This perfectly preserved work is one of the artist's most exquisite pictures. Flemish painting may have inspired the remarkable precision of detail in the background, where turbaned figures (infidels) stroll. Trompe-l’oeil details are played against the doll-like prettiness of the Virgin. The apples and fly are symbols of sin and evil and are opposed to the cucumber and the goldfinch, symbols of redemption. Crivelli’s signature is on what looks like a piece of paper attached to the watered-silk cloth with wax.
This modest-size, devotional painting of the Madonna and Child is one of the Crivelli’s most exquisite works. Exceptionally well preserved, it is usually dated to the 1470s (see the various contributions of Zampetti: 1952, 1961, 1986) or about 1480 (Zeri and Gardner 1973). Di Lorenzo (2008) finds it close in style to an altarpiece of 1482, now in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan. Typical of Crivelli, who seems to have been trained in Padua in the tradition of Squarcione and Andrea Mantegna, is the use of strongly illusionistic devices: the elaborately carved but fissured marble parapet over which a cloth has been draped and to which, in turn, a cartellino with Crivelli’s signature has been attached with sealing wax. A willful contrast has been set up between the hyper-refined features of the Madonna—as precious and brittle as an eighteenth-century porcelain figurine—and the over-sized, naturalistically rendered fruit, which casts emphatic shadows onto the moired silk hanging, shown as though fastened to the frame by red laces. The haloes are embellished with jewels that are depicted as though they were actual objects applied to the flat, gilt surface. By way of contrast, the landscape background is treated with remarkable naturalism and includes four turbaned figures—doubtless intended to suggest Turks and a reference to unbelievers. Friedman (1946) discusses the iconographic significance of the fruit and has explained the fly as symbolic of the devil. Land (1996) has rightly emphasized the insect as a further trompe l’oeil device calling attention to the artist’s skill. The fly is shown life size rather than to the scale of the figures and therefore seems to be "on" the painting rather than "in" it.
The two devotional paintings with which this picture is most closely related are in the Pinacoteca, Ancona, and the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo. The bare extension of wood beyond the paint surface would have been covered by an engaged frame. Although the picture is currently exhibited in a modern, pseudo-Gothic frame, it seems more likely that the original frame was Renaissance in style.
[Keith Christiansen 2011]
Inscription: Signed (lower center): OPVS.KAROLI.CRIVELLI.VENETI
?Pier Giovanni Lenti, Ascoli Piceno (in 1790); William Jones, Clytha, Wales (until 1852; his sale, Christie's, London, May 8, 1852, no. 103, for £157.10.0 to Farrer); [Farrer, London, 1852]; Thomas George Baring, 1st Earl of Northbrook, Stratton Park, Hants. (by 1854–d. 1904; cats., 1885, p. 4; 1889, no. 174); Francis George Baring, 2nd Earl of Northbrook, Stratton Park (1904–27); [Duveen, London and New York, 1927; sold for $260,000 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1927–d. 1944; his estate, 1944–49; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 5; 1943, no. 5;)
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1872, no. 235 (lent by the Earl of Northbrook).
London. New Gallery. "Venetian Art," 1894–95, no. 42 (lent by the Earl of Northbrook).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1894, no. 153 (lent by the Earl of Northbrook).
London. Burlington Fine Arts Club. "A Collection of Pictures of the Early Venetian School and Other Works of Art," 1912, no. 8 (lent by the Earl of Northbrook).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Italian Art, 1200–1900," January 1–March 8, 1930, no. 201 (lent by Jules S. Bache, New York).
Paris. Petit Palais. "Exposition de l'art italien de Cimabue à Tiepolo," 1935, no. 132 (lent by Jules S. Bache).
Cleveland Museum of Art. "Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition," June 26–October 4, 1936, no. 122 (lent by Jules S. Bache).
New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800," May–October 1939, no. 64 (lent by Jules S. Bache).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 5.
Worcester Art Museum. "Condition: Excellent," March 22–April 22, 1951, no. 10.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art Treasures of the Metropolitan," November 7, 1952–September 7, 1953, no. 79.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Painter's Light," October 5–November 10, 1971, no. 3.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.
Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 1.
Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 1.
Boston. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. "Ornament & Illusion: Carlo Crivelli of Venice," October 22, 2015–January 25, 2016, no. 20.
Baldassarre Orsini. Descrizione delle pitture, sculture, architetture ed altre cose rare della città di Ascoli nella Marca. Perugia, 1790, p. 70, mentions a Madonna and Child in the Lenti collection at Ascoli Piceno bearing the same inscription as this picture.
Amico Ricci. Memorie storiche delle arti e degli artisti della Marca di Ancona. Macerata, 1834, vol. 1, pp. 226–27 n. 11, cites Orsini's (1790) mention of the Madonna in the Lenti collection.
[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain. London, 1857, p. 95, lists it in the collection of Thomas George Baring, 1st Earl of Northbrook; remarks that the fruit and the fly are too large for the figures.
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. 92.
W. H. J. Weale and Jean Paul Richter. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures Belonging to the Earl of Northbrook. London, 1889, p. 126, no. 174, as one of Crivelli's earliest works, close to his Madonna and Child at Verona [Museo di Castelvecchio]; note that after 1490 Crivelli always added to his name the title 'Miles' (knight).
Costanza Jocelyn Ffoulkes. "Le esposizioni d'arte italiana a Londra." Archivio storico dell'arte 7 (1894), p. 264, calls it an early work, slightly later than the Verona Madonna and Child.
Bernhard Berenson. The Venetian Painters of the Renaissance. 3rd ed. New York, 1894, p. 106.
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, ill. opp. p. 254, dates it shortly after 1480.
G. M'Neil Rushforth. Carlo Crivelli. reprint, 1908. London, 1900, pp. 44, 95, ill. opp. p. 44, calls it an early work, shortly after the Madonna and Child at Ancona [Pinacoteca Civica Francesco Podesti].
Bernhard Berenson. The Study and Criticism of Italian Art. Vol. 1, London, 1901, p. 102, suggests that in character and quality, it "stands very close" to the Madonna and Child at Macerata, which is dated 1470.
Lionello Venturi. Le origini della pittura veneziana, 1300–1500. Venice, 1907, p. 195, suggests that the Christ child clutches the bird as if to defend himself against the fly.
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. 1, p. 92, call it an early work.
Early Venetian Pictures and Other Works of Art. Exh. cat., Burlington Fine Arts Club. London, 1912, p. 24, no. 8, pl. 7, as a comparatively early work by Crivelli, "closely allied" to the Madonna and Child at Ancona.
A[dolfo]. Venturi. "La pittura del Quattrocento." Storia dell'arte italiana. Vol. 7, part 3, Milan, 1914, p. 376, fig. 288, dates it shortly before 1476.
Laudedeo Testi. La storia della pittura veneziana. Vol. 2, Il divenire. Bergamo, 1915, pp. 623–24, ill., dates it about 1474, slightly earlier than or contemporary with the Madonna from the polyptych at Ascoli [Duomo].
Bernard Berenson. Venetian Painting in America: The Fifteenth Century. New York, 1916, pp. 20–21.
Franz Drey. Carlo Crivelli und seine Schule. Munich, 1927, pp. 128–29, pl. 25, tentatively identifies it with the painting mentioned by Orsini [see Ref. 1790] and Ricci [see Ref. 1834] in the Lenti collection.
Ella S. Siple. "Recent Acquisitions by American Collectors." Burlington Magazine 51 (December 1927), p. 298, pl. 1B.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill.
August L. Mayer. "Die Sammlung Jules Bache in New-York." Pantheon 6 (December 1930), p. 542.
H. E. Wortham. "The Bache Collection." Apollo 11 (May 1930), p. 354, ill. (color).
Charles Holmes. "The Italian Exhibition." Burlington Magazine 56 (February 1930), p. 62, ill. opp. p. 55.
Exhibition of Italian Art, 1200–1900. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1930, pp. 131–32, no. 201.
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. 363.
Exposition de l'art italien de Cimabue à Tiepolo. Exh. cat., Petit Palais. Paris, 1935, pp. 60–61, no. 132.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 18, The Renaissance Painters of Venice. The Hague, 1936, pp. 8, 10, assigns it to Crivelli's early period, nearly contemporary with the Madonna at Ancona.
