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Virgin and Child

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    [Italy] (painted)
    Venice, [Italy] (possibly, painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1480 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Crivelli, Carlo (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    tempera on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John Jones

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, room 64a, case WS

Carlo Crivelli (ca. 1430-1495) was probably born in Venice where he may have been the pupil of Jacopo del Fiore or Giambono but his style shows also the influence of the school of Squarcione in Padua, especially his pupils: Mantegna, Marco Zoppo and Giorgio Schiavone. He had to flee Venice quite soon in his career and was living by 1465 in Zara in Dalmatia (now Zadar, Croatia), then a province of the Venetian Republic. By 1483 he had settled in Ascoli Piceno, the largest city in the southern Marches, where he died in 1495.

This painting is a small devotional picture showing a Madonna and Child embraced, standing before a parapet. The Madonna wears a lavish gilded stucco mantle in the Gothic fashion and stands before a dark red embroidered cloth of honour with on top a swag of fruits. In the background is a distant hilly landscape with green trees on the left and a leafless tree on the right, enlivened by the deep blue hues of the sky. Fruits and flowers in this composition enclose Christian symbolic meanings alluding to the life of Christ and are not therefore mere decorative devices. Pictures of this kind were very popular in the 15th century and appear to constitute an important part of Crivelli’s oeuvre.

Physical description

The Virgin holding the Child in front of her, wears an elaborate gilded stucco mantle and transparent veil, and stands before a parapet on the top of which are a carnation, two violets and a fly. Behind her is a dar red embroidered cloth of honour across which hangs a swag of figs and peaches. On each side, one can distinguish a distant lansdcape with green trees on the left and a leafless tree on the right.

Place of Origin

[Italy] (painted)
Venice, [Italy] (possibly, painted)


ca. 1480 (painted)


Crivelli, Carlo (maker)

Materials and Techniques

tempera on panel

Marks and inscriptions

'OPUS. CA ROLI. CRIVELLI. VENETI' 'The work of Carlo Crivelli Venetian'


Height: 48.5 cm estimate, Width: 33.6 cm estimate

Object history note

An Austrian export seal on the back (F.I) suggests that it was exported from Italy before 1864, but it is not known when it was acquired by John Jones.
Bequeathed to the museum in 1882.

Ref : Parkinson, Ronald, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860. Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990. p.xix-xx

John Jones (1800-1882) was first in business as a tailor and army clothier in London 1825, and opened a branch in Dublin 1840. Often visited Ireland, travelled to Europe and particularly France. He retired in 1850, but retained an interest in his firm. Lived quietly at 95 Piccadilly from 1865 to his death in January 1882. After the Marquess of Hertford and his son Sir Richard Wallace, Jones was the principal collector in Britain of French 18th century fine and decorative arts. Jones bequeathed an important collection of French 18th century furniture and porcelain to the V&A, and among the British watercolours and oil paintings he bequeathed to the V&A are subjects which reflect his interest in France.

See also South Kensington Museum Art Handbooks. The Jones Collection. With Portrait and Woodcuts. Published for the Committee of Council on Education by Chapman and Hall, Limited, 11, Henrietta Street. 1884.
Chapter I. Mr. John Jones. pp.1-7.
Chapter II. No.95, Piccadilly. pp.8-44. This gives a room-by-room guide to the contents of John Jones' house at No.95, Piccadilly.
Chapter VI. ..... Pictures,... and other things, p.138, "The pictures which are included in the Jones bequest are, with scarcely a single exception, valuable and good; and many of them excellent works of the artists. Mr. Jones was well pleased if he could collect enough pictures to ornament the walls of his rooms, and which would do no discredit to the extraordinary furniture and other things with which his house was filled."


Historical context note

The original attribution to Carlo Crivelli has long been confirmed since the bequest of the painting from the Jones collection in 1882. The composition, which probably dated around 1480 for stylistic reasons (among which the ringlets that disappear from Crivelli's oeuvre after 1482 while around the same time, the heads start casting a shadow on their haloes) reproduced the formula of Crivelli's earliest known Madonna and Child, Accademia di Carrara, Bergamo.

The painting shows the Virgin's half-length figure standing before a parapet holding the Child against her. Behind her is a dark red embroidered dossal, across which hangs a swag of fruits with figs and peaches. Reminiscent of Mantegna's art, these are not only depicted for decorative purposes but enhance the devotional significance of the image. They enclose Christian symbolical meanings and relate to the story of Christ: Redemption (peach) and Fertility (fig).

