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Attributed to Italian School, Mary Magdalen Repentant

Core Record

Title Mary Magdalen Repentant
Alternative Title An Allegory of Repentance; An Allegory
Collection Culture and Sport Glasgow (Museums): Pollok House
Artist Attributed to Italian School
Previously attributed to Pereda y Salgado, Antonio (Spanish painter, 1611-1678)
Date Earliest about 1635
Date Latest probably about 1660
Description The subject of this painting could, as it has been in past, easily be misunderstood as a simple allegory of Repentance or Melancholy. But at least two details reveal that the figure of the woman leaning over the table must be identified as Mary Magdalene: her long wavy hair, so typical of the image of this saint over hundreds of years, and the broken jewellery thrown to the ground. There is a strong feeling of melancholy in the picture, which shows the saint at the moment when she is reflecting on and rejecting her former life of vice and luxury.
Current Accession Number PC.26
Subject figure; religion (Mary Magdalene)
Measurements 158.7 x 203.8 cm cm (estimate)
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Given by Mrs Anne Maxwell Macdonald 1967.
Provenance Probably Sir William Stirling Maxwell, acquired between 1842 and 1859; by descent to his son Sir John Stirling Maxwell; by descent to his daughter Mrs Anne Maxwell Macdonald.
Principal Exhibitions Spanish Old Masters, Grafton Galleries, London, 1913-14, cat. no. 89; National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1922; Exhibition of XVIIth Century Art, Burlington House, London, 1938, cat. no. 225; Exhibition of Spanish Paintings from El Greco to Goya, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1951, cat. no. 32; Il Seicento europeo, Rome, 1956-57, cat. no. 221, as Vanitas: Allegoria della Penitenza, by Pereda di Salgado.
Publications Caw, J. L., Catalogue of Pictures at Pollok House, Glasgow, 1936, p. 23, no. 31; Harris, E., 'Spanish Painting from Morales to Goya in the National Gallery of Scotland', Burlington Magazine, no. 583, vol. 93, October 1951, p. 310; Gaya Nu˝o, J. A., La pintura espa˝ola fuera de Espa˝a, Madrid, 1958, no. 2176, p. 268, as La Magdalena, apprentida, by Pereda; Bazin, G., A Gallery of Flowers, London, 1960, pp. 110-11; The Stirling Maxwell Collection Pollok House, Corporation of Glasgow: Museum and Art Galleries Department, c.1967, p. 25, no. 26; Radcliffe, A. and others, The Thysen Bornemisza Collection: Renaissance and Later Sculpture, London, 1992, pp. 183-84, fig. 2 (ill.); Boudon-Machuel, M., Franšois du Quesnoy: 1597-1643, Paris, 2005, pp. 193, 265.
Notes The painting was formerly believed to be by Antonio Pereda di Salgado and entitled An Allegory of Repentance, or simply An Allegory. This attribution, as well as the older description of the subject, probably based on a certain similarity to Pereda's painting showing An Allegory of Vanity (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemńldegalerie, inv. 771), has to be rejected. There are none of the usual symbols used to characterise Vanity or Repentance described in manuals such as Cesare Ripa's Iconologia. There are, it is true, also almost none of the attributes that usually help to identify St Mary Magdalen, except for the long hair, roses and broken jewellery, but this seems enough for identification of the subject, as has previously been suggested. The small scene in the background, on the left, has been identified as the fight between celestial and profane love, a motive that not only fits with the identification of Mary Magdalen taking leave from her former, sinful life, but also with the general connotation of the other objects shown.

Where the attribution is concerned, the style, the use of colour and especially the completely different way of arranging objects, which in Pereda form still-life arrangements while here they are single objects, are so different that no one now would still subscribe to an attribution to the Spanish master. Furthermore, the use of objects in this picture is very different to the tradition of still-life painting in seventeenth-century Spain. The painter was not even necessarily a still-life specialist, for he clearly has difficulties with perspective in the fallen cups on the ground. This leads, after final examination, to the conclusion that the painting is not likely to be Spanish, but Italian.

