Carlo Crivelli - Later Works
( Originally Published 1900 )
By the year 1475 we may consider that Crivelli had perfected his art. Though we shall find plenty of signs of progress up to the end of his career, it is not untrue to say that there was little left for him to learn. His ideals had been fixed, and his methods had been tested. All traces of the elementary stage have disappeared. His hand is no longer cramped by lack of skill, or his conceptions by the models received from his masters.
The earliest dated work of the fully developed style is the great ancona in the National Gallery (No. 788), painted for the Dominican Church at Ascoli in 1476. For the details of its history we must refer to our index, but it is important to remember that the four panels of the highest tier do not belong to the original altar-piece. They are pretty, but have not the strength and character of the other portions. Other-wise they are not a bad match, as there is nothing to point to any substantial difference in date.
Turning to the original nine panels, any one familiar with Crivelli's pictures will notice how many of his types are here exhibited. The Virgin, with her high arched eyebrows, small mouth, and hair tightly drawn back from the forehead, reappears in many pictures. Seldom has Crivelli represented her with a more charming smile. The St. Peter is the St. Peter in the Brera picture of 1482, and a favourite model of Crivelli's. One of the finest panels is the St. Andrew, with its grand head, strong lines, and powerful drawing. Crivelli is here at his best in his hard and severe style. Not less remarkable for power of characterisation is the St. Thomas Aquinas, or the St. Francis for its expression of intense feeling. The St. Stephen is more formal, and less interesting. On the lower row the Baptist with its hard lines and severe forms has the same merits as the St. Andrew. The landscape in which he stands should not be passed over, with the stream flowing at his feet and the tree stems broken off so as not to interfere with the gold background which sets off the upper half of the figure. The St. Peter still shows that free use of raised ornament and imitation gems which Crivelli gradually dropped. The corresponding St. Peter in the Brera picture of 1482 is not so heavily overladen. The strong feeling for naturalism which is often prominent in Crivelli's best work is well illustrated by the infant Christ, fast asleep with one hand under his head, while with the other he grasps his mother's middle finger—a picture drawn from the life. The St. Catherine is not a remarkable figure, but St. Dominic is admirable in its expression of piety and humility, and in the personality with which Crivelli has invested it. Finally, one may notice how this altar-piece is characteristic of the two elements in Crivelli, sternness and severity, illustrated by the St. Peter and St. Andrew, and the delicate grace of the Virgin and St. Catherine. However diverse their origin, both styles were absorbed and transformed in his overmastering individuality, and made entirely his own.
This will be a convenient opportunity for discussing the only known drawing by Crivelli—the " St. Peter," belonging to Mr Loeser ; for its analogies with the forms of the altar-piece of 1476 are closer than those of any other picture. We may regret that we have no other examples by which to test its character, but on internal grounds we see no reason to doubt its authenticity. That it is " Crivellian " there can be no question. On the other hand, its severe and hard aspect is characteristic of Crivelli himself, but not of his pupils. In draughtsmanship and technique the drawing is perhaps disappointing ; but when we place it beside the unerring outlines and enamel-like surfaces of his finished panels we must remember the difference of the conditions under which the first sketch is made with the pen, from the slow and deliberate processes by which the complete picture is built up, There is nothing in this drawing really inconsistent with its coming from Crivelli's hand. Finally, we must not forget that it has suffered in various ways, and reaches us somewhat blurred and disfigured. The reproduction, it need scarcely be added, does not improve matters.
The head is obviously that favourite model which we find in the " St. Silvester," at Massa, and more definitely in the St. Peter of several pictures. In the versions of 1476 (National Gallery, No. 788) and 1482 (Brera, No. 283) the type is more strongly marked than here, but the likeness is unmistakable. For the forms of head and hands, as well as for the drapery, we would compare especially the "St. Andrew," and the "St. Thomas Aquinas," in the National Gallery. The technique is simple, the modelling being generally expressed by variations in the compactness of the straight hatching. Cross hatching is only sparingly used.
