Sunday, August 6, 2017

Madonna in the Garden - Garden Fruits & Vegetables as Religious Symbols in the Virgin paintings of Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, 1430-1495)

Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, 1430-1495)  Madonna and Child c 1480

Unlike the naturalistic trends gaining popularity in Florence during his lifetime, Crivelli's style continues to represent the older, courtly International Gothic sensibility. His settings are jewel-like & full of elaborate allegorical detail. His works can be identified by his characteristic use of garden fruits, vegetables, & flowers.

Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, 1430-1495) Madonna and Child c 1480s

Commissioned by the Franciscans and Dominicans of Ascoli, Crivelli's work is exclusively religious in nature. His paintings consist largely of Madonna and Child images. Crivelli's work fulfills the spiritual needs of his patrons. Fruit is often used as a symbol of the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit: Charity, Joy, Peace, Patience, Forbearance, Goodness, Kindness, Mildness, Fidelity, Modesty, Continency, Chastity. Crivelli's work is rife with multiple layers of symbolism. Crivelli drew on a long teaching tradition of church doctrine, which he incorporated as visual instruction in to the work, here in the symbolic fruits & vegetables including pears, apples, apricots, cherries, & cucumbers. Trompe-l’oeil details are played against the doll-like prettiness of the Virgin. Crivelli might use apples & flies as symbols of sin and evil opposed to the cucumber & the goldfinch, symbols of redemption in the same painting.

Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495) Madonna Enthroned  1476

The pear along with the peach, the apple, & the pomegranate could be the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Paradise. The peach, which is Persian in origin, comes from the area where the Garden of Paradise is thought to have been. All these are orchard fruits which are referenced in Canticles 4:13; and in Crivelli’s day, since the specific peach was an unknown, it was acceptable to have various interpretations of it. A connotation for the pear is that it is a symbol for the Virgin and the Christ, while at the same time symbolizing the love of the Christ child for humankind. The pear being held by the Christ child and supported by His Mother, becomes a symbol for the fall & the redemption through Christ born of Mary. 

Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495) 1480 Madonna and Child

The apple, while often depicted as the forbidden fruit eaten by Eve, is also a prefiguration of the Crucifixion in addition to representing the Incarnation in the Virgin, the new Eve in the newly emerging Garden of earth. The cherry is simultaneously a fruit in the Garden of Paradise enjoyed by the blessed and may be interpeted as Christ's coming shedding of His blood at the Crucifixion. The pomegranate, too, is possibly the forbidden fruit but is also a symbol of resurrection, immortality & chastity.


Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495) Detail of above painting Madonna and Child


The cucumber, which figures so prominently in many of Crivelli’s paintings, is phallic, bitter, & misshapen representing mankind's sin, especially lust. It is also associated with Jonah & the gourd which protected him & the resurrection of Jonah from the belly of the whale for 3 days before being spewed out (Jonah 4:6).




Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495) Madonna and Child



In Venetian art, these symbols were seldom used after 1460, but Crivelli continued to use garden fruits & vegetables & flowers on to the 1490s - always in his Madonnas. Crivelli intends to remind his viewers of the meaning of the peach & the cherries as both forbidden fruit & redemptive fruit. He also paints lilies & roses some of which are buds. The white of the lily is widely accepted as a symbol for purity as Madonna’s virginity. It is often depicted in scenes of the Annunciation - sometimes held by the Angel Gabriel. The red roses are to honor her, and the white roses again speak of her virginity. She is sometimes referred to as the rose without thorns (without sin). 



Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495) Virgin Enthroned

A single white rose symbolizes to the religious symbol devotee the Virgin Mother. Due to his early training in Padua and Venice where symbolism was an expected part of the painter’s vocabulary, Crivelli uses his art in this fashion naturally, including the duality in symbolic meaning of inanimate objects with the works of Northern Renaissance painters such as the Master of Flemalle, Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden of the 15C in the Netherlands. “But so personal to him (Crivelli) did his symbolism become that his pupils and imitators copied from it only one or two motifs whose meaning was generally obvious, notably the apple.”

Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, 1430-1495)  Virgin Mary with Child, Museo del Castelvechio, Verona, ca 1460

His use of gold, red, pink & black with exquisite textures &patterns harkens back to the International Style used by Simone Martini in late Italian Gothic painting (14C) and then by the Limbourg brothers in the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry in Northern painting (early 15C). Additionally Gentile da Fabriano clothes his figures in similar sumptuousness in his Adoration of the Magi (early 15C) and Rogier van der Weyden’s Escorial Deposition details gold brocade on one of his figures (early 15C). 

Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, 1430-1495)  Vittorio Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1440-1501) Madonna and Child 1482

As the religious Renaissance faithful looked at these representations of the Virgin & Child. From garden fruits, vegtables, laurel leaves, & flowers, Christian mysteries would be visualized over & over again through the paint brush of Crivelli, who created such sumptuous, symbolic beauty. The result differentiates him from other 15C Italian artists due to the symbolic naturalism, especially garden fruits & vegetables, in his works. 
From:
Beverley Thiel Hood Symbolism and Meaning in the Madonna della Candeletta, c. 1490 C.E. by Carlo Crivelli. 


Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495)  Madonna and Child c 1480

Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495) Enthroned Virgin and Child, with musical Angels [and Saints Bonaventure, John the Baptist, Louis of Toulouse, and Francis of Assisi]


Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495) Madonna and Child

Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495) Madonna and Child 1470


Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495) Madonna and Child

Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495) Madonna Camerino


Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495) Madonna Della Candeletta

Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495) Madonna of Passion

Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495) Virgin and Child with Saints Francis and Sebastian

Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian painter, 1435-1495) Madonna of the Swallow 1492

Attributed to Carlo Crivelli (Italian artist, c 1430-1495) Madonna and Child

For more information, see:
Beverley Thiel Hood Symbolism and Meaning in the Madonna della Candeletta, c. 1490 C.E. by Carlo Crivelli.  Hood is an Art History Major. She works as a secondary teacher of Studio Art and as the AP of Art History in a college preparatory school. She holds a MFA in Studio Art.

Bibliography:
Fisher, Cecilia. Flowers and Fruits, National Gallery Publications Limited, 1998. 

Hall, James. Illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art, Westview Press, 1917. 

Hart, Frederick and Wilkins, David G. History of Italian Renaissance Art, 5th Edition, Prentice Hall, 2003. 

Hunt, Leigh. “Carlo Crivelli”. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume 4.  Online Edition, 2003.

Lightbown, R. W. Carlo Crivelli, Yale University Press, 2004. 

Tansey, Richard G. Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, 10th Edition, Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996. 

Watkins, Jonathan. Untricking the Eye, The Uncomfortable Legacy of Carlo Crivelli, Art International (0004-3230), Issue: 5, 1988.