These three panels are from an altarpiece painted for a Dominican church in the Marchigian town of Ascoli Piceno. It is possible that the child was originally shown reaching for a flying bird, his frequent attribute. The cracked marble dais is a recurrent feature of Crivelli's work. On it are two pears, symbolic of the Fall of Man, and a fly, conceivably an emblem of Satan. Crivelli loved visual tricks, and the shadow cast by the fly gives a disturbingly realistic quality.
Saint George (fourth century) is shown in contemporary, fifteenth-century armor with the dragon he slew. For a reconstruction of the altarpiece, see metmuseum.org/collections.
The Virgin, her head turned to the left, is seated on a polychrome marble throne with an arched top before which hangs a cloth of honor. A white veil covers her forehead, and an elaborately patterned gold brocade cloak with a green lining falls over her shoulders and sweeps across her lap. She delicately steadies the infant Christ, who is turned toward the right, his legs straddling her lap and his arms outstretched. In front of the throne is a broken marble dais on which, to the right, are two small pears and a fly. The pears may be symbols of the Virgin and Christ or of the Fall of Man. The fly has been explained by André Pigler (1964) as a device to protect the picture from flyspecks rather than as a symbol of evil or sin, but it may also be a symbol of Satan (Lightbown 2004). The elaborately tooled gold background must originally have terminated in a pointed arch but has been cut. The date was originally inscribed as 1473 and then changed by Crivelli to 1472, possibly due to confusion as to which regional calendar pertained; it seems likely that Crivelli completed the altarpiece after December 25, 1472, and before March 25, 1473.
The composition has received much comment (see especially Lightbown 2004). Motifs such as the prominently cracked marble at the right reflect Crivelli's training in Padua. The action of the Child, usually interpreted as a visual link to the lateral figure of a saint, may have been directed at a flying bird, the symbol of Christ's Passion. The composition is intimately tied to that of the central panel of the Montefiore Altarpiece (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels), which is not dated but would seem logically to precede the MMA picture. It also provides the best visual evidence for mentally reconstructing the arched top of the MMA work.
The picture was correctly recognized by Bernard Berenson (1895) as the center panel of a polyptych, but it was not until 1933 that Lionello Venturi identified three of the lateral panels, a Saint Dominic and a Saint George in the Metropolitan Museum (05.41.1,2) and a Saint James now in the Brooklyn Museum (78.151.10). Harry B. Wehle (1940) further noted that the three panels of saints were in the collections of Cardinal Fesch and the Reverend Davenport Bromley, along with a fourth panel showing Saint Nicholas; this panel was subsequently identified by Henry Sayles Francis (1952) with a picture in the Cleveland Museum of Art (1952.111). There can be no doubt that the five panels belong to the same altarpiece. Beyond their agreement in style and dimensions, all five are listed in the Fesch catalogue, and the modern tooling on the background of the Madonna and Child matches exactly that on the filled-out spandrels of the companion pictures.
Zampetti further suggested that a Pietà in the John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art, formed the central element of a second tier of panels and identified five small panels that show, respectively, Christ Blessing (El Paso Museum of Art), Saint Peter (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven), Saints John the Evangelist and Bartholomew (Castello Sforzesco, Milan), and Saint Andrew (Proehl collection, Amsterdam) as from the predella. Although Zampetti's reconstruction has been accepted by a number of critics, neither the Pietà nor the set of predella panels is likely to have belonged to the altarpiece (see Lightbown 2004). The five ex-Fesch panels have a combined width of 69 inches, while the probable number of predella panels of the size of those under consideration (the predella would logically have included Christ, the apostles minus Saint James, who appears above, and possibly another figure) would measure over 118 inches. The Pietà must originally have had a plain gold ground—the tooled hanging behind Christ is a later addition—whereas the gold ground of the five main panels is elaborately tooled. Moreover, its figures are lit from the right rather than the left, as they are in the polyptych. Such disparity of treatment is not encountered in other altarpieces by Crivelli. The arrangement of the panels has been disputed. Berenson (1957) placed Saints Nicholas and Dominic at the two extremities, and Saints James and George flanking the Virgin; Lightbown (2004) placed the Saint Dominic to the Virgin’s left, and also took up the suggestion of Anna Bovero (1975) that the altarpiece may come from the church of San Domenico in Macerata. Amico Ricci (Memorie storiche delle arti, Macerata, 1834, p. 214) describes one altarpiece by Crivelli in that church as showing a Madonna and Child with two Saints ("Madonna in mezzo a due Santi"), which is unlikely to be the Fesch altarpiece. However, it emerges that in 1827–28, five panels by Crivelli were acquired by Ignazio Cantalamessa of Ancona and subsequently sold in Rome; these could be the Fesch altarpiece, which must have come from a Dominican foundation.
