This emotionally charged image of the Pietà probably comes from the uppermost tier of an altarpiece Crivelli painted for the church of San Domenico at Ascoli Piceno in the Marches. Known as the Demidoff altarpiece, it is widely considered Crivelli's masterpiece; the principal panels are in the National Gallery, London. Crivelli's art contrasts ornamental effects with details of extreme realism—such as the wounded hand hanging over the tomb’s edge.
The fine seventeenth-century frame was made for it by the Barberini family in Rome whose emblem—the bee—adorns each corner.
This painting—perhaps the most memorable of Crivelli’s depictions of the theme of the lamentation over the dead Christ, was probably the central panel of the second tier of Crivelli’s outstanding altarpiece painted in 1476 for the high altar of the church of San Domenico at Ascoli Piceno. The other panels of this large, double-tiered polyptych are now in the National Gallery, London. It is also known as the Demidoff altarpiece, after a former owner. The central panel of a Madonna and Child is flanked by four further panels depicting Saints John the Baptist, Peter, Catherine of Alexandria, and Dominic. Above these figures are half-length figures of Saints Francis, Andrew, Stephen, and Thomas Aquinas. The Pietà would have been located above the Madonna and Child. There was probably also a predella, though no panels for this have been identified. The precise composition of the altarpiece has been much discussed (see Zeri and Gardner 1973, Zampetti 1986, and Lightbown 2004 for a full discussion).
The bottom of the sarcophagus has been extended, as has the irregular form of the arched gold background. This was done to give the picture field a more regular shape for framing. The seventeenth-century frame it is displayed in is decorated with the bees of the Barberini family in Rome. In all likelihood the picture was taken from the church by Antonio Barberini in the seventeenth century.
[Keith Christiansen 2011]
?church of San Domenico, Ascoli Piceno; ?Barberini family, Rome; conte Guido di Bisenzo, Rome (by 1836–d. 1844, as by Mantegna; his estate, 1844–47; sold to Ward); William Ward, Baron Ward, later 1st Earl of Dudley, London (1847–d. 1885); William Humble Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley, London (1885–92; his sale, Christie's, London, June 25, 1892, no. 58, for £346.10 to Crawshay); Robert Crawshay, Rome (1892–1913; sold to Sulley); [Sulley and Co., London, 1913; sold to MMA]
Manchester. Art Treasures Palace. "Art Treasures of the United Kingdom," May 5–October 17, 1857, no. 94 (as by Carlo Crivelli, lent by Lord Ward).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1871, no. 318 (lent by the Earl of Dudley).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," January–March 1892, no. 150 (lent by the Earl of Dudley).
London. New Gallery. "Venetian Art," 1894–95, no. 87 (lent by R. Crawshay).
Rome. Castel Sant'Angelo. "Esposizione Internazionale di Roma, Mostra Retrospettiva," 1911–12, unnumbered cat. (p. 194, lent by R. Crawshay, Rome).
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. "30 Masterpieces: An Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 4–November 23, 1947, unnumbered cat.
Iowa City. State University of Iowa, School of Fine Arts. "30 Masterpieces: An Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 9–March 31, 1948, unnumbered cat.
Bloomington. Indiana University. "30 Masterpieces: An Exhibition of Paintings from the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art," April 18–May 16, 1948, no catalogue.
Schaffhausen. Museum zu Allerheiligen. "500 Jahre venezianische Malerei," May 2–July 19, 1953, no. 13.
Amsterdam. Rijksmuseum. "De Venetiaanse Meesters," July 26–October 11, 1953, no. 37.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.
Amico Ricci. Memorie storiche delle arti e degli artisti della Marca di Ancona. Macerata, 1834, vol. 1, p. 209, mentions a Pietà by Crivelli that he had seen a few years previously at Professor Minardi's, possibly this work.
G[iuseppe]. Melchiorri. L'ape italiana delle belle arti 2 (1836), pp. 11–12, pl. VII (engraving by N. Consoni and G. Wenzel), as in the collection of conte Guido di Bisenzo, Rome; attributes it to Andrea Mantegna; states that it came from the Barberini collection.
"Review of Melchiorri 1836." Kunstblatt 17–18 (August 17, 1837), p. 275, suggests ascribing it to a Venetian artist rather than to Mantegna.
[Gustav Friedrich] Waagen. Treasures of Art in Great Britain. London, 1854, vol. 2, p. 235, attributes it to Crivelli.
W. Burger [Théophile Thoré]. Trésors d'art exposés à Manchester en 1857. Paris, 1857, p. 69 [reprinted as "Trésors d'art en Angleterre," Brussels, 1860, with same pagination], attributes it to Crivelli.
