Mary Magdalen in ecstasy
Naples 1615 - Rome 1673
On the back lower part of the frame inscribed: “Per sua Ecc. za Il Sig. Mon.re Roma”
Oil on canvas
92 x 77 cm / 36.3 x 30.3 in
Possibly Rome, Bonaventura Argenti collection ante 1697
Foster, London, auction 27 May 1819
Falcò Pio di Savoia Collection, Villa Mombello, Imbersago
E. Safarik Collection, Rome
Koelliker collection, Milan
Ariccia, Palazzo Chigi, Mola e il suo tempo, 22 January – 23 April 2005, n. 14
E. A. Safarik in Mola e il suo tempo catalogue of the exhibition ed. by F. Pettrucci, Milan 2005, pp. 130 – 131; C. Volpi, Salvator Rosa (1615 – 1673) “pittor famoso”, Roma 2014, p. 553.
The painting was for a long time part of the Falcò Pio di Savoia collection , but it is not known whether it was present there during the seventeenth century or if it was a more recently acquisition by Princes Alfonso Falcò Pio di Savoia and Sveva Colonna, who, as far as we know, bought several paintings on the Lombard art market during the nineteenth century. Judging from the inscription on its eighteenth century frame, the painting may had been property of an unknown Monsignor, but it is not certain whether the frame had been associated with the painting since the eighteenth century. In the Inventory of Pio di Savoia Collection, compiled in 1724 this canvas is anyway not recognisably recorded. However, this painting, is highly significant for the remarkable qualities it displays which reflect the artistic heights attained by Salvator Rosa.
The iconography is derived from St Luke’s Gospel (ch. 7, vs.36-37). Mary Magdalene, one of the most popular Baroque subjects and the famous exemplar of penitence is depicted with all her sensual attributes – long flowing hair, penitent tears, perfumed oil, and her attitude of “pain nourished in pain” (Jacopo Passavanti, 1354), places her right hand on a perfume jar. Her tears are symbolic of both her penitent compunction and hope for forgiveness, whilst the perfume jar which is half open symbolises her “receptiveness to the promptings of heaven”
Edward Safarik dated the painting to shortly after the beginning of Rosa's first Florentine stay, following 1640. According to his opinion, in fact, the Magdalen shows how the styles prevalent in Neapolitan artistic environment where the artist received his training, had not yet been completely abandoned, and it looks stylistically similar, in the subtly idealized rendering of colours, to works such as the Portrait of Lucretia as Sibyl in the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford (Connecticut) or Poetry and Music in the National Gallery, Rome, which date from around 1641-42 (L. Salerno, Salvator Rosa, Firenze 1963, pp. 35 e 116-117).
In those paintings “figures are rendered with an immediacy which allows them to assume ideal and symbolic meanings, in a perfect union between an innate taste for reality and the new literary and intellectual ambitions which the artist was exploring” , which echoes the classicist elements in the styles of Annibale Carracci and Francesco Romanelli. The white drapery of the sleeves, with its deep folds and the neat outlines of the Magdalen’s profile together with the upward turned imploring gaze, are reminiscent of his Poetry and Magdalene painted at the start of the 1650s, and lead us to think that it may have been the same female model who posed for all three works .
According to the most recent publication by Caterina Volpi, despite some stylistic elements reminiscent of his early work, this painting should instead be dated to the years he spent in Rome, around 1660-1665, right after his journey to Venice, taking into consideration the very evident and strong references to Titian's Florae and courtesans.
The painting could also be identified as the work cited in Bonaventura Argenti's inventory dating from 1697, described as “half-figure Magdalene with gilded frame by Salvator Rosa” .
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