Somewhere between the great altar-piece in the National Gallery and the Brera triptych we may place the " Magdalen " at Berlin. Of the two, it has perhaps a closer affinity with the former. A point of contact in detail with the latter is the design of the frieze on the step, with cherubs set in volutes of conventional foliage which terminate in elephant heads. The same motive may be seen in the Brera picture on the small portion of the step which appears in the left-hand panel. But, apart from this, the " Magdalen" has all the qualities which distinguish Crivelli's art at its best and most characteristic moment—precision, grace, and refinement, with an elaboration of detail which never becomes excessive. The features, with all Crivelli's peculiarities—the long and pointed nose, the almond-shaped eyes, the high arched eyebrows—have nevertheless a kind of exquisite beauty. The elaborate arrangement of the hair may be compared with that of the female saints in the National Gallery altar-piece. The hands are very characteristic of Crivelli's " precious" style, and graceful in spite of the affectation. The festoon of small-leaved plants and flowers is unique, and quite in keeping with the general effect of delicate refinement which is the keynote of the panel.
We have a dated picture of the next year (1477) in the " St. Bernardino," of the Louvre, also painted for a church at Ascoli. St. Bernardino was a familiar figure in the Marches, and he is conceived here under the well-known portrait type. The result is impressive in its way, but it does not attain to the personality or the charm of the " St. Dominic" in the National Gallery. There is an absence of relief, a quality in which Crivelli is not usually deficient ; and the severity of the drapery becomes almost uninteresting. The hanging behind the saint is of brocaded stuff, the second dated example that we have met with. The small figures of the donors, and the signature, appear to indicate that the panel, in spite of its shape, never formed part of a composite altar-piece.
In 1482 he painted the "Virgin and Child" now in the Lateran. Here Crivelli appears in his most pleasing aspect, a combination of exquisite sentiment and rich decorative effect. The Virgin has nearly the same features as in the picture of the same date in the Brera, which we shall consider next. But here both she and the Child are pervaded by an air of pathetic sadness. With regard to the minor details of the picture, we may note that the form of the throne is like that of the example of 1476 in the National Gallery, and that for the last time in a dated picture we find the watered silk hanging. The festoon of fruit at the top of the picture is not without interest. It is reduced here to a perfectly simple and naturalistic form —two branches, one of the long-shaped Italian apple and the other of plums, tied together. It is a good illustration of the way in which Crivelli appropriated and impressed a character of his own upon the suggestions which he received from outside. If we compare the festoon in the early picture at Verona we shall see it in the fuller and more formal shape in which he acquired it at Padua. Here he has given it quite a fresh character. Other examples are too obvious to specify. Finally, we may notice how interest is imparted to the step under the Virgin's feet by the fracture in the marble and the signature cut into it like an inscription.
In the same year (1482) Crivelli painted one of his finest pictures for the Dominican Church at Camerino, which originally contained some of his best work. (Cf Brera, 193, etc.) The altar-piece in the form of a triptych is now in the Brera (No. 283). Crivelli never did anything better than this. All his capacities for strong drawing, the grouping and attitude of his figures, the expression of dignity and grace, and general decorative effect, are here seen at their highest. And for the first time we get the figures not isolated in their separate panels but united in a single composition in which each takes its proper place. If this was Crivelli's first experiment in that direction, it was perhaps the most successful. Even taken individually, the figures in power of expression show an advance on the picture of 1476. In the central panel, indeed, and in that to the left we get the Crivelli to whom we have been hitherto accustomed with his range from the severe form of St. Peter and the earnest St. Dominic to the refined and thoughtful features of the Virgin and the natural attitude of the Child playing with a bird. But when we turn on the right to the St. Peter Martyr and San Gimignano (to call him by his familiar Italian name) we reach a higher stage of achievement. Here, for the first time, in these noble figures, full of earnestness and devotion, so true in drawing as well as expressive in their pose, we find the perfect and complete artist. It is seldom that he reaches the calm dignity expressed in the S. Gimignano, hardly ever again the intensity of unaffected devotion displayed by St. Peter Martyr. This is the high-water mark of Crivelli's powers as an artist. He never quite rose to it again.
