Michelangelo Merisi
known as il Caravaggio

Repentant Mary Magdalene

122.5 x 98.5 cm; oil on canvas (FC 357)

This painting dates back to the early stage of Caravaggio’s activities in Rome (c. 1595) and portrays the Sinner who has just renounced her former worldly life: she has dropped a string of pearls on the ground, along with some jewellery and a jar of unguent, an object often associated with her. As with the Rest, in this painting the artist demonstrates his skill in still life painting. The figure is complete, but gives us the feeling she has been pushed down to the bottom of the painting. This is most certainly a cardinal work. The light tones are typical of the artist’s earlier work, though the diagonal shaft of light dividing the bare room is a forerunner of the dramatic atmosphere of his later darker work which influenced the painters of half of Europe. As with the Rest, and the Fortune Teller (now in the Louvre) presented to Louis XIV by the Pamphilj family, it has been reestablished that the painting was originally commissioned by Vittrice.

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