Behind the dossal or cloth of honour is a bird-view of a hilly landscape showing on the left flourishing trees and on the right an isolated leafless tree. Again, trees are symbolically important in the religious iconography and act as a link between the sky, the earth and hell. As flourishing, they allude to the regeneration whereas leafless trees stand for a prediction of death.

Furthermore, the leafless tree, an important feature in Veneto-Paduan devotional art of the 1450s, may allude to the 'Tree of Knowledge' which is believed to have survived under this form in the Earthly Paradise. This bare tree already appeared in the early Bergamo Madonna and in other compositions by Mantegna and Schiavone (see Mantegna, Agony in the Garden (1460) and Schiavone's Madonna, (late 1450s) both in The National Gallery, London).

Symbols for life and death pervade the composition, which structure reiterates this idea with the parapet, cracked all'antica, which is sometimes interpreted as an altar, alluding thus to the coming sacrifice of Christ.

On the parapet are two more symbolic flowers: the pink or carnation which relates since the Middle Ages to the Passion of Christ while violets are Marian flowers enhancing the Virgin's humility and purity. These floral symbols are counterbalanced by the fly on the parapet far right, which represents evil and justify somehow the coming sacrifice of Christ for the redemption of mankind.

Small devotional pictures of this kind were made to solicit prayers and meditation from the believer who was supposed to look at it. This is the purpose of the symbolical fruits which act as reminders of the religious credo and the reason why the Virgin and the Child are looking in two different directions so as to embrace the whole family kneeling before them,

Characteristic of Crivelli's art are the very neat and pronounced contours and the minimal albeit sharp shadowing. The golden-light palette enlivened by hues of deep blue in the sky and the pale carnation as well as the very elongated almost boneless hands may have been inspired by Netherlandish art. The very elaborate Virgin's mantle of gilded stucco (like in the Bergamo Madonna) witnesses Crivelli's taste for lavish costumes and intricate textile patterns but also betrays a somewhat archaic feature characteristic of the Gothic art.

This small devotional image seems to have been very popular among Crivelli's contemporaries as at least three replicas of it survived: (1) private collection, Venice, (2) ex-Collection Eissler, Vienna; Duveen, New York (probably autograph), (3) Ca' d'Oro, Venice (school) (Zampetti, 1961). Crivelli appears as an outstanding artist in the 15th-century Italy, whose oeuvre remarkably shows a combination of styles and influences that nonetheless depart from the prevailing interests of Renaissance artists.

Objects and images were used for protection, intercession and as votive offerings since Antiquity. Amulets, rings and talismans were common throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and often had pagan and erotic imagery. Popular images were also produced expressly for the purpose of intercession, protection and instruction. In particular the Virgin, Christ and the saints were depicted, for they were considered to be advocates before God and agents of protection against evil.

Christians in the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods expressed and strengthened their faith through public rituals, such as celebration of the Eucharist, and personal devotions conducted in a private chapel, monastic cell, or simply in a secluded part of their home. In Western Europe, a form of spirituality that emphasized the emotional involvement of the faithful emerged by 1300. Believers were encouraged to contemplate events from the life of Christ, the Virgin, or the saints, as if they were present.

Images of the Virgin and Child were among the most popular images for private devotion and these were primarily small religious paintings suitable as a focus for private worship, as opposed to larger altarpieces intended for public display. Such images frequently emphasized the tender relationship between the mother and her child.

Descriptive line

A painting of the Virgin Mary with Christ child sitting on a parapet, by Carlo Crivelli, ca. 1480

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 78-79, cat. no. 77
The following is the full text of the entry:

"Carlo CRIVELLI (active 1457-94)
Venetian School
Forced to flee from his native Venice as a result of a youthful misdemeanour in 1457, he settled in Zara, where he is recorded in 1465. From 1468 he appears to have spent most of his time in the Marches, travelling considerably within that area, but apparently living for several years in Ascoli. In 1490 he was knighted by Ferdinand II of Naples. In spite of his Venetian origin his art depends more on Mantegna than on his predecessors in Venice.