Among the accessories of the picture we may note as signs of maturity the elaborate throne of coloured marbles, and the face of the steps treated like a frieze. We have already remarked (p. 31) upon the way in which the decorative objects on the lowest step are represented naturalistically. It shows how every form of elaboration which the fancy could suggest was lavished on this picture. Notice, too, on a ledge of the throne the roses in a glass, a trick of execution which he has introduced more than once in his later works. It is balanced on the right by a basin of majolica filled with fruit. The use of raised ornament is almost confined to St. Peter. It has a certain appropriateness in helping to emphasise the hieratic character of the figure which it was the artist's intention to express ---
" Like some old priest in antique finery—
Partaking of the features of the " Madonnas " of 1476 and 1482, and probably coming between them in date, though perhaps nearer to the latter, is the pretty "Virgin and Child" of the Gallery at Buda-Pesth. The Virgin's head is very characteristic, and of the more cheerful Crivellian type. The Child is not so attractive. The throne tends to elaboration.
On the other hand, we get the hanging of plain watered silk. Altogether it is one of the most pleasing among Crivelli's works of the second rank. To the same class and period belongs the charming "Madonna" in the Jones Collection at S. Kensington.
Hitherto we have known Crivelli almost exclusively as a painter either of isolated or symmetrically grouped figures, or of subjects (such as the " Pietà ") which demand symmetrical treatment. For the first time in the "Annunciation" of 1486 in the National Gallery (No. 739), we come across a subject piece proper. It is interesting enough to make us regret that he did not leave more works of the kind behind him. Perhaps there was little demand for such pictures among his regular employers, who asked for the conventional composite altar-piece.
We have already dwelt on the history of this picture (p. 20). Its design shows no little skill. In the earlier versions which have survived (at Massa and Frankfurt) no great difficulties of composition could arise, for the Virgin and the angel are in separate panels of small dimensions. Here the scene was to form a single composition. He might have placed it, like so many other painters, in a room or a garden or any other simple enclosed space. But this was not enough for Crivelli, whose characteristic it was to impress with his own individuality everything that he touched. Taking a suggestion from his earlier (Frankfurt) version, he has ingeniously combined a charming interior with a long street scene giving room for an extraordinary display of incident and detail. On the right we see the Virgin kneeling in her chamber. The house in which she dwells exhibits all the wealth of architectural ornament which we have noticed becoming increasingly prominent in the pictures of this period. At the same time the rich detail is saved from becoming too formal or monotonous by the introduction of various objects in the loggia, of which the most striking are an Eastern carpet and a peacock. Below, the interior with its furniture carries the eye away from the regular lines of the pilasters which frame it. Outside in the street, the foreground is occupied by the kneeling figures of the angel and St. Emidius who holds a model of the Ascoli in his hand. There could not be better examples of what we may call Crivelli's " exquisite " style, which is only just saved by its refinement from mere prettiness and affectation. This angel is a poseur if ever there was one. Beyond, the street presents a series of incidents suggestive of the tendency to naturalistic treatment which is such a curious accompaniment and contrast to his ordinary conventional manner. The group talking with a friar at the house door on the left with the child peeping round the corner of the balustrade, the citizen who passes along bent on business, the dandy who shades his eyes from the sun and looks up at the house, the figures on the arch, and the people walking in the open space by the town walls beyond, make up a picture of real life unequalled among Crivelli's works. The execution is not less masterly, with its trans-parent colour and delicate use of gold to heighten the effect of the accessories.
Of course, this is not Ascoli as Crivelli saw it, any more than we are to suppose that his world was full of the gorgeously dressed models who figure as his youthful saints. The scene, in fact, is at once real and ideal. Those to whom the aspect of the old Italian towns is familiar will recognise the towering houses, the narrow street, the arch that spans it, and on the arch, as we see so often, the attempt to reproduce a garden with plants in pots and caged birds. But Crivelli has ennobled and idealised all this till it has become a scene such as never existed at Florence or Venice, much less at Ascoli. The rough stone houses have become marble palaces, the bridge a triumphal arch, the rude flower-pots sculptured vases ; while the sordid figures which were no doubt as frequent a sight in Italian towns then as now, have made way for decorous and graceful forms. All the elements of scene in short have been transformed so that they may do honour to the event which is taking place in the foreground. As a matter of fact the accessories absorb so much of our interest that we are liable to forget the " Annunciation." But to say that the picture produces an effect of unreality, would be to test Crivelli's art by an unfair standard. It was enough for him, and it should be enough for us, that he has given us one of his most beautiful and interesting pictures.
