Carlo Crivelli and the Trees

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Playful, prolific, noted for tableaux of bounty, he’d do a portrait of a man’s face composed of fruit, or picture his Madonnas under

garlands, bright as chandeliers, of nearly three-D pickles, pears, apples pecked by birds; then turn even a gruesome Crucifixion

into a sort of game. Here: a trompe-l’oeil in oil and tempera replicates the look of wood on a panel that is truly wooden,

in fact paints over knots to make knots in the hard planes of the cross. Real as a relic, the unique tree on which one man-god dies

while mourners on both sides gaze up, their tresses patterned like wood grain again, the dry eyes in their deep- lined faces weeping beads of sap,

and in that surfacing of sorrow each arrested teardrop tough as an acorn, as if there to sow millennia of grief.

What excuse then for the lustrous finish on the instrument of torture set before that sparse landscape? What could be meant

by the assorted grayish, spindly background saplings, barely a leaf (though it is Spring) alive? Should we write off existence simply

as a pale prequel to the tale of afterlife? False question for him, probably, inclined to honor foremost his material,

which is to say the fresh-cut trees splintered into delicate paintbrushes, or hewn as flat massive planks to soak up these

minerals and plants ground down to the consistency of paints that may, or may not, blossom in the ways the maker wants.