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Carlo Crivelli, 'Saint Thomas Aquinas', 1476

Key facts
Full title Saint Thomas Aquinas
Artist Carlo Crivelli
Artist dates about 1430/5 - about 1494
Group The Demidoff Altarpiece
Date made 1476
Medium and support Tempera on poplar
Dimensions 60.5 × 39.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1868
Inventory number NG788.9
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint Thomas Aquinas
Carlo Crivelli

This half-length figure of a saint comes from the upper tier of a polyptych (multi-panelled altarpiece) which Crivelli painted in 1476 for the high altar of the church of San Domenico, in Ascoli Piceno in the Italian Marche. He is the theologian and Dominican friar Saint Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274). His strong features and the vigorous set of his jaw express his intellectual authority, as does the book he clasps in his left hand, his fingers holding open its fluttering pages.

Crivelli has painted the book half open, with fore-edge towards so us that we see the crinkled edges of the parchment pages; he has made it look like a three-dimensional object, although we know it is not. Crivelli’s skill as a painter of drapery is such that even though Thomas’s robes are black, we can see the deep folds of the hood around his shoulders. The severity of his black and white robes – the uniform of the Dominican Order – contrasts with the opulent gilding of the background.

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The Demidoff Altarpiece


Crivelli painted two altarpieces for the small church of San Domenico, in the town of Ascoli Piceno in the Italian Marche. Their history is complex and intertwined. A large, double-tiered polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece) sat on the high altar, while a smaller altarpiece was in a side chapel.

In the nineteenth century parts of both altarpieces were sold to a Russian prince, Anatole Demidoff, who mounted them in a grand frame to make a three-tiered altarpiece for the chapel of his villa in Florence. The whole complex is now known as the Demidoff Altarpiece.

The National Gallery bought the Demidoff Altarpiece in 1868, and in 1961 the panels from the smaller polyptych were removed. They are now displayed separately.