Vittore Crivelli: Virgin and Child
An exhibition within the “Object of the Month” campaign on the occasion of the centennial of Zagreb City Museum
Exhibition concept: Vesna Vrabec
This exceptionally valuable picture, an outstanding example of medieval painting, belongs to the Cata Dujšin-Ribar and Dr Ivan Ribar Collection. Cata Dujšin-Ribar, painter and poet, in a deed of gift signed on May 26, 1976, gave the city of Zagreb a collection of 109 objects, from the period of the 15th to the 20th century. The collection covers antique furniture, paintings, sculptures, fine craft objects, and then the bequest of Dr Ivan Ribar, in which there are two valuable Vjekoslav Karas paintings and paintings of Jurica Ribar, in addition to another 86 paintings and drawings of her own and a rich library, many documents and personal items of Ivan Ribar and Dubravko Dujšin. In 1995, pursuant to a decision of the Zagreb Municipal Authority, the collection was consigned to the care and management of Zagreb City Museum.
The painting Virgin and Child of the Italian quattrocento master Vittore Crivelli (1440?-1502) is part of the family bequest of the donator, Cata Dujšin-Ribar, née Gattin. According to family lore, the painting once belonged to bishop of Šibenik Mato Zanoni of Trogir (1895-1903), who was related to the Gattins.
The painting has marked characteristics of the Padua circle of painters of the pupils of Squarcione, featuring a propensity to accentuate the plasticity and showing fine treatment of the face and hands, particularly those of the Virgin, but with some slight note of the grotesque, which comes particularly to the fore in the faces of the baby Jesus and the angels.
There are several opinions concerning the correct attribution of this painting. Professor Kruno Prijatelj ascribed it to Carlo Crivelli, a consummable Italian master of the 15th century, whose paintings are to be found in many museums of Europe, and who was a pupil of Francesco Squarcione. The precise date of Carlo's birth is unknown (Venice, between 1430 and 1445), and the first mention of his name is in a judgement of March 7, 1457, when the painter was sentenced to six months in prison and a fine for adultery, abduction and concubinage with the wife of the sailor Francesco Cortese. Afterwards, he was expelled from Venice, and never returned. Thanks to documents from Zadar, we know that he first settled down in Dalmatia. In a document of September 11, 1465, he is mentioned as “a citizen and inhabitant of Zadar” which is a proof that he spent quite some time there. He stayed in Dalmatia up to 1468, when it is known that he was settled in Marche with his wife Juranda (probably a Dalmatian woman). In Marche he did a number of altars for churches in Ascola, Fermo and Massa Fermana and other places in the province.
Also mentioned in Zadar is Carlo's brother, Vittore, another painter. He came to Zadar, most likely, at the invitation of his brother, whose assistant and successor he was. It was in fact to Vittore Crivelli that Italian scholar of the art of the quattrocento Sandra di Provvido ascribed this painting, a judgement that in 1983 was confirmed by Dr Grgo Gamulin.
Vittore is first mentioned in Zadar on March 31, 1465, when he was a witness to the investing of four priests. After that, in 1469, when he took one Martin Velić of Lovinj (Lovinac) in Lika as a pupil, which shows that he had a painting workshop in Zadar, probably taken over from his brother when he left for Italy. In Zadar in 1476, he bought a house from Margarita, daughter of Pelegrino de Pomo for a price of 40 ducats. He at once gave the owner one ducat and one picture, binding himself to pay the remaining 38 ducats later in pictures. Vittore later on lived in Italy, in Marche, where he is mentioned for the first time in 1482.
The Crivelli painting from the Cata Dujšin-Ribar donation depicts the Virgin and the baby Jesus, painted in tempera on wood inside a moulded and gilt wooden frame. In the upper part of the painting, behind the Madonna, is a raised, relief, gilt semi-circular arch, resting on two half-capitals done in relief. The triangular spaces between the corners of the frame and the arch are also filled with relief and gilt ornaments of plants. This technique, known as pastiglia, is common in Italian painting in the 15th century on painting on wood, and features a high relief achieved by the application of several layers of gesso, subsequently gilt. The same technique was used to make the relief, gilt opulent crown on the head of the Virgin, the aureole around the head of baby Jesus, the medallion and decorative band on the Virgin's robe, and also, behind her crowned head, the clouds on which two golden-winged angels are havering. The Virgin is dressed in a red robe, and clad in a dark brown cloak, cast over her head, beneath which a thin white veil can be perceived. Maria, with a refined and rapt face, is holding the baby in her very finely painted hands. The naked, chubby little boy is clad in a white transparent veil, and stands on a white threshold in the foreground of the painting. A still life with carnation and two books, typical motif of both the Crivellis, is placed upon the threshold. The background, to the right and left of the Virgin, is filled with a landscape. In the foreground are branches of bushes, and foothills of wooden mountains lead off towards the horizon, merging with the blue and grey surface of the sky. The landscape in the background adumbrates the Renaissance trend, but in the décor of the frame and the relief treatment at the gilt decorations of crown and robe and the clouds, the aureole and the vegetable decorations of the arch, the spirit of Gothic is manifested.
Irrespective of the doubts concerning the authorship of this painting, whether it is the work of Carlo or his younger brother Vittore, it is a lucky circumstance that it has been preserved and that, thanks to the donator, the painter Cata Dujšin-Ribar, it is able to be presented to the public, for, whatever the truth is, both painters are important in European medieval art, and the uncertainty concerning the attribution in no way diminishes the value of Cata's painting.
Pictures from the exhibition