The Annunciation with Saint Emidius, by Carlo Crivelli

   Here is another picture from the National Gallery that deserves an entire visit to itself. An Annunciation, clearly, but why so over the top? Isn't it just a little cluttered? And who is the character busily distracting the angel when he has an important job to do? Saint Emidius of course - we worked that out from the title of the picture. 
   This picture is more celebratory than devotional, as the National Gallery website tells us. It was painted for the Marches town of Ascoli.  In 1482 Francesco Sforza was ousted from Ascoli, and the city was granted partial self-government by Pope Sixtus IV, of Sistine chapel fame. The news of this reached Ascoli on 25th March, the Feast of the Annunciation, and four years later this altarpiece was  placed in the church of SS Annunziata  to celebrate the event. 
  Sadly for Ascoli, the period of self-government was rather short-lived: the Pope was soon back in charge. 
  The luxuriance of the picture's detail reflects the celebratory theme, though, having said that, Crivelli tended to paint like this anyway. 


Much of the clutter of the picture is symbolic, though it has to be said Crivelli did like to demonstrate his skill in painting such things as peacocks and exotic carpets. The bird in the cage is a goldfinch; there is more on this here.  In the room, we can see a glass jar and an unlit candle; these symbols are discussed here. The apple at the foot of the painting suggests Eve, though I'm not quite sure what the gherkin-like object refers to.* Crivelli always tried to squeeze in some fruit and veg. 
   The coats of arms on the bottom of the picture are those of the Pope and the Bishop of Ascoli.

This Annunciation is set in a busy, if idealised, townscape, with people going about their business oblivious of the momentous events taking place. All, that, is, except for a small child. Bored with the dull conversation of the grownups, she looks down on events through innocent eyes. 
  It is St Emidius, though, that one's eyes are drawn to. He is the patron saint of the city, martyred in 303 by pagans who objected to him smashing their idols. (One wonders what he would have made of Carlo Crivelli.) His relics are kept in the Cathedral at Ascoli. 
  In the picture, he is carrying a model of the newly freed City of Ascoli, which, as can be seen in a recent photograph, hasn't changed much over the centuries.

  Saint Emidius is invoked for protection from earthquakes, necessary here, as Ascoli is only an hour's journey from L'Aquila, epicentre of the earthquake that struck in April 2009. 

Ascoli Picino, Italy

* A correspondent has suggested that the gherkin (or cucumber) refers to this quote from Isaiah:And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.   (Ch 1 v 8) And is thus a symbol of the Virgin.

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