The Rest on the Flight into Egypt

135.5 x 166.5 cm; oil on canvas (FC 241)

The Rest is one of the masterpieces of Caravaggio’s early period, datable to about 1597. The composition is divided in a completely original manner by the figure of an Angel shown from the back playing a violin. On the right, surrounded by luxuriant vegetation, is a sleeping Madonna with the Child in her arms. Both are depicted in an idealized style, and the beauty of their features is in direct contrast to the naturalistic portrayal of Saint Joseph. This is the artist’s first known sacred painting of substantial dimensions. Caravaggio came to Rome in the early 1590s and began by painting half figures on small canvases. In the Rest, the style of some passages in the landscape and tones of light still show the influence of Lombard and Venetian painting. The same model seems to have posed for this Madonna as for the Magdalene painted shortly afterwards. The notes on the sheet of music are from a motif written by the Flemish composer Noel Bauldwijn for a verse taken from the Song of Songs, dedicated to the Virgin. The masterpiece was purchased by Donna Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj in 1650.

The Penitent Mary Magdalene

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

This painting dates back to the early stage of Caravaggio’s activity in Rome (c. 1597) and portrays the sinner who has just renounced her previous worldly life: she has dropped a string of pearls on the ground, along with jewellery and a jar of unguent, an object often associated with her. As in the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, the artist demonstrates his skill in still life painting. The figure is complete, but appears compressed by the high viewing point. This is most certainly a cardinal work in Caravaggio’s oeuvre. The light tones are typical of the artist’s earlier work, though the diagonal shaft of light dividing the bare room is a precursor of the dramatic atmosphere of his later darker work that influenced painters across Europe. Like the Rest on the Flight into Egypt and the Fortune-Teller (now in the Louvre, donated to Louis XIV by the Pamphilj family),  we now know that the painting came from the Vittrice collection and was purchased by Donna Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj in 1650.