[2011; adapted from Christiansen 1984]
Inscription: Signed and dated (bottom left): +CAROLVS+CRIVELLVS+VENETVS+ / 1472 PINSIT+
probably church of San Domenico, Fermo (until 1827–28; sold to Cantalamessa); probably Ignazio Cantalamessa, Ancona (from 1827–28; sold in Rome); Cardinal Joseph Fesch, Palazzo Falconieri, Rome (until d. 1839; his estate, 1839–45; inv., 1839, no. 15425; cat., 1841, no. 2303; his estate sale, Palazzo Ricci, Rome, March 24ff., 1845, no. 1777, for 100 scudi to Baseggio); G. H. Morland, London (until 1863; his sale, Christie's, London, May 9, 1863, no. 76, for £53.11, bought in); William Graham, London (by 1875–d. 1885; cat., 1882, no. 363; his estate sale, Christie's, London, April 2–10, 1886, no. 331, for £131.5 to Colnaghi); [Colnaghi, London, from 1886]; Robert and Evelyn Benson, London (by 1887–1927; cat., 1914, no. 70; sold to Duveen); [Duveen, New York, 1927–28; sold for $300,000 to Erickson]; Alfred W. Erickson, New York (1928–d. 1936); Mrs. Alfred W. Erickson, New York (1936–d. 1961; her estate sale, Parke Bernet, New York, November 15, 1961, no. 9); Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (1961–his d. 1980); Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (1980–82)
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1875, no. 182 (lent by W. Graham).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1887, no. 180 (lent by R. H. Benson).
London. New Gallery. "Venetian Art," 1894–95, no. 32 (lent by Mrs. R. H. Benson).
London. Grafton Galleries. "National Loan Exhibition," October 1909–January 1910, no. 71 (lent by R. H. Benson).
London. Burlington Fine Arts Club. "A Collection of Pictures of the Early Venetian School and Other Works of Art," 1912, no. 9 (lent by R. H. Benson) [separate ed., "A Collection of Pictures of the Early Venetian School and Other Works of Art," no. 4].
New York. Wildenstein. "The Italian Heritage," May 17–August 29, 1967, no. 6a (lent by Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky).
Posthumous inventory of Cardinal Fesch. September 5–December 12, 1839, fol. 454v, no. 15425 [Archivio di Stato, Rome, Not. Capitol., Ufficio 11, not. Augusto Appolloni, anno 1839, vol. 611, fol. 37r–503v; see Ref. Thiébaut 1987; Getty no. I-1833], as "Quadro in tavola alto piedi tre, largo piede uno, e un terzo rappnte Madonna in Trono con Bambino di Carlo Crivelli. Scudi cinquanta".
Catalogue des tableaux composant la galerie de feu son éminence le cardinal Fesch. Rome, 1841, p. 95, no. 2303, as "'La Vierge sur son trône'; elle tient l'enfant Jésus. La figure principale est revêtue d'une étoffe d'or brodée en fleurs. C'est un bon ouvrage de Carlo Crivelli," 3 pieds high by 1 pied 4 pouces wide.
J[oseph]. A[rcher]. Crowe and G[iovanni]. B[attista]. Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in North Italy: Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Ferrara, Milan, Friuli, Brescia, from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century. London, 1871, vol. 1, p. 86 n. 1.
Catalogue of Pictures, Ancient and Modern, 35 Grosvenor Place. 1882, no. 363 [see Ref. Garnett 1982].
George Redford. Art Sales. London, 1888, vol. 2, p. 227, lists it as having been bought in for £53.11 at the Morland sale of 1863, and sold for £131.5 to Colnaghi at the Graham sale of 1886.
Bernhard Berenson. The Venetian Painters of the Renaissance. 3rd ed. New York, 1894, p. 106 [1895 ed., p. 99].
G[eorg]. Gronau. "Correspondance d'Angleterre: l'art vénitien à Londres, à propos de l'exposition de la New Gallery." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 13 (February 1895), p. 165.
