Thursday, 23 February 2017

The Repentant Magdalene

Yesterday I went to see the Repentant Magdalene at the National Gallery. What a lovely thing it is!

Commissioned by Emperor Leopold 1, it was painted , in Vienna, by Guido Cagnacci sometime in the early 1660's. For a picture from the Baroque period, it is remarkably unfussy. Many artists at that time seem to have been intent on cramming as much into their paintings as possible, either because that was desired by their clients (who were prepared to pay handsomely for a suitably showy result), or because they simply wanted to show just how clever they really were. This is not at all like that, it is a large canvas, around 104x90 inches with an elegant setting and lots of space. It shows Mary Magdelane renouncing her sinful ways and converting to Christianity. The really stunning thing, from my heathen point of view, is the depiction of the heroine (or villainess, depending on how you chose to read her character). While the characters around her seem to fit the Baroque idea of what a biblical figure should look like, Mary herself could have just stepped out of a 21st century fashion shoot or an ad for Chanel perfume!

No pictures from me, I'm afraid. Although the National Gallery freely allows non commercial photography of its (our!) own collection, but, as in this case, it often does not apply to artworks on loan from other collections. This painting is on loan from the Norton Simon Foundation in Pasadena and is being shown in the UK for the first time in over 30 years and we have to thank them for that.

This is a beautiful painting, way beyond my descriptive abilities. Go and see it yourself. It is on display until the 21st May.

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