(b. 1430/35, Venezia, d. 1495, Camerino)
Madonna della Candeletta1490-92
Oil on panel, 218 x 75 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
The picture's title Madonna della Candeletta (Madonna of the Taper) derives from the thin candle that burns at the lower left. I is signed in Latin on the plaque at the bottom: "Karolus Crivellus Venetus/Eques Lavreatus Pinxit." This central panel of a large altarpiece formerly in the cathedral of Camerino has been at the Brera since 1811. Other panels are in the Accademia, Venice; another, a Crucifixion, is in the Brera. Side pilasters with little figures of saints are in the museums in Lille, Denver, Florence, etc.
The characteristics of Crivelli's mature style, to which this work belongs, are sumptuous drawing, highly refined rendering of different materials and a superfluity of decoration. They are rooted in Venetian art and have some of the pungency of the tradition stemming from Squarcione. The content of Crivelli's works, however, is still that of courtly life, even though it is detached from its social roots and is transposed to the court of heaven. The diluted cultural life of the Marches, where Crivelli worked, his detachment from major literary sources, and the local taste in forms (dominated by Camerino) led him to construct his images almost heraldically and to set them in a courtly fairyland.
His workmanship has an amazing precision and was substantially aimed at popular taste, being unsophisticated except in the visual and tactile astonishments that it provides. His tireless devotion to the same formula cut Crivelli off from other experiences, and led to dryness and involution. This can be seen in the difference in quality between The Madonna of the Taper, in which feeling still dominates form, and his last painting, the Coronation (also in the Brera), where feeling has been lost in the vast embroidery of details. In his amazing draftsmanship, Crivelli is most closely comparable to Botticelli, who worked in Florence, an urban centre of cultural exchange at every level. Crivelli, on the other hand, always worked in the provinces and, despite a magisterial command of his medium, ended by reflecting the static atmosphere of provincialism.