Carlo Crivelli's Pieta at San Domenico Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Carlo Crivelli's Pieta follows the conventions of a pieta by depicting the dead Christ being supported by the Virgin and including mourning figures. As well as this, Crivelli's own unique style is apparent in the work, seen in the attention to detail and the gothic elements. This style of Crivelli's is related to his own background as an artist. By looking at the artwork further, it will be seen how the work is a reflection of Crivelli's background and influences as well as a product of the cultural context at the time of its creation.

Firstly, the work itself is a pieta and so matches with the conventions of the pieta, the term defined as, "A painting or sculpture of the body of the dead Christ being supported by the Virgin, often with other mourners present." This is the content of the work, the center of the piece being the dead Christ with the Virgin close to his side. To either side are two female mourners, one looking at one of Christ's damaged hands, the other seeming to look up to the heavens for answers. The two mourners each show expressions of dismay, while the Virgin is smiling in a way that expresses a sense of acceptance. Christ's own facial expression is one that suggests he has given up, Christ appearing not necessarily like he is dead but more like he has put his head down in a sigh. Another characteristic is the detail present. This is seen in the clothes of the people, the hair of the people, the red and gold patterned cloth draped under Christ and the background. The other feature that stands out is how gangly the people look, the thin arms apparent on all the figures and with Christ's body also appearing especially long. The figures are also painted in detail, the lines, ribs and muscles of Christ apparent and giving him a realistic look. The exception to this is the hole in one of his hands that is apparent, the hole not appearing quite real. This tends to draw the eye to the hand, which makes the look of the fingers also noticeable. The fingers are splayed out, with Christ's hand overall suggesting that he was in pain. This contradicts with the quite calm look on his face and creates the impression that Christ was in pain but was strong enough not to be overcome by it. This suggests a message about the value of faith, this message also enhanced by the Virgin's smile while the other two mourners appear distressed. Overall, this suggests that faith brings peace. This describes the features of the content of the work. These will now be related to the features of Crivelli's work and how these relate to his style and the cultural context.

Crivelli's art has been described as combining the Renaissance influence with a gothic influence. This has been described saying,

Although his classical realistic figure types and symmetrical compositions follow the conventions of Renaissance painting, his unusual overall treatment transforms these conventions into a personal expression that is both highly sensuous and strongly Gothic in spirit."

The 'classical realistic figure types' is an accurate description of the work. It is classical because of its subject, realistic and symmetrical in its layout, with Christ and the Virgin in the centre and one figure on either side, all this against a symmetrical background. This represents the Renaissance influence. The gothic influence is seen in the way the scene is depicted, with the expressions on their faces a major part of the work. This makes the work one of personal expression, not just showing a common scene, but incorporating the artist's own views of the meaning of the scene. This link to Gothic art has been described saying,

There is an exaggerated expression of feeling in the faces of his figures, usually pensive and dreamy but sometimes distorted with grief, and in the mannered gestures of their slender hands and spidery fingers; this expression is closer to the religious intensity of Gothic are than to the calm rationalism of the Renaissance."

This description makes reference to one of the main features of the work, the expression on the faces. In this case the expressions are grief for the mourners, and an expression of happiness or at least contentment for Christ and the Virgin. The main point is that this is not just art representing a religious scene. The figures in the work also offer clear meaning as to how they are feeling. The viewer then does not only see the scene and decide for themselves what it means, the meaning is built in. It is the emotional expression of the characters that create this meaning, a characteristic that is more of a Gothic style than a Renaissance style.

This illustrates how Crivelli's own style is apparent in the work, this style combining a Renaissance approach with Gothic characteristics. The end result is a style that has been described as "highly original, taking Renaissance forms into a new area of expressionism."

Now that Crivelli's style has been described, the final stage is to consider this style as it relates to his background, with this linked to the cultural context of the time in which he painted.

Crivelli was a Venetian painter, his work classed as part of the Italian Renaissance group, while Crivelli was also said to be of the Venetian School. It is necessary to look at the characteristics of the Italian Renaissance and the Venetian School to understand the influences on his work.

The Italian Renaissance was a period of cultural rebirth when the art world began to flourish. This was a period when painters began to see themselves as artists and value the artist's own unique expression. This period has been described saying,

Artists were seen as men of vision and idea. The Florentine people began to judge art by not basing it on a common standard, but as an individual expression of genius and every work of art, however simple or unfinished, was valuable."

This adequately explains why Crivelli was able to create artwork that was so unique. This was a period of time where being unique and experimenting with new approaches was considered acceptable, even if the end result was not necessarily a great work of art.

The Renaissance was also a time when the painter was seen as an artist, not just creating a picture to look at or to depict something, but incorporating his or her own expression into the work. This characteristic is seen in Crivelli's Pieta. As noted earlier, this is more than a representation of a religious scene, it also attaches meaning to the scene. The expressions of the characters are Crivelli's own ideas on how the characters must have felt at the time. This painting not only depicts a scene but also communicates a message. This aspect is a reflection of the Renaissance focus on creating art that represents the artist's own thoughts.

Another aspect of the Renaissance that is apparent in Crivelli's work is the focus on religion. It has been noted that, "While the political power of the church declines during the Renaissance... The Renaissance artists, remained devout Catholics." This aspect meant that biblical scenes continued to be popular subjects for paintings. This is reflected in Crivelli's work with all of his works being religious in nature. As in the example Pieta, Crivelli maintained the religious subject but changed the way it was approached, adding his own perspective to the work, just as the trend was in Renaissance.

As noted, Crivelli was also considered part of the Venetian School. The Venetian School included all the characteristics of the Italian Renaissance with the addition of one major characteristic, the use of color. This is another aspect that…

Sources Used in Document:

Lauria, K. 2002. "History - Historical Background of the Italian Renaissance Art Movement." The Italian Renaissance Art Project. Retrieved December 8, 2002. URL:" target="_blank">

Lauria, K. 2002. "History - Medieval Art vs. Renaissance Art - The Similarities and Differences." The Italian Renaissance Art Project. Retrieved December 8, 2002. URL:

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