The Polyptych attributed to Carlo and Vittore Crivelli

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The Polyptych attributed to Carlo and Vittore Crivelli

The polyptych, traditionally attributed to the late collaboration between brothers Monte San MartinoCarlo and Vittore Crivelli, comes from the former church of Saint Michael the Archangel. The work celebrates the Virgin Enthroned adoring her sleeping child, placidly resting on her lap. This panel is generally attributed to Vittore, but Carlo’s strong influence can be felt in the ornamental sumptuousness of the decoration, even though the figure reproduces the features and pose of its models without their plastic emphasis and energy. Ancient art elements are used as erudite ornaments in the architecture of the throne and in the presence of flowers and plants with a symbolic value. Between the edges of the throne we can see: an apple symbolising redemption from original sin, and a peach, fruit of salvation and clear reference to the trinity in the three parts it is composed of: pulp, stone and pit. On the shining golden background, the meadow full of flowers and the hedge bring the first naturalistic elements typical of the Renaissance. Saint Michael the Archangel and Saint Nicholas of Bari are to the right of the Virgin: the former is suppressing evil – this is represented by the devil weighing the dead souls; the latter holds the pastoral, the mitre, the book and the three purses of gold which, according to the Golden Legend, he had secretly given to the daughters of one of his fellow citizens dogged by misfortune. The other figures, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Blaise, have been presumably painted by Vittore, since their colour is more uncertain. The precursor of Christ stands up holding the phylactery to announce the coming of the Messiah: Ecce Agnus Dei, Behold the Lamb of God. His figure towers above the other panels in the first tier, in that the saint is surrounded by a rocky landscape with two juxtaposed trees: one is luxuriant and the other is dry to symbolise the re-birth of men through baptism. The central section is surmounted by the figure of the Dead Christ held by two grieving angels. This iconography, particularly loved by Carlo, spreads throughout Veneto starting from one of the bronze reliefs made by Donatello for the altar of the Saint in Padua. To his left Saint Martin, patron of the town and after whom the church was named, and Saint John the Evangelist have a place of honour. To his right Saint James the Apostle known as the Greater and Saint Catherine of Alexandria are speaking.In the predella, presumably made Monte San Martinoby Vittore to Carlo’s design, Christ the Saviour with the twelve Apostles are depicted.The attribution of the polyptych is not certain: some think the work is the result of the collaboration between the two brothers, whilst others attribute it to Vittore alone or to an unknown collaborator. Some critics assign these panels to Carlo’s hand for the formal and stylistic elegance of the Saints in the second tier along with Saint Michael and Saint Nicholas in the central tier, whilst they attribute the other panels to Vittore.The Crivellis, and particularly Carlo, are the protagonists of the so-called “Adriatic” culture, which Zampetti defines as typical of Veneto and Le Marche and which is also embraced by Giovanni Boccati and Girolamo di Giovanni, who probably first meets Carlo in Padua and then again in  Camerino, where he moves in 1480. The panels painted by the Crivelli brothers are inserted into gothic mouldings which Giuseppe Crocetti attributes to Giovanni di Stefano, an inlayer from Montelparo. Elements such as the general three-tier structure, the horizontal frame with curled acanthus leaves separating central and upper tier, pilaster strips decorated with leaves and pinecones and the spires are considered to be an authentic signature of the master from Montelparo.The altarpiece of Monte San Martino, for many years neglected by the critics, still is an extremely important document that may help us to reflect not only on the collaboration between the two brothers, which has not yet been proved elsewhere, but also on the relation between Carlo and his collaborators.