Two main precedents for the mourning Mary Magdalen can be traced: Caravaggio's Magdalene, the first representation of the saint without any of the clear, traditionally fixed attributes such as the annointment jar, or the skull (see KrŘger, K., Innerer Blick und asthetisches Geheimnis: Caravaggios 'Magdalena', Imorde, J. (ed.), Barocke Inszenierung, Emsdetten, 1999, pp. 32-49), and some of Domenico Fetti's inventions, especially pictures like his famous Melancholy in the Venetian Accademia Gallery (Safarik, E. A., Fetti, Milan, 1990, no. 123, pp. 271-75). While the painting by Caravaggio provides the model of Mary Magdalen Repentant taking leave from her former life, without showing her traditional attributes, the second is unmistakably the model for the female figure leaning in melancholy or sorrow over the table. It is, in this context, very telling that the Louvre version of this picture (inv. 281; Safarik, no. 123a, pp. 275-76), in the document about payment from 13 May 1685, was misunderstood as a Mary Magdalen. Stylistically, however, the Glasgow painting has nothing in common with Fetti's way of using the painting material. The closest comparison is a painting called the Sleeping Girl in the Museum of Fine Arts at Budapest (inv. no. 609 (204); Garas, K., The Budapest Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, 1985, no. 34, p. 51; Safarik, no. A 14, p. 301), which is attributed to Domenico Fetti. This attribution, however, as Safarik rightly states, can no longer be sustained. Instead the Florentine painter Sigismondo Coccapani has been proposed, an attribution first raised by Roberto Longhi and then repeated by others (see: Safarik, ibid.). On the other hand, other scholars, e.g. Roberto Contini, do doubt the attribution of both the Budapest painting and the Pollok House Mary Magdalen to this painter. At any rate, the similarity of the pictures seems to be strong enough to suggest that both are by the same painter.

Besides the particularly splendid contemporary brazier standing on the right, the most striking of the objects in this picture is the sculpture standing on the desk. It is the group Apollo and Cupid by Franšois du Quesnoy (or Duquesnoy), and gives a terminus post quem for the dating of the Pollok House picture, since the sculpture must have been cast not long before 1638. The most important of the sixteen casts of this sculpture group are now in the Palacio Real (Spanish Royal Collection), the Princely Liechtenstein Collection, Newby Hall, Yorkshire. Supposing that it is Spanish, it has therefore been suggested:

It is clear that this was painted from an actual bronze version: it is on the correct scale in relation to the figure of the penitent woman leaning on the table, it is rendered in the correct sense (it is, in any case, not known that the Apollo group was ever engraved) with meticulous accuracy, and it is shown with a similar bright patination to the Liechtenstein bronzes. A superb pair of versions of the Mercury and Apollo groups is in the Spanish Royal Collection, now displayed in the Hall of Halberdiers in the royal palace in Madrid. These are very close in model to the Liechtenstein pair, and it seems likely that the Apollo now in Madrid served as the model for Pereda's painting. The painting probably dates from the early 1640s, before Pereda began to modify his style. (Racliffe, A., Baker, M., Mack-GÚrard, M., The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection: Renaissance and Later Sculpture. With Works of Art in Bronze, London, 1992, p. 183)
Unfortunately there might be some misunderstanding in this: the identification of the 'Spanish' cast of the group was made because the painting was thought to be Spanish, and its Spanish origin is demonstrated because it should represent the cast in Madrid. In contrast to the Liechtenstein copy, which is documented in this collection as early as 1658, the Madrid cast is documented in Spain not before 1746, in the inventory of King Phillip V and Isabella Farnese. It can therefore not taken for granted that it was in Spain as early as 1640, and it can only be taken as a very weak proof of the Spanish origin of the painting. The group represented in the picture might well be a version that at this point of time was in an Italian collection, for example the one which was in the possession of Luigi Alessandro Omodei in 1682-85 (the complete list of the different versions of the sculpture group in: Boudon-Machuel, M., Franšois du Quesnoy 1597-1643, Paris, 2005, pp. 263ff.). In the absence of a really convincing proposal (Coccapani is also to be doubted) the attribution has been left here to the neutral 'Italian School' but should probably be specified as 'Central', or 'Southern' Italian.
Rights Owner Culture and Sport Glasgow (Museums)
Author Dr Heiner Krellig
 

 

 

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