Frank Jewett Mather Jr. Venetian Painters. New York, 1936, pp. 137–38, fig. 37.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 5, ill.
George Henry McCall. Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800: Masterpieces of Art. Ed. William R. Valentiner. Exh. cat., World's Fair. New York, 1939, p. 31, no. 64.
Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941, unpaginated, no. 68, ill.
Harry B. Wehle. "The Bache Collection on Loan." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1 (June 1943), pp. 285, 287, ill.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 5, ill.
Margaret Breuning. "Metropolitan Re-Installs Its Treasures in Attractive Settings." Art Digest 18 (June 1, 1944), p. 6.
Herbert Friedmann. The Symbolic Goldfinch: Its History and Significance in European Devotional Art. Washington, 1946, pp. 26–27, 157, pl. 99 (detail), discusses the picture's iconography, identifying the fly as a symbol of Beelzebub, the semitic god of healing; remarks that the disease-repelling symbolism of the goldfinch and the fly appears to be reiterated in the juxtaposition of the apple (symbol of death) and the gourd (symbol of recovery and redemption).
Herbert Friedmann. "The Symbolism of Crivelli's Madonna and Child Enthroned with Donors in the National Gallery." Gazette des beaux-arts 32 (September–October 1947), pp. 70–71, ill., compares the picture's iconography to the artist's "Madonna and Child Enthroned with Donors" in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, which also represents the theme of salvation.
R[odolfo]. P[allucchini]. "Veneziani in Mostre agli Stati Uniti." Arte veneta 5 (1951), p. 221, fig. 215 (detail).
Art Treasures of the Metropolitan: A Selection from the European and Asiatic Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1952, p. 224, no. 79, colorpl. 79.
Pietro Zampetti. Carlo Crivelli nelle Marche. Urbino, 1952, p. 68, no. 81, tentatively identifies it with the picture once in the Lenti collection at Ascoli Piceno; notes its similarity to the Madonna and Child in Ancona, but considers it slightly earlier.
Theodore Rousseau Jr. "A Guide to the Picture Galleries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 12, part 2 (January 1954), p. 17, ill.
Stefano Bottari. Storia dell'arte italiana. Vol. 2, Il rinascimento (Parte I): l'arte del Quattrocento. Milan, 1956, p. 371, fig. 502, as one of the artist's masterpieces.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, p. 70.
A. Hyatt Mayor. "The Gifts that Made the Museum." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 16 (November 1957), p. 106, writes that it "has survived five centuries as fresh and delicate as a salad".
Pietro Zampetti. Carlo Crivelli. Milan, 1961, pp. 36, 82–83, figs. 68, 69 (overall and detail of fly), identifies it with the picture formerly in the Lenti collection and dates it about 1474.
Anna Bovero. Tutta la pittura del Crivelli. Milan, 1961, p. 72, pl. 86, tentatively identifies it with the Lenti Madonna.
Giovanni Mariacher. Acropoli 2 (1961–62), pp. 40, 44–46, ill., dates it close to the "Madonnina Lochis" in the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, about 1480.
Pietro Zampetti. Carlo Crivelli e i crivelleschi. Exh. cat., Palazzo Ducale. Venice, 1961, pp. xxxv, 84, 90, no. 21, ill.
André Pigler. "La mouche peinte: Un talisman." Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts no. 24 (1964), p. 50, no. 4, fig. 38, discusses the iconographic meaning of the fly painted on the marble parapet, and cites other examples of the same theme.
Calvin Tomkins. Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1970, p. 316 [rev., enl. ed., 1989].
John Walsh Jr. The Painter's Light. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1971, pp. 4–5, no. 3, dates it about 1480–85; suggests that "the slightly surreal effect of the picture results not only from the disturbing scale of some of the objects, but also from the thoroughly convincing daylight Crivelli used to illuminate the scene".
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 60, 320, 608.
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. 24–25, pl. 22, on stylistic grounds assign it to Crivelli's middle period, probably the beginning of the 1480s; suggest that it can probably be identified with the Madonna and Child recorded in the Lenti collection, which is reported to have borne the same inscription; trace the iconography of the cucumber to the story of Jonah (IV:6), which has been linked since early times with the Resurrection.
