreted in a humble and popular vein, but at the same time they retain an intimately mystical quality. Crespi was also an outstanding portrait-painter, as is demonstrated by the very witty sketch he made for a portrait of Cardinal Lambertini (Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale). This was modified before the final version was painted (Rome, Vatican Gallery), as the cardinal had been elected pope, under the name of Benedict XIV.

He was an outstanding teacher, numbering Piazzetta and Pietro Longhi among his pupils, and he exercised a great influence on Venetian 18th century painting. Rudolf Wittkower called him 'the only real genius of the late Bolognese school'.

Two of Crespi's sons, Antonio (1712-1781) and Luigi became painters. According to their account, Crespi may have used a camera obscura to aid in depiction of outdoor scenes in his later years. After his wife's death, he became reclusive, rarely leaving the house except to go to daily mass.