Carlo Crivelli - inv. 1584

Carlo Crivelli (c. 1430-c. 1495)

Saint Francis collecting Christ’s blood
tempera on panel  
20 x 16,3 cm
1879 bequest Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli
Inv. 1584

14th Century Room
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This minute panel, which bears signs of an old frame along its edges, is in a good state of conservation. Despite its small size, it shows a remarkably complex scene. The background opens on the left into a landscape with a castle, visible beyond the arch. A bare tree and a porphyry column allude to death and the flagellation. Various instruments of the passion are leaning against the column: others – nails, crown of thorns and whips – are hanging on the arm of the cross held by Christ. The Redeemer is standing on a rich piece of fabric, probably velvet, with a gold background, which also acts as a backdrop, and he is holding the wound in his ribcage open so that the blood can trickle out and be collected in Francis’ golden cup. Kneeling and with his face raised towards Christ, the saint has been depicted in quite a natural pose, slightly bent and with one foot pointed against the floor. The space to the right of the figures is closed by a brick wall with patches of grass on it.

The subject of collecting Christ’s blood is not at all common during the fifteenth century, although other renowned examples can be found in the Veneto region, Crivelli’s native land. It is probable that it was linked to a revival of the cult of sacred blood, sustained by certain mendicant orders, and that the person who commissioned the painting was perhaps a Franciscan friar, since the patron saint is present. This hypothesis can be confirmed by the many references in the picture alluding to martyrdom, to death and to the Resurrection of Christ.
From the artist’s late production, this work was probably for the private devotional purposes of an educated patron.