Bernhard Berenson. Venetian Painting, Chiefly Before Titian, at the Exhibition of Venetian Art. London, , p. 12 [reprinted in "The Study and Criticism of Italian Art," London, 1901, pp. 102–3], states that "the virgin's facing to the left, and the child's eager movement to the right indicate that this panel must have formed originally the middle of a polyptych, with saints on either side".
G. M'Neil Rushforth. Carlo Crivelli. reprint, 1908. London, 1900, pp. 46, 93–94, 119, ill. (frontispiece).
Lionello Venturi. Le origini della pittura veneziana, 1300–1500. Venice, 1907, pp. 195–97.
Lionel Cust. "La collection de M. R.-H. Benson." Les arts 6 (October 1907), p. 3, ill.
Roger E. Fry. "La mostra di antichi dipinti alle 'Grafton Galleries' di Londra." Rassegna d'arte 10 (March 1910), p. 36.
J[oseph]. A[rcher]. Crowe and G[iovanni]. B[attista]. Cavalcaselle. A History of Painting in North Italy: Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Ferrara, Milan, Friuli, Brescia, from the Fourteenth to the Sixteenth Century. Ed. Tancred Borenius. 2nd ed. [1st ed. 1871]. London, 1912, vol. 1, p. 85 n., Borenius mentions it.
Tancred Borenius. "La mostra di dipinti veneziani primitivi al 'Burlington Fine Arts Club'." Rassegna d'arte 12 (June 1912), p. 88, ill.
B. Geiger inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Vol. 8, Leipzig, 1913, pp. 129–30.
A[dolfo]. Venturi. "La pittura del Quattrocento." Storia dell'arte italiana. Vol. 7, part 3, Milan, 1914, pp. 362, 364, 367, fig. 279.
Catalogue of Italian Pictures at 16, South Street, Park Lane, London and Buckhurst in Sussex collected by Robert and Evelyn Benson. London, 1914, pp. 137–38, no. 70, ill. opp. p. 137.
Laudedeo Testi. La storia della pittura veneziana. Vol. 2, Il divenire. Bergamo, 1915, pp. 557, 611–12, 616–17, 673, ill.
Bernardo Berenson. "Nicola di Maestro Antonio di Ancona." Rassegna d'arte 15 (1915), p. 168.
Bernhard Berenson. "Venetian Paintings in the United States: Part Two." Art in America 3 (April 1915), p. 114 [reprinted in Bernard Berenson, "Venetian Painting in America: The Fifteenth Century," New York, 1916, p. 20].
Franz Drey. Carlo Crivelli und seine Schule. Munich, 1927, pp. 41, 54–55, 57, 63, 127, 150, pl. XXI.
"Duveen Buys the Famous Benson Collection." Art News 25 (July 16, 1927), pp. 1, 5, 8.
Bernhard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance. Oxford, 1932, p. 162.
Lionello Venturi. Italian Paintings in America. Vol. 2, Fifteenth Century Renaissance. New York, 1933, unpaginated, pl. 364, identifies the Saints George and Dominic (MMA, 05.41.1, .2) and the Saint James (Brooklyn Museum of Art) as three lateral panels from the same altarpiece as this work.
Luigi Serra. L'arte nelle Marche. Vol. 2, Il periodo del rinascimento. Rome, 1934, p. 389.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 140.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 18, The Renaissance Painters of Venice. The Hague, 1936, pp. 6–10, fig. 4.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, p. 178, identifies a Saint Nicholas (then lost, now Cleveland Museum of Art) as the fourth lateral panel of the polyptych of which this work was the centerpiece.
Henry S. Francis. "'St. Nicholas' by Carlo Crivelli." Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 39 (September 1952), p. 188, publishes the panel depicting Saint Nicholas of Bari and tentatively accepts the connection with the 1472 polyptych.
Pietro Zampetti. Carlo Crivelli nelle Marche. Urbino, 1952, pp. 22, 69, 77, no. 82.
Federico Zeri. "Il Maestro della Annunciazione Gardner." Bollettino d'arte 38 (July–September 1953), p. 241, accepts the reconstruction of the 1472 polyptych.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, pp. 69–70, pl. 137 (reconstruction), accepts the reconstruction of the 1472 polyptych.
