Thesis (Ph.D)

Beyond Painting: Carlo Crivelli’s Celestial Fictions


In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the work of Carlo Crivelli (c.1430/5- 94/5) among historians of early modern art. With his combination of traditional techniques, such as the gold ground, and witty effects of pictorial illusion, Crivelli’s work makes an effective case study for revisionist methods in art history, demonstrating the fluid boundary between ‘medieval’ and ‘renaissance’ art. However, the findings have been fragmentary, mostly conveyed in articles, essays and multi-author exhibition catalogues. Moreover, the relationship between Crivelli’s technical practice and the functions of his paintings in their original setting has not been the subject of sustained analysis. This thesis applies a new methodology to the study of Crivelli’s work. It examines his paintings as material objects, drawing upon recent technical analysis carried out at the National Gallery, London, in light of the devotional practices of his original viewers, and contemporary theological and art-theoretical debates. By applying a holistic approach, this thesis enables a nuanced understanding of how Crivelli’s distinctive pictorial language operated in the Marche region on Italy’s east coast, where he worked during the second half of the fifteenth century. The first part is a case study of Crivelli’s altarpieces for the town of Ascoli Piceno, which serves to underpin his practice in geographic terms. It investigates the dialogues Crivelli’s paintings pose with local examples of goldsmiths’ and textile art, festive customs, and the spectatorship of his Dominican patrons. A technical study of Crivelli’s polyptychs for the Order of Preachers explores the rigour of his methods and their visual results. This introduces the themes of the latter chapters, which investigate material and pictorial interplay. It is argued that the use of three-dimensional relief, and Crivelli’s tempera technique, inform how his pictures function as interfaces between the viewer and the sacred. Crivelli’s paintings are interpreted in relation to medieval theories of artistic creation, demonstrating that the interaction between ornament, figure and ground aids his pictures to perform their devotional function.

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Hilliam, Amanda


Supervisors: Campbell, Caroline; Leino, Marika; Payne, Christiana

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of History, Philosophy and Culture
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


Year: 2020


Arts and Humanities Research Council : Stipend
Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation : Research placement in Venice

© Hilliam, Amanda
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