Subject pieces by Crivelli are so rare that this will be an appropriate place for considering another example in the National Gallery, the "Vision of the Blessed Gabriele Ferretti " (No. 668). But we have pointed out elsewhere (Chap. Ii.) the grounds for believing that it was painted between the years 1484 and 1490, so that if there is any truth in that argument it cannot be far removed in date from the "Annunciation" of 1486.
The "Beato" has been reading or praying, at the entrance of a cave near a church, in a quiet country spot from which a road leads to a town in the distance. Suddenly in the sky the Virgin and Child appear in glory. He has laid down his book, put off his sandals, and kneels in prayer and adoration. The subject is simple, but nothing could be more complete and satisfactory than the treatment. There is nothing grotesque or unnatural either in conception or drawing to detract from our enjoyment, and the details are finished with admirable minuteness. The masterly treatment of the drapery, the perfection of the forms, the architecture, the sense of spaciousness in the landscape, all point to the maturity of Crivelli's art. The type of the saint, both in expression and features, finds perhaps its nearest parallel in the earlier St. Francis at Brussels. The landscape, for general effect, is one of his best, though the treatment of the rocks and of the foreground is still conventional. The most striking objects in it are the leafless tree stems, the counterpart, as it were, of the hard and bony human figures of which he was so fond, and therefore an illustration of his love for anatomical forms. His seeking after realism again appears in the two ducks painted with minute precision. In contrast to them we get the festoon of fruit at the top of the picture, illustrating the conventional and decorative aspect of his art. No picture of his suggests more completely both the range and the limitations of Crivelli.
We have already observed that a scene connected with the Passion, formed a regular part of every ancona, but these subjects appear to have had a special attraction for Crivelli in his middle and later periods. Peculiarly suited for symmetrical arrangement, they also provided a field for the display of anatomical knowledge and for the expression of intense and passionate feeling. At the same time they did not exclude the introduction of magnificent accessories. Nothing could be more splendidly decorative than the Vatican " Pietà," or more intensely pathetic than the Panciatichi and Crawshay versions. The " Pietà " was a specially favoured subject, on account of the convenience with which it could be adapted to the shape of a lunette, forming the top of an altar-piece. The smaller examples (e.g. Mr Craw-shay's) show by the shape of the panel that they originally formed the centre of the upper tier of an ancona, an arrangement which occurs regularly in the composite altar-pieces which have escaped dissolution. They therefore belong to the period when Crivelli had not yet abandoned this form for the large single panel compositions to which he became addicted in his later years. It is with pictures of the latter type that the large lunette " Pietàs" must have been originally combined ; though, apparently, in the only case in which they are at present united (Brera, Gall. Oggiono, No. I), there was no original connection between them. But in spite of these differences in date, we may well consider all these Passion scenes together, for they all belong to the mature stage of his art.
Let us begin with the older form, of which Mr Crawshay's " Pietà " is typical. Comparatively small in size, its decorative effect is not to compare with that of the large lunettes, for its tone is low and sober, and the accessories are of the simplest kind. But in the expression of emotion it is by far the finest of the series. Both in forms and in feeling the Vatican " Pietà " comes nearest to it. Both are remarkable for their display of sincere emotion, but when we compare the figures one by one, the palm must be given to the earlier version. Perhaps there is little to choose between the two Virgins. But the grief of St. John and the Magdalen in Mr. Crawshay's picture is more real than in the other case, because it is less exaggerated. And the look of death on the Saviour's face could not well be surpassed. The smaller picture, too, makes up by far finer drawing for what it loses in decorative splendour. On the whole, it is not too much to say that this was Crivelli's masterpiece in his treatment of this subject.
We will next consider the lunette " Pietà " in the Vatican, the forms and types of which show a close relationship with those of the last picture. The spectator is at first almost carried away by the depth of the colour and the surpassing richness of the decorative effect, yet the strength of the picture lies in its expression of emotion. If it does not quite attain the level of the Crawshay "Pietà" in this respect, it is nevertheless of very great merit. The body of the Saviour is about to be laid in the tomb, and for the moment it rests on a board placed across the sarcophagus and covered with a piece of drapery which also forms part of the hanging in the background. The moulding of the body is far less satisfactory than that in the earlier version, but the head is fine. Of the attendant figures the most successful expression is that of the Virgin, with her mingled look of speechless sorrow and affection. The Magdalen and St. John, with open mouths and contorted features expressive of their unrestrained outburst of grief, are neither so unaffected nor so impressive. Sometimes the pathetic and the grotesque are separated only by a narrow interval, and in this case Crivelli in his searching after expression has gone near to confusing them.