Bernard Berenson. Looking at Pictures with Bernard Berenson. Ed. Hanna Kiel. New York, 1974, pp. 234–35, ill.
100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum [in Russian]. Exh. cat., State Hermitage Museum, Leningrad. Moscow, 1975, pp. 13–15, ill. (color, overall and detail), suggest a date in the artist's middle period, probably at the beginning of the 1480s.
Anna Bovero. L'opera completa del Crivelli. Milan, 1975, p. 90, no. 65, ill., dates it about 1473.
Edward Fowles. Memories of Duveen Brothers. London, 1976, p. 156.
Mirella Levi d'Ancona. The Garden of the Renaissance: Botanical Symbolism in Italian Painting. Florence, 1977, p. 541, on p. 157 discusses the meaning of the gourd in Renaissance iconography, noting that this symbol of the Resurrection sometimes resembles a cucumber.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 239, 244–45, fig. 426 (color).
Audrey Flack. "On Carlo Crivelli." Arts Magazine 55 (June 1981), pp. 94–95, ill.
Colin Simpson. Artful Partners: Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen. New York, 1986, pp. 211, 293, ill. between pp. 150 and 151 [excerpt published in Connoisseur 216 (October 1986), p. 128, ill. p. 129 (color); British ed., "The Partnership: The Secret Association of Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen," London, 1987], reproduces page listing expenditures on this picture from Duveen "X" ledger.
Pietro Zampetti. Carlo Crivelli. Florence, 1986, pp. 270–71, ill., dates it about 1472–73, close to the polyptych at Ascoli Piceno, but remarks that the repetitious iconographic program of Crivelli's small-scale Madonna and Child subjects makes them diffucult to date; states that the picture's small size indicates that it was intended for private devotion.
Michele Polverari inGli abiti di Carlo Crivelli. Ed. Michele Polverari. Exh. cat., Pinacoteca Comunale "Francesco Podesti". Ancona, 1990, pp. 33, 35–36, ill., dates it about 1473.
Augusto Gentili. "Giovanni Bellini, la bottega, i quadri di devozione." Venezia Cinquecento 1, no. 2 (1991), pp. 42, 45, notes that the turbaned figures in the landscape refer to the infidel—Turk and Jew—and are intended to contrast with the sacred figures of Christianity.
Colnaghi in America: A Survey to Commemorate the First Decade of Colnaghi New York. Ed. Nicholas H. J. Hall. New York, 1992, pp. 25, 131, lists it among works sold by Colnaghi.
Francis Russell. "Early Italian Pictures and Some English Collectors." Burlington Magazine 136 (February 1994), pp. 89–90, ill.
Colin Eisler and Thomas Kren. "Discussion." Petrus Christus in Renaissance Bruges: An Interdisciplinary Approach. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth. New York, 1995, pp. 98, 100 n. 12.
Norman Land. "Giotto's Fly, Cimabue's Gesture, and a 'Madonna and Child' by Carlo Crivelli." Source: Notes in the History of Art 15 (Summer 1996), pp. 11–15, fig. 1, discusses the trompe-l'oeil fly, a device meant to deceive the viewer and demonstrate the artist's skill; posits that because the fly is associated with Satan, Crivelli invests the topos with a "new gravity" by inviting the viewer to brush away the fly and thus reject Beelzubub, the arch deceiver; suggests that the attitudes of the Madonna and Child imply that they too have been duped by Crivelli's illusionistic effects.
Giovanni Martinelli and Marina Massa. Itinerari crivelleschi nelle Marche. Ed. Pierluigi De Vecchi. Ripatransone, 1997, pp. 321, 333.
Miklós Boskovits inItalian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. Washington, 2003, p. 99 n. 11.
Rosamond E. Mack inItalian Paintings of the Fifteenth Century. Washington, 2003, pp. 238–39 n. 20.