G[eorge]. S[charf]. A Handbook to the Paintings by Ancient Masters in the Art Treasures Exhibition. London, 1857, p. 22, attributes it to Crivelli.
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. 91, attribute it to Crivelli.
Gaetano Milanesi, ed. Le vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori. By Giorgio Vasari. Vol. 3, 1906 ed. Florence, 1878, p. 429, notes Crowe and Cavalcaselle's [see Ref. 1871] attribution to Crivelli.
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. 166, attributes it to Crivelli.
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, p. 103], dates it close to Crivelli's Pietà of 1485 in the Panciatichi collection, Florence (now Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).
G. M'Neil Rushforth. Carlo Crivelli. reprint, 1908. London, 1900, pp. 66–69, 94, ill. opp. p. 66, assigns it to Crivelli's late period, dating it before the version in the Pinacoteca Vaticana; notes that its shape indicates that it "originally formed the center of the upper tier of an ancona".
Lionello Venturi. Le origini della pittura veneziana, 1300–1500. Venice, 1907, p. 205, dates it about 1486.
Arduino Colasanti. "Per la storia dell'arte nelle Marche." L'arte 10 (1907), p. 418.
B. Geiger inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Vol. 8, Leipzig, 1913, p. 131.
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "Venetian Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 8 (December 1913), p. 262, ill. p. 263, dates it to about the time of the Pietà in Boston, dated 1485.
A[dolfo]. Venturi. "La pittura del Quattrocento." Storia dell'arte italiana. Vol. 7, part 3, Milan, 1914, p. 391, fig. 298, notes its similarity to the Crivelli's Madonnas painted before 1480.
"Notes: New York's Gain." Connoisseur 38 (February 1914), p. 102.
Laudedeo Testi. La storia della pittura veneziana. Vol. 2, Il divenire. Bergamo, 1915, pp. 640, 679, ill. p. 641, dates it about 1485.
Bernhard Berenson. "Venetian Paintings in the United States: Part Two." Art in America 3 (April 1915), p. 118, fig. 7 [reprinted in Bernard Berenson, "Venetian Painting in America: The Fifteenth Century," New York, 1916, p. 23, fig. 13], notes a similarity to the works of Bellini in the figure of the dead Christ.
Franz Drey. Carlo Crivelli und seine Schule. Munich, 1927, pp. 53, 73, 139, pl. LIII.
Lionello Venturi. Pitture italiane in America. Milan, 1931, unpaginated, pl. CCLXXVI, dates it about 1485.
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. 369.
Bernhard Berenson. Pitture italiane del rinascimento. Milan, 1936, p. 139.
Raimond van Marle. The Development of the Italian Schools of Painting. Vol. 18, The Renaissance Painters of Venice. The Hague, 1936, pp. 40, 42, fig. 29, dates it between 1485 and 1490, and accepts Berenson's hypothesis of a connection with Bellini's Pietà in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan [see Ref. 1915].
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 179–80, ill.
Pietro Zampetti. Carlo Crivelli nelle Marche. Urbino, 1952, p. 68, no. 79, states that it probably comes from Ascoli Piceno.
Bernard Berenson. Italian Pictures of the Renaissance: Venetian School. London, 1957, vol. 1, p. 70.
Rodolfo Pallucchini. La pittura veneta del Quattrocento. Vol. 2, Padua, 1957–58, pp. 25–26 [see Zeri and Gardner 1973 and Zampetti 1986], considers it part of the Demidoff altarpiece, stating that it was originally placed above the central panel of the Madonna and Child [see Notes].
Rodolfo Pallucchini. "Carlo Crivelli in Palazzo Ducale." Pantheon 19 (November–December 1961), p. 278.
Pietro Zampetti. Carlo Crivelli. Milan, 1961, pp. 34, 83–84, figs. 74 (reconstruction), 75, accepts Pallucchini's (1957–58) hypothesis that it was originally part of the Demidoff altarpiece.
Anna Bovero. Tutta la pittura del Crivelli. Milan, 1961, pp. 67–68, pl. 65, agrees that originally it was placed above the Madonna and Child in the Demidoff altarpiece, even though the tooling of the gold ground is somewhat different.
Eduard Hüttinger. "Zum Werk von Carlo Crivelli." Artis 13 (June 1961), p. 21, fig. 2, dates it about 1485.
John F[errata]. Omelia. "The Demidoff Altarpiece." Master's thesis, 1961, pp. 28–35, 38–45, 89 nn. 122, 126, 129, p. 91 n. 143, p. 93 nn. 155–57, p. 94 n. 165, pp. 95–96 n. 171, fig. 17, considers it part of the Demidoff altarpiece; notes that Cola dell'Amatrice used elements from the Demidoff altarpiece and from the MMA Pietà in a polyptych dated 1509 (Pinacoteca Civica, Ascoli Piceno), supporting the origin of the Pietà.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 60, 359, 606.
