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Carlo Crivelli - His Influence

( Originally Published 1900 )

WITH such strongly-marked individuality of style it might have been expected that Crivelli would leave a school of imitators behind him. As a matter of fact we know by name only two painters who worked in dependence on him, and their dated pictures are not later than the latest of Crivelli's. Their names, as they are given on their signed productions, are "Victor Crivellus," whom we may therefore refer to as Vittorio Crivelli, and " Petrus Alamanus." To one or the other of these we can attribute practically all the pictures not by Crivelli's hand though often passing under his name, a number of which are to be found in English collections, and still more in their original home in the Marches. They are readily distinguished not only from Carlo Crivelli—to whom, it need scarcely be added, they are immeasurably inferior—but from one another. When once their characteristics have been grasped, they can never be mistaken. We have included an example of each among our illustrations in order that the student may become familiar with their peculiarities.

Vittorio Crivelli, who was evidently the relation, and may have been the brother of Carlo, like him, adds " Venetus " to his name. The earliest date on any of his pictures is 1481, the latest 1490. His figures, whose smooth round faces are easily recognised, have at their best considerable charm and grace, and even dignity. The ornamental details and drapery also show care and skill. But the drawing, especially in critical points like the hands, is often lamentably weak, and his personages are totally lacking in the character and force which distinguish the productions of Carlo. He is seen at his best in the beautiful ancona at Torre di Palme, which, though unsigned, exhibits precisely similar types to those of the recognised Vittorio at Falerone. His faces are distinguished by a special melancholy, which is apparent in nearly all his works, but was gradually carried to a disagreeable excess. When once the peculiar expression of these lachrymose Virgins and saints has been impressed on the mind there is no easier painter to recognise. That expression is produced by large and melancholy eyes and a singularly unpleasant turning down of the corners of the mouth. A fairly full list of his rather numerous works is given by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (i. 96).

We are hardly justified in assuming that Petrus Alamanus was a foreigner, though his name, like that of Giovanni d'Alemania, Antonio Vivarini's partner, points to a German extraction. In any case he came from Venice, for in one instance he has signed himself " Petrus Venetus " ; and we may suppose that he followed Crivelli when he left the North to settle in the Marches. On one picture he was proud to style himself " discipulus Maestri Karoli Crivelli," and the words " civis Assulanus," which he has added to his name on another, show that, like his master, he became a permanent resident in Ascoli. The only dated pictures are of 1488 and 1489. It may seem a harsh judgment, but it is no exaggeration to say that there is nothing good in him. His compositions are servile and unintelligent reproductions of his master's motives. The drawing is invariably bad, and the decorative accessories show, as compared with Crivelli, an immensely inferior hand. His heads have not even the individuality, unpleasing as it is, of those of Vittorio. A room in the Municipal Gallery at Ascoli contains several of his pictures (two signed) which have been collected from the churches of that town. It would be waste of time to go through the list of his pictures, which there is no excuse, under any circumstances, for confusing with those of his master.

The fact that Crivelli's only known assistants or pupils were of this character, and that neither of them came from the district, proves how poor in painters the Marches were. But if the Marches were barren of all artistic activity, there were districts bordering on them to the north and west with local painters who might be influenced by the striking personality of Crivelli. Those who had once seen his pictures were not likely to forget them ; and, without going farther, there were specimens ready to hand in the little group of towns to the northwest (e.g. at Camerino and Fabriano), where Lorenzo di S. Severino may have made their acquaintance. In any case there is a triptych of his (dated 1481) at Pausula * where, as we have seen, Crivelli had already been at work. Little is known of Lorenzo, who appears to have been a rather older contemporary of Crivelli ; but his pictures show that, while he had nothing to teach the Venetian, he was perceptibly influenced by him. The types, e.g. of the Virgin and Child at Pausula, show it, and the apple which lies on the step of the throne points in the same direction. The picture by him in the National Gallery (No. 249) is not without similar suggestions, and here again a cucumber and apple are introduced for decorative purposes quite in Crivelli's manner.

Westwards, across the Apennines, we come to the region of the Umbrian painters, and among these Niccolo da Foligno with his strongly-defined and characterised types and expression of emotion presents obvious analogies with Crivelli. Some have gone so far as to see traces of Niccolo's influence on the later work of Crivelli. Such suggestions are not easy to substantiate, and, on the whole, we are inclined to think that the effect was in the other direction. In age they were apparently exactly contemporary, but Crivelli has the stronger individuality of the two, and was therefore less likely to be influenced by the other. The resemblances between them are partly perhaps to be explained by a similarity in character and conception, different as their artistic origins may have been. But beyond this, some of Niccolo's later pictures present characteristics which can only be explained by direct suggestion from the work of Crivelli. Of such a character is the ancona at Bastia, near Assisi. Not only have the figures quite a Crivellian air, but there are the usual cucumbers and fruit lying on the step of the throne.

To the next generation belongs a curious painter Bernardino di Mariotto, otherwise known as Bernardino of Perugia, who owed perhaps more to Crivelli than either of the painters we have mentioned. Originally, no doubt, he learnt his lesson in the Umbrian school proper, and hence (though the mistake should never have been made) he was long confused with Pinturicchio.* But soon after the beginning of the sixteenth century he settled at S. Severino, and then perhaps it was that he became acquainted with the works of Crivelli in that neighbourhood. To judge by his pictures (of which those in the Gallery at Perugia are the most characteristic examples) what attracted him in the older painter's works was their decorative character (especially the use of gold ornaments) and broad flat treatment. His types are quite peculiar to himself, and not specially agreeable. Those of the " Coronation," which we have included among our illustrations, are quite typical.

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