The accessories are superb both in design and execution. The cherub heads are meant apparently to float in the air, but they are so thickly set that they produce the effect of a background of burnished metal—a magnificent variety for the ordinary gold field. The whole picture is extraordinarily brilliant in colour and strong in relief. The lighted candle in its elaborate candlestick on the right is perhaps intended to indicate that the scene takes place at night.
By the side of these " Pietàs " we would place the " Crucifixion," in the Brera (No. 189), on account of the similarity of the types. The female figure to the left of the Cross has the same rather un-pleasing features as the Magdalen in the two " Pietàs," and we therefore assume it to be the same per-son, though one would have expected the Virgin in this place. The long hair and the absence of the Virgin's typical head-dress, point to the same conclusion. The Christ is of the same type as in the last two pictures, and not inferior to the best of them in drawing and expression. On the other hand, the emotion of the two figures at the foot of the Cross, while it has all the disagreeable features of the other examples, has not the same strength or reality. The faces seem fixed in an expression of peevish discontent rather than over-powered by an outburst of grief. The gold ground of the upper part of the picture above the sky is unique, and not easy to explain. The landscape is one of the most delightful we possess. It is just such a prospect as may be seen from any of the hill-towns in the Marches. If this picture fails in the expression of the Magdalen and St. John, its drawing and execution entitle it to a high place among Crivelli's works.
Though it may be separated from these pieces by several years, it will be convenient to place beside them the lunette " Pietà " in the Brera. We may do so with the more freedom because there is no reason to suppose that it had any connection originally with the " Coronation " of 1493, which it now surmounts. A superficial glance will show the difference in types and style between them. But while the "Pietà" naturally takes its place beside the other representations of the same subject with which it has obvious affinities, it must be regarded as the latest of the series, and placed at the very end of Crivelli's career. The type of the Magdalen reminds one of the latest "Madonna" in the Brera (No. 193). The whole scene is more academical and less real than those which we have been considering. All the passion has gone out of the faces ; the attitudes are more affected and the expression is more formal. In draughtsmanship and technical execution it is one of Crivelli's most perfect productions, but the general effect suggests a maturity verging on over-ripeness.
With 1487 begins what for convenience of arrangement we may call the third period of Crivelli's career. In his life it is marked by his visit in that year to Fermo, and by the knighthood conferred on him in 1490. The pictures, too, which have survived from those years form a group with some special characteristics. Though we need not believe that he entirely abandoned the production of anconas with many panels, the most important works of this period which have come down to us are groups of saintly personages combined in one composition and united within a single frame. This indicates that Crivelli, influenced perhaps by contemporary works of art which came to his knowledge, was no longer contented with depicting isolated figures in separate frames. So far it marks an advance, though we may doubt whether his art gained much by it. Still, while we feel that perhaps his best work is to be found in the pictures of the older form, we must acknowledge that the results of the new departure are often magnificent, and that his hand has lost nothing of its power.
First, and in some ways the finest of the series, comes the great picture at Berlin (No. 1156A) which was lost to this country at the Dudley sale. Originally at Fermo, and with no mention of the knightly dignity in the signature, we may safely assign it to the period 1487-90. (See p. 21.) The subject is the Infant Christ giving the keys to St. Peter in the midst of an assemblage of local and Franciscan saints. The types of the Virgin in these later pictures do not possess the charm of the earlier ones. The features are more mature and commonplace, and the one before us is no exception. The Child, on the other hand, shows us Crivelli at his best, exquisitely natural and graceful. St. Peter has not the rugged force of the old model with which we have become familiar (p. 41). Of the other saints, Louis and Bernardino follow the lines of the well-known portraits ; while we get a new and very characteristic type in the Bishop who is prominent on the left —probably St. Alexander, one of the patrons of Fermo. The composition is simple and satisfactory, in so far as the space is well filled, yet free from monotony. But the two saints, peeping as it were round the corners of the throne, are hardly a successful or dignified idea. As a whole, the picture depends for its effect on the interest of the heads, and on the decorative effect of the magnificent fabrics in which the chief saints are vested. Nothing could surpass the execution of this superb picture.