Signed on edge of parapet: OPUS.
Tempera on panel
19 1/8 x 13 1/4 (48.5 x 33.6)
Jones Bequest
From Rushforth (1900) to Zampetti (1961), there has been a remarkable degree of unanimity in dating this picture c. 1480, shortly after the full length Madonna in Budapest. As Zampetti points out, a very close comparison can be made with the Madonna in the Pinacoteca at Ancona. He lists three versions: (I) private collection, Venice, (2) ex-Collection Eissler, Vienna; Duveen, New York (probably autograph), (3) Ca' d'Oro, Venice (school). Both its small size and the self-contained nature of the composition suggest that the picture was painted for private devotion and did not form part of an altarpiece.
The various flowers and fruits have a symbolic as well as a decorative value, as is customary with Crivelli. The carnation symbolizes the Incarnation and Passion of Christ and the violet is one of many floral symbols of the Virgin (Bergström, 1958, and ibid., in Burl.Mag.,xcvii, 1955, pp. 303-08). The apple symbolizes death, as does the leafless tree in the right hand background, while the vine climbing through it suggests the crucified Christ (Reau, Iconographie de l'art chretien,i, 1955, p. 132).

Prov.Austrian export seal on back (F.I) suggests it was exported from Italy before 1864, but it is not known when it was acquired by John jones ; bequeathed to the Museum in 1882.
Lit.G. M. Rushforth, Carlo Crivelli,1900, p. 120, repr. p. 62 (as 1482); Crowe and Cavalcaselle, History of painting in North Italy,ed. T. Borenius, 1912, p. 92, n. 5; B. Geiger in Thieme-Becker, viii, 1913, p. 131 ('early 1480s'); A. Venturi, Storia dell'arte italiana,vii (3), 1914, p. 394, n.; L. Testi, Storia della pittura veneziana,ii, 1915, pp. 634 f. (repr.), 676 (c. 1481); Long, Cat. Jones Coll.,1923, p. 6, front.; F. Drey, Carlo Crivelli und seine Schule,1927, pp. 66 f., 135, pl. xlv (shortly after 1480); B. Berenson, Italian pictures of the Renaissance,1932, p. 162; ibid., Venetian painters,1957, p. 69; R. van Marle, Italian Schools of painting,xviii, 1936, p. 32, fig. 21; P. Zampetti, Carlo Crivelli nelle Marche,1952, p. 63, no. 57 (late work); R. Pallucchini, La pittura veneta del quattrocento,Ist. di Storia dell' Arte, Università di Padova, 1957-58, ii, p. 27; 1. Bergström, Den Symboliska Nejlikan,Malmo 1958, p. 44, fig. 16; P. Zampetti, Carlo Crivelli,1961, p. 85 f., fig. 82 (c. 1480); S. Sandström, Levels of unreality,Uppsala, 1963, p. 67; C. M. Kauffmann in Apollo,xcv, 1972, p. 177, col. pl. iii.
Pietro Zampetti, Carlo Crivelli, 1961, p. 85 f., fig. 82.
Lists three known replicas: (1) Private collection, Venice; (2) ex collection Eisler, Vienna, now Duveen, New York (probably autograph); (3) Ca d' Oro, Venice, school.
Depth of Field: the place of relief in the time of Donatello , Exh. cat., the Henry Moore Institute in collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2004.
'This painting is unusual in the way it uses raised relief work to heighten detail, particularly on the decoration of the Virgin's dress, combining the three-dimensional with the two. The relief here is built up using tempera, but Crivelli is also known to have used embossed gesso (plaster) to create the effect. Crivelli was Venetian but lived in Zara, Dalmatia (now Croatia) and then in the Marches (central Italy); he was therefore physically removed from exposure to the main currents in Quattrocento painting, as his individual, wiry line and decorative style reflects.