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. 22–24, pl. 21.
Anna Bovero. L'opera completa del Crivelli. Milan, 1975, p. 92, no. 94, ill. p. 93.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 241, 245, fig. 430.
Audrey Flack. "On Carlo Crivelli." Arts Magazine 55 (June 1981), pp. 92–93, ill.
Pietro Zampetti. Carlo Crivelli. Florence, 1986, pp. 271–73, pl. 45 (reconstruction), colorpl. 46, ill. p. 272 (reconstruction, and black and white overall).
Michele Polverari inGli abiti di Carlo Crivelli. Ed. Michele Polverari. Exh. cat., Pinacoteca Comunale "Francesco Podesti". Ancona, 1990, p. 29.
Anchise Tempestini. "L'iconografia del Cristo morto nelle regioni adriatiche occidentali." Giovanni Santi. Ed. Ranieri Varese. Milan, 1999, p. 171, fig. 3.
Marilena Mosco. "L'iconografia della Maddalena nella pittura di Carlo Crivelli dalla Pala di Montefiore (1473) a quella di Fabriano (1493)." Il patrimonio disperso: il "caso" esemplare di Carlo Crivelli. Ed. Marina Massa. [Ripatransone, Italy], 1999, p. 93, fig. 19 (color detail).
Cecilia Prete inPittura veneta nelle Marche. Ed. Valter Curzi. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2000, p. 343.
Angela Montironi inPittura veneta nelle Marche. Ed. Valter Curzi. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2000, p. 125.
Ronald Lightbown. Carlo Crivelli. New Haven, 2004, pp. 222–23, 413, colorpl. 90.
Elizabeth A. Pergam. "From Manchester to Manhattan: The Transatlantic Art Trade After 1857." Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 87, no. 2 (2005), pp. 85, 89.
Costanza Costanzi inLe Marche disperse: repertorio di opere d'arte dalle Marche al mondo. Ed. Costanza Costanzi. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2005, p. 139, no. 101, ill.
Mauro Lucco inGiovanni Bellini. Ed. Mauro Lucco and Giovanni Carlo Federico Villa. Exh. cat., Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2008, p. 168, states that Christ's hands in Bellini's "The Dead Christ Supported by Two Angels" (Museo Correr, Venice) seem to have served as the prototype for those in the MMA painting.
Antonio Mazzotta. Giovanni Bellini's Dudley Madonna. London, 2012, p. 21.
Mauro Minardi inThe Alana Collection. Ed. Sonia Chiodo and Serena Padovani. Vol. 3, Italian Paintings from the 14th to 16th Century. Florence, 2014, p. 58.
Oliver Tostmann inOrnament & Illusion: Carlo Crivelli of Venice. Ed. Stephen J. Campbell. Exh. cat., Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 2015, pp. 118, 130 n. 33, fig. 57 (color).
Francesco De Carolis inOrnament & Illusion: Carlo Crivelli of Venice. Ed. Stephen J. Campbell. Exh. cat., Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 2015, pp. 108–9, 111 n. 75, ill. p. 94 (color detail), identifies it with a work mentioned by Ricci ("Memorie storiche," Macerata, 1834, vol. 1, p. 209) as having been seen by him a few years previously in Rome in the studio of Tommaso Minardi, a painter, restorer, professor at the Accademia di San Luca, and consultant to prominent collectors.
Stephen J. Campbell inOrnament & Illusion: Carlo Crivelli of Venice. Ed. Stephen J. Campbell. Exh. cat., Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Boston, 2015, pp. 190, 193 n. 5, under no. 19, mentions it as part of the altarpiece from San Domenico in Ascoli Piceno and as Crivelli's "latest arched rectangular 'cimasa' with a 'Pietà'".
The frame is from Rome and dates to about 1650 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–4). This distinctive cassetta or box frame is made of poplar and retains its original lap joints at the corners. Carved and water gilded overall the ogee sight edge rises to stop-carved fluting with leaf corners and pearl and reed ornament. Cauliculi patterns incised in the gesso layer decorate the frieze at the corners and centers and also the curving spandrels within the upper corners. Carved pearling lies within the deeply undercut carved laurel leaf and berry tendrils running along the top edge. Twisted ribbon ornament is followed by an ogee at the back edge. Carved honeybees which are associated with the Barberini family span the four corners suggesting this frame was made for the painting when in their collection. This may coincide with the point in time when the spandrels were added and the surface was regilded.