To the same period belong the two panels with pairs of saints now at Venice, which are said to have been originally connected with one of Crivelli's latest works—the " Virgin and Child," of the Brera. (See pp. I08, 114.) Whether this be the case or not—and the idea does not receive much support from the style of the panels —we get a point of contact with the Berlin picture in the strongly-modelled features of St. Augustine, which almost reproduce those of St. Alexander (if it be he). St. Jerome, again, recalls exactly the same type in the Odoni altar-piece, of the National Gallery, which we shall consider next. The lion at his feet is a fine example of conventional, we might almost say heraldic, treatment. The St. Peter and St. Paul of the other panel, damaged as it is, rank among the noblest of his figures. Altogether, though there may be more ambitious and splendid, there are no finer examples of Crivelli's mature stage than these fragments.
Of the five signed pictures which we possess, painted by Crivelli after his knighthood, three are dated, and the date of one more is probably settled. There remains the " Madonna between St. Jerome and St. Sebastian" in the National Gallery (No. 724)—the altar-piece painted for the family chapel of the Odoni in the Franciscan Church at Matelica. In spite of the perfection of its execution and the splendour of the decorative parts, there are few pictures by Crivelli which impress us less by their sentiment. The Virgin once more illustrates the defects of his later conceptions of her ; while the Child, who blesses St. Jerome, is even more lacking in life and character.
St. Jerome, indeed, is a noble and dignified figure, but who could believe in the St. Sebastian here presented? As a study of costume the figure is interesting, reproducing every detail with minute fidelity, and bringing before us the model of a well-dressed young man of Crivelli's time. But the features are of an ignoble type, and the attitude is suggestive only of self-conscious vanity. Instead of a devout attendant at the throne, we seem to get a dandy posing for the admiration of the spectator. In short, this is no saint, like the San Gimignano of the Brera triptych, but only a faithful reproduction of the artist's model. For once Crivelli's gift of characterisation has been overpowered by his interest in the accessories.
When we turn to the scenes of the predella we seem to enter a different world. The St. Catherine on the left is not remarkable, but the remaining four scenes, while they exhibit Crivelli at his best as a draughtsman, are also full of animation, of feeling, and of realism. Crowe and Cavalcaselle long ago drew attention to the merits of these panels, and their praise is not excessive. "Crivelli never concentrated so much power on any small composition." The most interesting is the "St. Jerome in the Desert," with its naturalistic representations of animals to which we have already referred (p. 32). But the powerfully drawn saint and the treatment of the landscape are not less remarkable. The "Nativity " is far finer than the similar scene in the Strasburg Gallery, of which it reproduces the essential features. The types in the "Martyrdom of St. Sebastian " are not very pleasing, but the action is full of vigour. The saint recalls the small figure in the Poldi-Pezzoli Museum at Milan, a work apparently of Crivelli's maturity. Finally, the " St. George" reproduces the design of the early masterpiece on the same subject (see p. 46), and with only less power and animation. We notice the absence here of the use of raised gilt ornament which is so prominent in the earlier version. Generally speaking, this has not quite the freshness and fascination of the work of those first years, but the resources of the artist have increased in the interval.
The National Gallery, where the works of Crivelli's latest period are, if anything, over-represented, contains in the " Madonna with St. Francis and St. Sebastian " (No. 809) the earliest dated picture executed by Crivelli after his knighthood. The year is 1491. There is little of interest about it, for, though important it is not one of his most successful conceptions, and it has not even the technical perfection of the Odoni picture. The Sebastian, however, is a graceful and attractive figure. Messrs Crowe and Cavalcaselle persuaded themselves that the " combination of energy and smorphia" exhibited by this and other pictures of the same period point to " an intimacy between Crivelli and Alunno" (i.e. Niccolo da Foligno). Really, there is little ground for such a suggestion. This picture, it is true, both in treatment and tone, differs to some extent from his characteristic style. But this, if it be the result of external influence at all, which in the case of Crivelli we may safely reduce to a minimum, may be attributed as much to the effect of general contemporary progress in art as to acquaintance with the work of any particular painter. In any case, Niccolo's pictures suggest that he learnt more from Crivelli than Crivelli learnt from him.
