DANIELE CRESPI

THE MARTYRDOM OF SAINT SEBASTIAN

ca. 1598 Busto Arsizio or Milan – 1630 Milan
Oil on canvas, 105 x 78,5 cm (41 38 x 30 78 inches)
ca. 1623-4

 

Essay

First published by Mina Gregori in 1954, as work by Luigi Miradori (called il Genovesino, 1605-1656), derived from a model by Crespi, the present painting has been rightly reattributed, by Gregori herself (see appendix 1-2), to Daniele Crespi (1598-1630), one of the most original artists working in Milan in the 1620s.

Crespi was born at the end of the XVI century (probably around 1598), in a family that was original from Busto Arsizio (Varese), and, in Milan, he first trained with Guglielmo Caccia (called Il Moncalvo, 1568-1625), then he studied with Giovanni Battista Crespi (called Il Cerano, 1573-1632) and Giulio Cesare Procaccini (1574-1625), at the Accademia Ambrosiana, founded by Cardinal Federico Borromeo (1564-1631).

Mainly active as painter of religious subjects used as decoration for churches, he was also known for his sensitive portraits and he was an excellent colorist; one of his masterpieces, The fast of San Carlo Borromeo (Santa Maria della Passione Church, Milan; 190 x 265 cm.; dated c. 1628-29), has been regarded as being the single most famous painting of the Lombard Seicento and has been considered a masterpiece of Italian painting of the 17th century; strongly influenced at the beginning by his Masters, later also by the Emilian School, he broke away from the Lombard Mannerism in favor of an early Baroque style, distinguished by clarity of form and content. After his short time at the Accademia, his style changed, “marked by the abandonment of any boldness of cut, motion and glimpse for a more meager compositional simplification and an accentuated evidence of the real as a function of an intimate and severe expressivity […] The search for a contained dramatic intensity reached through the bare severity of the implant, the careful study of the modeling and the incarnations and the sharp contrast light-shadow lead Crespi, at this moment, to suggest for the sacred image an unprecedented language iconographic and expressive, fruit of the encounter of the Caravaggesque experience with that of the seventeenth-century Lombard school […]; he resumes already exploited motifs, updating them however on more mature stylistic values based, shortly after 1626, on a careful study of drawing and anatomy and on the use of more nuanced shades; […]There is gradually a need for greater clarity and readability of the system accompanied by the clearing of the hues, on suggestion, also, of Emilian painting.” (G. Bora, voice D. Crespi, vol. 30, 1984, Treccani Encyclopedia online).

The present painting has been probably painted around 1623-24 and, according to M. Gregori, it shows elements of its Milanese culture and the expressive intensity of the principles of Lombard naturalism; the detailed musculature of the arms (Fig. 1, a detail after the recent restoration on January 2019), indicates his typical plastic sense, with the body extending naturally up to the groin.

Saint’s eyes and hands are almost as a signature, depicted with an extraordinary ability (Fig. 2-3), typical of the painter as well as the body that reveals an accurate study of the anatomy, with enhanced brush strokes on the musculature (both on the body and on the arms, see Fig. 4, RX image); after the recent cleaning of the painting, assisted by technical imaging and scientific analysis (IRDR, IRC, VIS, VISR, XRF/IRC), it has also been possible to appreciate the realistic and detailed background, and the underdrawing with some Pentimenti (see Fig. 5, IRDR image).

A fundamental comparison with a painting depicted in the same period, representing the same religious subject with similar characteristics, might be made with The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian at Brest (Musée des beaux-arts de Brest, Brest, inv. Nr. 70-13-1; 245 x 132 cm.; dated c. 1620) (Fig. 6): a detailed anatomy and the plastic position of the Saint, are some of the typical elements of Crespi at that time. Some other comparisons with paintings by Crespi dated between 1620 and 1625, might be made with The Entombment of Christ at Budapest (Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest, inv. Nr. 539; 122,5 x 98,5 cm.; dated c. 1620s) (Fig. 7), with The Mockingof Christ at Los Angeles (LACMA - The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, inv. Nr. M.2013.82; 108 x 91 cm.; dated c. 1624-1625), and with the figure of Christ in the Flagellazione con i Santi Carlo Borromeo,Francesco e Mauro at Modena (ModenaCathedral, Vestry; 260 x 175 cm., originally172 x 124 cm.; dated c. 1625) (Fig. 8). A further comparison with an important painting of the same period, might be made with the Pietà (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, inv. Nr. P000128; 154 x 128 cm.; dated 1626) (Fig. 9), in which “as is customary in Crespi’s works, the bodies occupy almost the entire canvas. The palette of this work is quite reduced, and the volumes are defined by the chiaroscuro that is the painting’s true subject and serves to emphasize its tragic qualities” (Prado, Pietà factsheet), same as in the present painting. The Pietà has also been associated, specially, with a drawing, Cristo morto, at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Venice (inv. nr. 722; 19,6 cm x 13,6 cm.; formerly attributed to the Bolognese School) (Fig. 10), probably a study for that painting. At the Prado Museum it might be seen another work by Daniele Crespi, also made with a detailed anatomy and in the same period, The Flagellation (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, inv. Nr. P000129; oil on panel; 129 x 100 cm.; dated c. 1625) (Fig. 11). According to G. Papi, other comparisons might be made with two more paintings by Crespi: Cristo sorretto da un Angelo (Santa Maria della Passione, Milan; N. Ward Neilson, Daniele Crespi, Edizioni dei Soncino, Soncino, 1996, cat. 37, ill. 26; 195 x 130 cm.) (Fig. 12), in which Angel’s face is very similar to the present Saint Sebastian, as well as the face of San Filippo Benizzi (Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan, inv. Nr. 221; N. Ward Neilson, 1996, cat. 18, ill. 27; 261 x 157 cm.) (Fig. 13). Similar faces, and especially eyes, might be seen in several works by Crespi: among the others, the Salvator Mundi (Palazzo Besta, Teglio, Sondrio, Banca Popolare di Sondrio Collection; 63 x 48 cm; dated c. 1622). A last interesting comparison, showing mutual influences as reported by G. Papi, might be made with a work by Tanzio da Varallo (Antonio d’Enrico, c. 1580– c. 1633), the Saint Sebastian at Washington (National Gallery of Art, Washington, inv. Nr. 1939.1.191; 117.3 x 93.7 cm.; dated between 1620/1630) (Fig. 14), in which the Saint’s face shares a lot in common with the present Saint Sebastian by Daniele Crespi. (Please find all further images in the PDF)

 

Gabriele Monetti

 

 

 


Provenance

Private Collection Italy


Literature

Gregori, M., “Alcuni aspetti del Genovesino”, Paragone, 59, Sansoni Editore, Florence,1954, pag. 13, ill. nr. 9a (as Genovesino)


Fig.6.
The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian at Brest,c.1620 
Musée des beaux-arts de Brest

Fig.7.
The Entombment of Christ at Budapest, c.1620
122,5 x 98,5 cm
Szépművészeti Múzeum, Budapest

 

Fig.8.
Christ in the Flagellazione con i Santi Carlo Borromeo, Francesco e Mauro, c. 1625
260 x 175 cm
at Modena Cathedral, Vestry; 260 x 175 cm

Fig.9.
Pietà, 1626
154 x 128 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado,Madrid,