Rodolfo Pallucchini. La pittura veneta del Quattrocento. Vol. 2, Padua, 1957–58, pp. 17–19, 21 [see Ref. Zampetti 1986].
Federico Zeri. "Cinque schede per Carlo Crivelli." Arte antica e moderna no. 13/16 (1961), p. 162.
Rodolfo Pallucchini. "Carlo Crivelli in Palazzo Ducale." Pantheon 19 (November–December 1961), p. 274.
Pietro Zampetti. Carlo Crivelli. Milan, 1961, pp. 16, 24, 75–77, 103, figs. 24 (reconstruction), 25, tentatively adds five predella panels and a Deposition (or Pietà; Johnson collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art) to the 1472 altarpiece.
Anna Bovero. Tutta la pittura del Crivelli. Milan, 1961, pp. 23–24, 51, 59–60, pl. 27.
Pietro Zampetti. Carlo Crivelli e i crivelleschi. Exh. cat., Palazzo Ducale. Venice, 1961, p. XXXII.
M. L. D'Otrange Mastai. "New York News." Apollo 74 (November 1961), p. 151, ill.
André Pigler. "La mouche peinte: Un talisman." Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts no. 24 (1964), p. 50, no. 5, fig. 37.
Barbara Sweeny. John G. Johnson Collection: Catalogue of Italian Paintings. Philadelphia, 1966, pp. 25–26, under no. 158, accepts the expanded reconstruction of the 1472 polyptych, including the Philadelphia Pietà and the five predella panels; mistakenly cites Zeri [see Ref. 1961] as associating the Philadelphia Pietà with this polyptych.
René Gimpel. Diary of an Art Dealer. English ed. New York, 1966, p. 398, mistakenly states that Erickson bought it from Duveen for $350,000 (the actual price was $300,000).
Fern Rusk Shapley. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Vol. 2, Italian Schools: XV–XVI Century. London, 1968, pp. 35–36, accepts the expanded reconstruction of the polyptych.
Charles Seymour Jr. Early Italian Paintings in the Yale University Art Gallery. New Haven, 1970, p. 240, under no. 180.
Pietro Zampetti. La pittura marchigiana da Gentile a Raffaello. [Milan], [1970?], pp. 180–82.
Gerald Reitlinger. The Economics of Taste. Vol. 3, The Art Market in the 1960s. London, , p. 85, gives sale prices from 1845 through 1961.
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, pp. 21–22.
Elizabeth Ourusoff De Fernandez-Gimenez in "European Paintings Before 1500." The Cleveland Museum of Art: Catalogue of Paintings. Part 1, Cleveland, 1974, pp. 68–69, under no. 26, fig. 26a (reconstruction).
Anna Bovero. L'opera completa del Crivelli. Milan, 1975, pp. 83, 87–89, 95, no. 48, ill., states that the altarpiece must have been made for a Dominican church, and suggests the convent of San Domenico, Fermo, noting that a Madonna with two saints is recorded as having been sold from there shortly before 1834.
Oliver Garnett. Letter to Sir John Pope-Hennessy. September 27, 1982, notes that it is included in an unpublished inventory of the collection of William Graham of 1882 [see Ref.].
Keith Christiansen inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1983–1984. New York, 1984, pp. 46–47, ill. (color).
Keith Christiansen inThe Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, pp. 29–32, no. 5, ill. (color), notes that the pentiment in the date, changed from 1473 to 1472, may have been due to Crivelli's confusion over differing regional calendars, and suggests the altarpiece was completed sometime between December 25, 1472, and March 25, 1473; calls the innovative compositional elements Paduan in origin; believes that neither the Philadelphia Pietà nor the five predella panels belong to the 1472 altarpiece; rejects the identification of the 1472 altarpiece with the one sold from San Domenico, Fermo; thinks the correct order of the four flanking panels is, left to right, Saints Nicholas, James, George, and Dominic.
Pietro Zampetti. Carlo Crivelli. Florence, 1986, pp. 16, 29–30, 39, 257–261, pl. 14 (reconstruction), colorpl. 15, ill. pp. 258 (reconstruction), 259, agrees with Bovero [see Ref. 1975] that the provenance could be San Domenico, Fermo.
Dominique Thiébaut. Ajaccio, musée Fesch: les primitifs italiens. Paris, 1987, p. 183, ill., quotes from the Fesch inventory of 1839 [see Ref.]; gives the purchase price at the Fesch sale of 1845 as 100 scudi.
