Crespi’s habit of making preparatory drawings for his pictures, unusual in Lombardy, also links him to the traditions of Bologna and central Italy. He trained under the late mannerist painter Moncalvo (1568–1625). Early works like an astringent Salome of ca. 1619 and a Flagellation from the early 1620s show the influence of Cerano, a relative of his, and in the latter case Procaccini as well. Crespi was active as a fresco painter in Milan, Piacenza and Charterhouses of Garengnano and Pavia, but his oil paintings today are generally better known. Since he died young of the plague in 1630, they all are from the 1620s. His Pietà in the Museo del Prado, Madrid and Lamentation in Budapest adopt the emotional rhythms and expressiveness of Procaccini. By contrast his Ecce Homo in the Blanton Museum, Austin, echoes Lodovico Cigoli’s (1559–1613) famous Ecce Homo in the Pitti Palace, Florence. Cigoli’s painting was then in Rome, so Crespi may have visited the city, stylistically quite likely given the sculptural immediacy of his Baptism in the Brera painted late in the decade.
An obligatory subject for Milanese artists was San Carlo Borromeo, the austere cardinal who under the predominant power of Spain in the late sixteenth century turned Milan into a laboratory for Catholic reform and who behaved heroically in the plague of 1576. After his death he was succeeded by his son cardinal Federico Borromeo who continued his policies less aggressively. Crespi painted two versions of the Supper of St. Carlo Borromeo. The one in the Brera is crowded and populist, and close to the work of another leading Lombard artist Tanzio da Varallo (1575/80–1632/33). The other, still in the Milanese church of Santa Maria della Passione, shows the saint alone at his meal reading a text. In its archetypical Borromean austerity, it has been compared to Zurbarán. Crespi painted a number of bust-length portraits for example the Antonio Olgiati in the Koeliker collection Milan, or a Portrait of a Musician, recently on the art market. They are smoothly and evenly painted and in their sobriety and restraint are typical of Borromean and Spanish taste.
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Books on Daniele Crespi
Franceso Frangi, Daniele Crespi, La giovinezza ritrovata, Milan, 2012.
Nancy Ward Neilson, Daniele Crespi, Soncino, 1996.
Luigi Lanzi and Thomas Roscoe, The schools of Lombardy, Mantua, Modena, Parma, Cremona, and Milan, Oxford, 1828.