(b. 1430/35, Venezia, d. 1495, Camerino)
Madonna and Child; St Francis of Assisi1471-72
Wood, 183 x 59,5 cm (each)
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
This majestic Virgin, richly clad in a gold-embroidered mantle, is holding the Child on her knees. The hieratic grandeur emanating from her, augmented by the high-backed throne and the intangible space created by the gold background, is somewhat tempered by the deep gentleness of her face and the delicate gesture of the hands surrounding the Child's body. Emphasis is placed on the hands, full of tenderness in the case of the Virgin, tensed in an elegant gesture of pain in the case of St Francis, who is dressed in the long Franciscan habit which he opens to reveal his stigmata. The uneasy emotion given off by the sculptural silhouette moves beyond formal late Gothic elegance to express the strength of his participation in Christ's sufferings.
These two paintings are from a large altarpiece produced by Crivelli in around 1471-72 for the Church of St Francis of Montefiore dell'Aso in the Ancona Marches. The polyptych, now dismantled, originally contained 21 panels organised in three registers. The top register consisted of the Virgin, flanked by St Peter and St Catherine of Alexandria to the left and by St Francis of Assisi and St Mary Magdalen to the right. At the centre of the upper register was a Pietà, surrounded by St Claire, St Louis of Toulouse and two unidentified saints. The praedella was made up of 11 parts representing the apostles. Today, various panels are dispersed amount several museums in Europe, the United States and Honolulu, while some remain in Montefiore dell'Aso, in the church of St Lucia.
Born in Venice, Carlo Crivelli settled in the Marches after a period in Dalmatia. There he developed a style of polyptychs constructed on the same model as that of Montefiore, which achieved a real success at a regional level at the end of the 15th century. Whilst his art remains governed by archaising Gothic principles, such as golden backgrounds, verticality and compartmentalised frames, the artist nonetheless developed a "courtly" type of beauty, which is brought up-to-date with astonishingly powerful lines. Sharp profiles, vivid and refined colours and a penetrating sense of detail impart an expressive tension to the figures and represent the originality of his work.