Crivelli’s Virgin and Child with Saints Francis and Sebastian

October 22nd 2022

Carlo Crivelli. “The Virgin and Child with Saints Francis and Sebastian”.  1491. Egg and oil on poplar, 175.3 x 151.1 cm.  Presented by Elizabeth Mary, widow of the second Marquess of Westminster, 1870, NG807.  https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG807

In a Crivelli painting you expect eye-catching detail; fruit, flower, birds. Their function is to symbolise a facet of the sacred mystery shown.  However, in this painting there is one detail which is anything but symbolic.  The little woman praying by the feet of St Francis  looks like a nun but, in fact, she is a widow wearing a customary black veil.  Her late husband’s will had asked that she found a chapel where Mass could be offered for the repose of his soul.  She is positioned in the customary place of the patron.  but her late husband’s absence is striking, once noticed.   Moreover, the inscription at the base of the throne tells the viewer that she paid for this work “at no small expense and of her own money”.  Her name was Oradea Becchetti. The two saints who flank the Virgin’s throne must have been of her choosing. The choice of St Francis was an obvious one: it was a Franciscan Church. St Sebastian can only have been included for one reason: his cult as a plague saint. The Madonna and Child to whom she prays are closely styled on a type of Byzantine icon known as Eleusa or the Virgin of Tenderness.   This church was located in the Marches which had been ravaged by plague in the last decades of the 15th Century.  There was an established  tradition of invoking the protection of Our Lady of Tenderness from the plague  and so by referencing the ancient icon in the embrace of the Virgin and Child Crivelli asks for her intercession also.  As in so many of his altar pieces, Our Lady is shown enthroned, as the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, flanked by saints and symbols, but in this one, the embrace of Mary and Jesus sled on  the ancient icon tells the viewer that although Oradea Becchetti may have prayed for the soul of her dead husband, for greatest concern was  for the living and their protection  from the plague.

Crivelli’s Virgin and Child with Saints Francis and Sebastian

Edinburgh Catholic Chaplaincy

The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.

The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.

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