The size of the painting suggests that it was probably made for private devotion, rather than as part of an altarpiece. It probably had a similar function to the Virgin and Child reliefs shown elsewhere in this exhibition: as a focus for prayer in the home, offering protection to the inhabitants of the house. The various flowers and fruits in the painting have all been chosen for their symbolic value as is customary with Crivelli. For example the violet is one of the many floral symbols associated with the Virgin, others like the carnation, the vine, the apple and leafless tree indicate the Incarnation and the Passion, the Crucifixion and the Death of Christ'.
Ronald Lightbown, Carlo Crivelli, New Haven and London, 2004, no. 108, pp. 131, 152, 261-2, 266-9.
Lightbown notes Crivelli's stylistic debts to other Northern Italian painters, including Squarcione and Bellini, as well as the unusual presence of the gilded mantle with its stucco relief in what is clearly a domestic devotional image. There is an exhaustive analysis of the painting's iconography, particularly the significance of the flowers
Franz Drey, Carlo Crivelli und seine Schule, 1927, pp. 66f, 135, pl. xlv.
Dates the painting shortly after the Budapest Madonna (so early 1480s).
Bernard Berenson, Italian Paintings of the Renaissance, 1932, p. 162.
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum,London: V&A, 1985, p. 30.
The following is the full text of the entry:

"Carlo Crivelli active 1457-94
Venetian School
Signed on edge of parapet: OPUS. CA ROLI. CRIVELLI. VENETI
Tempera on panel, 48.5 x 33.6 cm
492-1882. John Jones Bequest.

Conspicuous in the composition, the inscription proclaims as the artist the Venetian, Carlo Crivelli. The image is typical of Venetian 'madonniera' - sophisticated, reflective figures and this, together with its small size, suggests that the painting was never part of an altarpiece, but intended for private devotion.

Crivelli left Venice in 1458, and from 1468 lived and travelled in the Marches, distanced from mainstream artistic currents, and from his contemporaries, Bellini and the Vivarinis. In this provincial environment, Crivelli achieved a considerable reputation, and was knighted in 1490 by Ferdinand II.

The decorative qualities of the picture - the exaggerated elegance of tapering fingers; elongated eyelids; the mantle's sweeping, protective curve, echoed by the Virgin's head - evoke the International Gothic style. Crivelli would have known Gentile da Fabriano's paintings in the Doge's Palace at Venice, and here depicts equally sumptuous fabrics, but also captures the fragile transparency of the Virgin's veil and undergarment, peeping out from beneath her sleeve.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Crivelli never abandoned tempera colours to experiment with oil-based medium. Flat pattern and pure vivid colours - the green lining juxtaposed with the mantle's varnished gold; brilliant red under the swaddling bands - are combined with a hard linear clarity, detailed realism, architectural features and festoons of fruit. Here, Mantegna's influence is apparent, and Crivelli's leafless tree echoes those of Mantegna and Bellini. The garland, ultimately of classical origin, is derived from Donatello, who visited Padua in 1444. The use of large areas of gold, with elaborate patterns in relief, is a characteristic archaism, perpetuating, but reinterpreting the Byzantine style.

Italian Renaissance artists had eschewed symbolism in their search for greater scientific realism, and the carnation, violets and fly show Flemish influence. The composition itself, a half-length portrait figure with parapet or sill, was introduced by van Eyck, c.1430, and Eyckian also is Crivelli's minute observation of detail. The fly, disseminator of disease, is equated with Sin: 'Beware,' said Bernard of Siena, 'that the fly of Sin never enters in.' Of the violet, he says, 'Mary is the violet of Humility'. Pomegranates and phoenix symbolize Resurrection and Life; the Child's apple, Christ's Incarnation, and the carnation His Passion. The cracked sill symbolizes the veil of the Temple, rent in two at Christ's death, and the vine, symbolizing the redeeming blood of Christ, climbs up the dead tree, around which fly two birds, symbolizing the souls of men.

Anne Buddle"
M. Ajmar-Wollheim and F. Dennis, At home in Renaissance Italy, exh. cat., Victoria and Albert Museum, London, fig. 14.13, p. 203, cat. 126.
Pigler, André, 'La mouche peinte, un talisman' in Bulletin des Musées Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, XXIV (1964), p. 53, fig. 40.

Exhibition History

At Home in Renaissance Italy (V&A 05/10/2006-07/01/2007)
A Grand Design - The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A 12/10/1999-16/01/2000)
Depth of Field: the Place of Relief in the Time of Donatello (Henry Moore Institute, Leeds 01/01/2004-31/12/2004)

Production Note

It is generally dated pre-1490 because of the omission of the word 'Eques' in the signature: in 1490, Crivelli was knighted by Ferdinand II of Naples.





Subjects depicted

Mary (Virgin Mary); Fruit; Tree; Peaches; The Christ Child; Carnation; Fig; Parapet; Violet; Dossal


Christianity; Paintings

Collection code


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