Carlo Crivelli - inv. 1585

Carlo Crivelli (c. 1430-c. 1495)

Saint Sebastian
1490-1500
tempera on panel  
49 x 16,6 cm
1879 bequest Gian Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli
Inv. 1585

14th Century Room
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The panel is in a good state of conservation.
Saint Sebastian is represented full-length, bound to the trunk of a tree and pierced by the arrows of his martyrdom. The artist has particularly concentrated on his anatomy and muscles – the unnaturally long feet stand out, as knotty as the wood – but also on the white loincloth, densely pleated and elegantly tied. With long reddish hair, divided into unruly curls, the saint looks heavenwards. A stony path winds its way among the hills of the landscape that opens out behind him.
Crivelli pauses to describe numerous details with great accuracy, such as the knots in the wood and the stump that serves as a base for the saint to stand on. Notice also the realistic way in which the rope tying the left arm is wound several times around the branch. The verticality of the support is exploited by exalting the height of the figure: his raised arm touches the top edge of the painting, forcing his fingers to bend along it, while the tree trunk ideally proceeds beyond it, giving us the illusion that the painted space continues infinitely.

Born and trained in Venice, Crivelli worked mainly in the Marche, a region that was peripheral to the great artistic transformations. Despite this, he showed he was up-to-date with the novelties of the Renaissance: admire the realism of the landscape background, with the view that disappears into the horizon and the sky streaked with clouds that lift over the horizon, and the halo, a three-dimensional disk perfectly rendered in perspective. 

The panel is held to be from the painter’s late work, together with a Saint Roch in the Wallace Collection in London, identical for size and execution. The provenance of the two panels is not known. A recent hypothesis believes them to be doors of a small triptych, but their unusual shape and small size suggest they might have been two lateral pilasters of a large polyptych.