This is “Madonna and Child” by Carlo Crivelli.  Image and text from The Met, with Japanese translation.



Image: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This modest-size, devotional painting of the Madonna and Child is one of the Crivelli’s most exquisite works. Exceptionally well preserved, it is usually dated to the 1470s (see the various contributions of Zampetti, Refs. 1952, 1961, 1986) or ca. 1480 [Ref. Zeri and Gardner 1973]. Di Lorenzo [Ref. 2008] finds it close in style to an altarpiece of 1482, now in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.


Typical of Crivelli, who seems to have been trained in Padua in the tradition of Squarcione and Andrea Mantegna, is the use of strongly illusionistic devices: the elaborately carved but fissured marble parapet over which a cloth has been draped and to which, in turn, a cartellino with Crivelli’s signature has been attached with sealing wax.


A willful contrast has been set up between the hyper-refined features of the Madonna—as precious and brittle as an eighteenth-century porcelain figurine—and the over-sized, naturalistically rendered fruit, which casts emphatic shadows onto the moired silk hanging, shown as though fastened to the frame by red laces.


The haloes are embellished with jewels that are depicted as though they were actual objects applied to the flat, gilt surface. By way of contrast, the landscape background is treated with remarkable naturalism and includes four turbaned figures—doubtless intended to suggest Turks and a reference to unbelievers.


Friedman [Ref. 1946] discusses the iconographic significance of the fruit and has explained the fly as symbolic of the devil. Land [Ref. 1996] has rightly emphasized the insect as a further trompe l’oeil device calling attention to the artist’s skill. The fly is shown life size rather than to the scale of the figures and therefore seems to be “on” the painting rather than “in” it.