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Carlo Crivelli, Saint Peter Martyr

Key facts
Full title Saint Peter Martyr
Artist Carlo Crivelli
Artist dates about 1430/5 - about 1494
Series Four Panels from an Altarpiece, Ascoli Piceno
Date made about 1476
Medium and support Tempera on poplar
Dimensions 90.5 × 26.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1868
Inventory number NG788.13
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint Peter Martyr
Carlo Crivelli

This priest – whose hair has been shaved, or tonsured – once stood on the right side of a small altarpiece which Crivelli painted for the church of San Domenico, in Ascoli Piceno, in the Italian Marche. He is Saint Peter Martyr, the second saint of the Dominican Order, and their first martyr.

The falcastro, a long-handled curved knife, with which he was murdered, splits his skull, and a second dagger is buried in his shoulder. His black and white robes stand out powerfully against the burnished gold ground. Crivelli’s skill as a painter of drapery is such that although Peter’s robes are black we can see the deep folds where his hood and cloak fall around his shoulders, and the creases in the tops of his shoes.

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Four Panels from an Altarpiece, Ascoli Piceno


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.