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Saint Michael
Carlo Crivelli
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This panel of the Archangel Michael fighting the Devil was once part of an altarpiece painted by Crivelli for the church of San Domenico in Ascoli Piceno in the Italian Marche. Michael is shown as a youthful prince, his sword raised with nonchalant ease to strike the writhing devil beneath his feet. At once refined and ferocious, Michael’s pale aristocratic beauty and glittering armour make a vivid contrast to the scaly skin, furred legs and vicious talons of the demon below him.

Showing off his talent for foreshortening – distorting objects to make them appear to recede into the picture plane – Crivelli shows us the top of Michael’s and Satan’s heads, as they gaze at each other in eternal combat. He was also a master of three-dimensional effects. Here, the saint’s coronet and armour are modelled to stand out from the flat surface of the panel.

Key facts
Artist Carlo Crivelli
Artist dates about 1430/5 - about 1494
Full title Saint Michael
Series Four Panels from an Altarpiece, Ascoli Piceno
Date made about 1476
Medium and support Tempera on poplar
Dimensions 90.5 x 26.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1868
Inventory number NG788.11
Location in Gallery Room 57
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Four Panels from an Altarpiece, Ascoli Piceno

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These panels came from an altarpiece which Crivelli painted for a side chapel in the Dominican church at Ascoli Piceno, in the Italian Marche. The saints are identifiable by their attributes: Saint Michael, Prince of Archangels, fighting the devil; Saint Jerome, one of the Doctors of the Church, with his tame lion; Saint Peter Martyr, the second saint of the Dominican Order, a knife buried in his skull; and Saint Lucy, with her eyes on a wooden dish. The choice of saints must have had a special meaning to the original patron.

Although we don’t know who commissioned this polyptych (multi-panelled altarpiece), plainly no expense was spared. The saints’ haloes and damask backgrounds would have sparkled and flickered in the candlelight of the Middle Ages, and lit the church with a glittering golden glow.

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