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A particular "Quadrone" in the Museum of the Duomo

The strange destiny of a canvas by Cerano

Miracolo Di Clementina Crivelli Arese
25 October Oct 2019 1753 25 October 2019

Works of art are always destined to follow the course of history, with all of its unpredictability, but - as we all know - there are also casualties, minor episodes, and intricate, trivial events. Today we want to share the story of a truly unique piece preserved within the Museo del Duomo: the Miracle of Clementina Crivelli Arese by Giovan Battista Crespi, known as Cerano, (1573 – 1632), located in the area dedicated to the era of the Borromeo family, next to a precious canvas by the same artist which depicts the Glory of Saint Charles.

According to the Veneranda Fabbrica's payment registries, on 20 December 1610 an initial sum of 1200 lire was paid to Cerano for the execution of six large canvases to be displayed in the Cathedral, among which this one, depicting the Miracles of Saint Charles, in the year that the great pastor, and co-patron saint of the Milan Diocese along with Ambrose, was canonized.

It was at the start of the 20th century that the right portion of the canvas, which shows the wet nurse feeding the baby, was cut and sold on the antique market. It was purchased by Marquis Matteo Campori prior to 1929, the year in which he donated his collection to the City of Modena, and identified by the title Charity. The first to hypothesize on the fragment's origins was Nikolaus Pevsner, while it was Gian Alberto Dell’Acqua who demonstrated that it was a portion of one of the "quadroni" (or large paintings), no longer on display, which he located in one of the Duomo's depositories. The publication of the drawings of the Varallo Picture Gallery, attributed to Cerano and considered preparatory sketches for the canvas, confirms the fragment's origins, showing the complete iconography of the painting.

The fragment present in the museum depicts the then recent miracle of Clementina Crivelli Arese. According to legend, suffering from intense pain prior to giving birth, so much that she feared for her life, the noblewoman was covered by a shirt belonging to Saint Charles which her husband kept as a relic. The birth went so smoothly that the boy, named Charles, despite being born with a few problems, healed from every ailment.

The scene, therefore, depicts the maid as she removes the shirt from Clementina's body, while a young woman, seen from behind, offers her a tray full of fruit.