Ronald Lightbown. Carlo Crivelli. New Haven, 2004, pp. 17, 264, 266, 480, colorpl. 107, dates it to the late 1470s, more or less contemporary with the Madonna in the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo; identifies it with the picture in the Lenti collection in 1790, and with a work bought from Lenti by Ignazio Cantalamessa in 1827–28 and sold in Rome ["una piccola tavola di Carlo Crivelli, acquistata dal sig. Ignazio Lenti per scudi 32, venduta scudi 55"; see Giannino Gagliardi, "L'Annunciazione di Carlo Crivelli ad Ascoli," Ascoli Piceno, 1996, p. 5].
Costanza Costanzi inLe Marche disperse: repertorio di opere d'arte dalle Marche al mondo. Ed. Costanza Costanzi. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2005, p. 142, no. 110, ill. p. 142 and colorpl. 60, dates it 1472–73.
Romina Vitali inLe Marche disperse: repertorio di opere d'arte dalle Marche al mondo. Ed. Costanza Costanzi. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2005, p. 262, under no. 447, relates the fly to one depicted on the chest of Christ in a painting of Christ between two angels by Giovanni Santi (about 1475; Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest).
Katharine Baetjer inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2006, pp. 20–21, fig. 12 [Catalan ed., Barcelona, 2006, p. 19, fig. 12].
Andrea Di Lorenzo inPittori ad Ancona nel Quattrocento. Ed. Andrea De Marchi and Matteo Mazzalupi. Milan, 2008, pp. 312, 320 n. 73, fig. 10 (color), identifies it with the picture in the Lenti collection in 1790; dates it after the Madonna in the Pinacoteca Civica Francesco Podesti, Ancona, finding it very close to the triptych from San Domenico, Camerino (now Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan) of 1482.
John Marciari. Italian, Spanish, and French Paintings Before 1850 in the San Diego Museum of Art. San Diego, 2015, pp. 74, 76 n. 22, fig. 10.2 (color).
Oliver Tostmann inOrnament & Illusion: Carlo Crivelli of Venice. Ed. Stephen J. Campbell. Exh. cat., Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 2015, pp. 126–27.
Francesco De Carolis inOrnament & Illusion: Carlo Crivelli of Venice. Ed. Stephen J. Campbell. Exh. cat., Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 2015, p. 102.
Stephen J. Campbell inOrnament & Illusion: Carlo Crivelli of Venice. Ed. Stephen J. Campbell. Exh. cat., Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 2015, p. 174, under no. 13, pp. 194–95, no. 20, ill. (color), notes its similarities to the Madonna and Child in the Pinacoteca Podesti, Ancona, which probably dates to the late 1480s; points out that Madonnas in both the Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona, and the San Diego Museum of Art (see also Marciari 2015) have the same inscription as the MMA picture and no early provenance and so have equal claim to be the work mentioned by Orsini in 1790; is skeptical of attempts to read a symbolic significance into elements of the work (e.g., the fly, broken parapet, fruit) other than the goldfinch.
C. Jean Campbell inOrnament & Illusion: Carlo Crivelli of Venice. Ed. Stephen J. Campbell. Exh. cat., Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 2015, pp. 47–49, 51, fig. 16 (color detail), discusses the significance of the goldfinch, noting its framing by both Christ's and his mother's hands, its cruciform shape, and its color which mirrors that of the rest of the painting as a whole and Christ's halo in particular; adds that the white highlights on the bird's wings echo the fringe on the Madonna's veil, and finds that "the coloristic makeup, drawing, and configuration of the bird's body are reflected along a horizontal axis in a figure composed of the Christ Child's haloed head and the 'wings' formed by the joined tails of the Virgin's veil".
Thomas Golsenne inOrnament & Illusion: Carlo Crivelli of Venice. Ed. Stephen J. Campbell. Exh. cat., Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 2015, ill. p. 78 (color detail).
John D. Marciari inOrnament & Illusion: Carlo Crivelli of Venice. Ed. Stephen J. Campbell. Exh. cat., Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 2015, pp. 150, 152, under no. 2, notes that Orsini's (1790) reference to a Madonna and Child in the Lenti collection, Ascoli Piceno, with an inscription identical to that on the MMA painting could apply to a number of other pictures, including the one in the San Diego Museum of Art.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 269, no. 149, ill. pp. 157, 269 (color).