Giovanni Battista Crespi, called Cerano
Cerano, ca. 1567/70-Milan, 1633
Saint James Vanquishing the Moors, ca. 1630
Oil on canvas.
Following a catastrophic plague in 1576, the rigorous episcopate of St. Charles Borromeo, and a continued preoccupation with religious reform, the culture of Milan was colored by a profound skepticism and spiritual intensity. Still dependent upon the artificial formulae and self-conscious virtuosity of Mannerism, at the same time inclined toward Caravaggioís naturalism and later Rubenís dynamism, the schoolís style favored the supernatural: the highly subjective and the irrational made real to the eye.
Of the leading Milanese painters, Cerano was the most complex, visionary, and affecting. His mature style derives its practically existential meaning from an exaggerated contrast between enveloping darkness and celestial light, general monochrome and locally saturated color, thin oil glazes and heavy fluid accents, pervasive melancholy and momentary ecstasy. Such contrasts transform this very late painting into a powerful emblem of militant faith. It was a gift from Cerano to Manfredo Settala, Milanís greatest historian and discriminating collector.