Called "Lo Spagnolo" because he liked to wear Spanish clothes, Giuseppe Maria Crespi was a rebel. He rejected his classicizing academic training and developed his own dramatically individualistic style, incorporating the tenets of humanism and the technique of chiaroscuro. Still, Crespi's style owes a debt to the work of the Bolognese painters Lodovico Carracci and Guercino. By 1690 he had traveled to Venice, where he experienced richly colored Venetian painting, and to Parma, where he studied Correggio's frescoes. Above all, Crespi's work reflects his sincerity, tenderness, and keen observation of nature, transformed by startling light effects and thick, fluid application of paint. Typically, artists in the 1700s used mainly muted, pastel colors. However, like Alessandro Magnasco, Crespi chose dark shadows contrasted with strong lights. Crespi's religious and historical subjects were often painted in a direct and intimate manner that betrays his love of genre scenes. Few artists had ever portrayed the grime and squalor of contemporary reality without resorting to satire.
In 1700 Crespi opened a school in Bologna, where he influenced his Venetian pupils most; they continued to explore his interest in the effects of light and genre scenes. A devoted, long-lived family man, Crespi went blind in his last years.