Daniele CRESPI

Busto Arsizio c.1598 - Milan 1630


Although he enjoyed only a relatively brief career of around ten or eleven years, Daniele Crespi was among the most significant painters working in Milan in the first quarter of the 17th century. A precocious artist, very early in his career he assisted Guglielmo Caccia, known as Moncalvo, on the frescoes of the dome of the church of San Vittore al Corpo in Milan. His first documented independent work is the decoration of a chapel in the church of Sant’ Eustorgio in Milan, and this was followed a few years later by work in the church of San Protaso ad Monachos. Between 1623 and 1627 he painted several works for the church of Santa Maria di Campagna in Piacenza, and also decorated the organ shutters in the Milanese church of Santa Maria della Passione. An altarpiece of The Martyrdom of Saint Mark for the church of San Marco in Novara was completed in 1626. There followed commissions from two of the most important Carthusian monasteries in Lombardy which represent the culmination of Crespi’s activity as a fresco painter. An extensive series of frescoes for the Certosa of Garegnano, in the outskirts of Milan, depicting scenes from the early history of the monastery and its founder Saint Bruno, may be regarded as probably the artist’s finest works. An equally impressive cycle of frescoes for the Certosa in Pavia were left unfinished at Crespi’s death from the plague in 1630, at the age of about thirty-two. As Rudolf Wittkower has written of the artist, ‘In his best works Daniele combined severe realism and parsimonious handling of pictorial means with a sincerity of expression fully in sympathy with the religious climate at Milan.’ Similarly, another modern scholar has noted that ‘Crespi was a true artist: learned, original, richly diverse and devoted to his art, well able to establish his artistic standpoint amid the cultural and religious preoccupations of his time. He was also a perfectionist in technique and execution…the young Crespi early distanced himself from the Milanese academy in order to seek out new directions: mastering the rules of composition and accuracy of drawing and the absorption of ‘academic tradition’ were only foundations, to which he added a marvellous attention to form and a sincere and versatile pursuit of the ‘natural’.’ Although Daniele Crespi was among the most gifted draughtsmen working in Milan in the 1620s, only about seventy drawings by him are known. Almost all of these appear to be preparatory studies for paintings or frescoes, and no independent, finished drawings by the artist have survived.