Colnaghi in America: A Survey to Commemorate the First Decade of Colnaghi New York. Ed. Nicholas H. J. Hall. New York, 1992, p. 131.
Michael Kimmelman. "At the Met with Roy Lichtenstein: Disciple of Color and Line, Master of Irony." New York Times (March 31, 1995), p. C27.
Stefano Papetti inVittore Crivelli e la pittura del suo tempo nel Fermano. Ed. Stefano Papetti. Milan, 1997, pp. 56, 68 n. 11, identifies the 1472 polyptych with an altarpiece by Carlo Crivelli bought by Ignazio Cantalamessa from the Dominicans in Fermo on May 26, 1831 for 50 scudi.
Michael Kimmelman. Portraits: Talking with Artists at the Met, the Modern, the Louvre and Elsewhere. New York, 1998, pp. 89–90 [text similar to Kimmelman 1995].
Cecilia Prete inPittura veneta nelle Marche. Ed. Valter Curzi. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2000, pp. 343–44, 349 n. 152, tentatively agrees with Papetti [see Ref. 1997] in identifying the 1472 altarpiece with the work bought by Cantalamessa from the Dominican convent in Fermo.
Valter Curzi inPittura veneta nelle Marche. Ed. Valter Curzi. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2000, pp. 307, 320 n. 4.
Ronald Lightbown. Carlo Crivelli. New Haven, 2004, pp. 127–29, 131–32, 136, 149, 151, 205, pl. 32, states that the altarpiece to which the five panels belong was painted for San Domenico, Fermo, probably for a secondary altar; rejects the association with the Philadelphia Pietà.
Costanza Costanzi inLe Marche disperse: repertorio di opere d'arte dalle Marche al mondo. Ed. Costanza Costanzi. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2005, pp. 142–45, no. 112, ill., tentatively accepts the Philadelphia "Pietà" and the five predella panels proposed by Zampetti (1961, 1986) as part of the altarpiece.
Stefano Papetti inLe Marche disperse: repertorio di opere d'arte dalle Marche al mondo. Ed. Costanza Costanzi. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2005, p. 145, under no. 121, adds a sixth panel of an apostle (private collection, Paris) to the predella proposed by Zampetti (1961, 1986).
Anna Maria Ambrosini Massari. "Dotti amici": Amico Ricci e la nascita della storia dell'arte nelle Marche. Ancona, 2007, pp. LXXXVII–LXXXVIII, 260 n. 63, cites the letter (Biblioteca Comunale, Macerata, Ms 1069, c. 1037/97; see also Papetti 1997) from Alessandro Maggiori to Amico Ricci in which Maggiori mentions the recent sale of a Crivelli altarpiece by the friars of San Domenico, Fermo, for fifty scudi to Cantalamessa.
Lisa Monnas. Merchants, Princes and Painters: Silk Fabrics in Italian and Northern Paintings, 1300–1550. New Haven, 2008, pp. 171, 359 n. 132.
Francesca Coltrinari. "Note e precisazioni sulla prima attività di Carlo Crivelli nelle Marche." Incontri 1 (2011), pp. 150, 159–63, follows Zampetti (1961, 1986) in believing the altarpiece included an upper register and a predella.
Stefano Papetti. Crivelli ritrovato: due pannelli dal Museo del Castello di Milano. Exh. brochure, Pinacoteca Civica. Ascoli Piceno, 2014, unpaginated, ill. (color, reconstruction), reconstructs the altarpiece with an upper register and a predella (see Zampetti 1961, 1986).
Francesco De Carolis inOrnament & Illusion: Carlo Crivelli of Venice. Ed. Stephen J. Campbell. Exh. cat., Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 2015, pp. 167–69, 171, 173, figs. 81 (reconstruction, color), 82 (color), under nos. 8–12, believes that the altarpiece was limited to the five main panels; mentions a list (Biblioteca Comunale di Ascoli Piceno; Catalogo dei monumenti fuori città, MS Gabrielli, no. 14, c. 15v.) transcribed by Giulio Gabrielli from one drawn up by Cantalamessa which records, at no. 26, five heavily damaged panels by Carlo Crivelli from San Domenico, Fermo, sold for thirty scudi each; identifies these five panels as those bought by Fesch.