To the next year (1492) belongs the masterpiece in the National Gallery (No. 906) known as " The Virgin in Ecstasy," but which rather presents (as the appended text shows) the idea which is the foundation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, combined with the "Coronation" of the glorified mother. It is intended, in fact, to bring before us not the historical mother of Christ so much as that mediæval conception of the mystical being of Ecclesiasticus and the Book of Wisdom, existing from all time in the mind of God as the instrument of the Incarnation, and returning to share the glory of her divine Son. Crivelli has expressed with rare distinction that combination of humility and awe with a sense of personal dignity which befits this ideal of the Virgin. In herself she is an imposing figure, but she is absorbed in the divine influences which mould her destiny. Never did Crivelli come nearer to the grand style than in this magnificent conception.
For the first time we find here in the Virgin a new type of features which we shall notice in others of these latest works. It may be described as more academical than the naïve, girlish Virgins of the earlier time. The flying angels are also new, and remind us of similar figures in Umbrian art. It is possible that Crivelli may have received them from that source. Considering the nearness of Umbria to the Marches, the likeness of the forms can hardly be explained as a mere coincidence.
We seem to come back to a lower level when we turn to Crivelli's latest dated picture, the " Coronation," of 1493 in the Brera (Gall. Oggiono, No. 1). Everything here is characteristic of his most advanced style—the unity of composition, the wealth of detail, the abandonment of the gold background for a sky, and the elaborate design of the sort of altar-table on which Christ and his mother are enthroned. Considering the results which Crivelli had previously produced, the types are singularly immature. The Christ and the Virgin are not among Crivelli's most successful productions, though their action is appropriate, and the effect of the draperies magnificent. On the right, St. Francis has an unnatural contortion of the head which we noticed in some of the early pictures ; the Augustine (or Bonaventura) is commonplace, and the Sebastian far inferior to the San Gimignano in the other Brera altar-piece. The emaciated John the Baptist on the left is less impressive than the figure of the great altar-piece in the National Gallery, while the youthful soldier saint behind belongs rather to Crivelli's pretty than to his noble types. The St. Catherine alone can be classed among his nobler productions. The general effect of the picture is crowded and lacking in dignity so far as composition is concerned, though in richness it is unsurpassed. The angel choir in the air is a more elaborate instance of the presence of those (perhaps) foreign elements which we noticed in the nearly contemporary " Conception," of the National Gallery. The form of God the Father in the latter picture is also reproduced here with little variation.
The form of signature (" eques laureatus "), as we have seen (p. 22), justifies us in placing the " Virgin and Child," of the Brera (No. 193), later than any of the above works. There is nothing in its style or character opposed to such a conclusion, and indeed it cannot be separated from the other pictures by any considerable interval. It is one of the finest of the whole group, and as a work of art forms a worthy conclusion to Crivelli's career as a painter. The Virgin is a grand and statuesque figure of the type with which we have become familiar in these later pictures. That she does not rise to the level of the " Conception " of 1491 is due to the nature of the subject. The mother with her child upon her knee, if not less queenly, is more human, as she should be. Nothing could be finer than the pose and magnificent drapery of this figure. The child is less successful. The canopy of the throne is formed by arches of fruit and foliage, full and rich in design. As a whole, nothing more satisfactory was ever produced by Crivelli.
Here we conclude our survey of the existing works by Crivelli. And, at the end of it all, what is the impression left on our minds ? " A disagreeable, but most talented painter" is the verdict of the principal modern historians of Italian Art.* The depreciatory epithet we can hardly accept. That side—and it is only one side—of Crivelli's genius which expressed itself in his feeling for strength of character and strength of emotion, led him sometimes to delineate types which are severe rather than beautiful, realistic rather than attractive. But genuine art can never be unpleasing, and all Crivelli's productions are in the truest sense artistic. His forms may be hard, but they are never repulsive. Let us rather be content to say that in everything he did we feel the true artist. Would that it were possible to lift the veil which conceals the mystery of his personality and see the man behind. Perhaps we should discover not only a great artist but also a great character.