Mary Magdalene Reading
Mary Magdalene Reading
Fondazione Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Siena, Italy
The painting depicts Mary Magdalene in a cave with long brown hair and large bright red robe that covers the lower part of the body. The saint is sitting and depicted from the front. She is resting her right elbow on a barren rock and leaning her head on her hand, while her left hand is holding a book that is resting on her legs.
In the foreground, far left, there’s a skull resting probably on a rock. It represents memento mori, symbol of the brevity of existence and inevitable death of the human kind.
Magdalene is immersed in reading of the sacred texts. Her eyes with thick eyelids are concentrated on the book and her face is illuminated by a warm light, resembling the works of Caravaggio, making her features serene. The saint is emerging from a dark background while the light comes from above, which was typical of Caravaggio and his followers works, representing great naturalism that pervades the painting.
St. Magdalene is represented here as a real woman with fair skin and soft arms and hands, which are the only parts of her body that can be seen. She has a beautiful oval face of a young woman concentrating on reading.
All these elements represent Rutilio’s change towards the naturalistic painting by Caravaggio between 1615 and 1620. In fact, this painting dates between 1620 and 1621.
The origins of the canvas are unknown. In the beginning of the 20th century the painting was in the collection of a Sienese nobleman Giulio Grisaldi Del Taia, who borrowed the painting for the 1904 exhibition Mostra dell’Antica Arte Senese. The painting might have always been in private ownership of Grisaldi Del Taia family, which also owned Manetti’s portraits of the family members (Portrait of Fulvio Del Taia; Portrait of Lelio Del Taia) and other works representing saints such as St. Catherine Writing, St. John in the Desert, St. Peter in Tears, St. Paul Preaching, which are today in Pinacoteca Nazionale of Siena, Banca del Monte dei Paschi di Siena and Museo Civico in Siena.
The painting remained in Grisaldi Del Taia collection until 2005 when it was bought by Fondazione Monte dei Paschi di Siena.
Rutilio Manetti was born in Siena in 1571. According to biographer Giulio Mancini he studied in Siena with Francesco Vanni and Ventura Salimbeni, Sienese painters of Roman Mannerism who were influenced by the works of Federico Barocci. In the mid-17th century Manetti studied the works of Caravaggio and his followers, who deeply influenced his paintings in his later period.
Rutilio’s first important commissions were the frescoes with the Stories of St. Catherine in Sala del Consiglio in Palazzo Pubblico in Siena (1596) and the Stories of Bishop Antonio Piccolomini (1598). Between 1599 and 1600 he painted the processional banner for the church of San Giovannino in Pantaneto with the Baptism of Jesus and Jesus Blessing St. John. The works were influenced by his masters and Barocci, and the Florentine painting by Jacopo Da Empoli, Passignano and Bernardino Poccetti.
In his following works he used Mannerism and Roman influences by Federico Zuccari and Cavalier d’Arpino. He began to deepen the use of light and bright colors with cangiantismo. This can be seen in The Beheading of St. Paul (Rome, Galleria Nazionale D’Arte Antica) in the beginning of the 1610s’, when he started to study the use of light in Caravaggio’s works.
In 1605 he began the decoration of the frescoes in the church of San Rocco, with a cycle of stories of the saint, which he finished in 1610. At the same time he continued to paint canvases and altarpieces which were in great demand in Siena and in other cities. In 1612 he worked in the churches of San Silvestro and San Frediano in Pisa and in the following year he painted the portraits of Blessed Pietro Petroni and Stefano Baconi for Certosa in Firenze. In Maggiano he painted St. Margaret Healed By Angels (1615). In this period he also worked on The Immaculate with St. Jude the Apostle and Carlo Borromeo for the cathedral of San Cerbone in Massa Marittima. There he also painted Madonna and Child with Saints and the Visitation of the Virgin to St. Elizabeth.
In his later phase he reduced the contrasts of colors to maintain more pronounced plasticity, deeper shadows and Caravaggio style naturalism that became more evident since the beginning of the century. There were strong influences of Gentileschi, Orazio and Artemisia. Bartolomeo Manfredi, Cecco del Caravaggio and foreign painters Simon Vouet, Valentin de Boulogne, Gerrit van Hontorst and Dirk van Baburen, which could be seen in works such as the Crucifixion in San Giacomo in Salicotto in Siena or in the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, which Rutilio signed and dated in 1621 for San Pietro alle Scale in Siena. In this period he painted the naturalistic depictions of saints and profane themes such as the Allegory of the Four Seasons and Ruggiero and Alcina (Florence, Palatina Gallery) which he painted between 1622 and 1623 for the Medici Casino of Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici. In these years he painted also Sophonisba and Massinissa (Galleria degli Uffizi), Loth and His Daughters (Rome, Galleria Nazionale D’Arte Antica in Palazzo Corsini; Valencia, Museo Bellas Artes) and the Musicians and Card Players (Siena, Chigi-Saraceni Collection).
Manetti continued his activity especially in Siena area until his death in his hometown in 1639.
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Monte dei Paschi di Siena Foundation was established on August 28, 1995 with the conferment of banking activity and it is the oldest bank in the world still operating. The headquarters is in Palazzo Sansedoni of Piazza del Campo, Siena, and the main mission is to carry out philanthropic activities in cultural, artistic and environmental sectors.
The foundation owns and preserves two collections: the collection of Artworks and Malandrini collection of photographs. Both collections can be found on digital version online. The artwork collection includes 57 pieces representing prestigious examples of Sienese art, some of which have been lost for centuries. A special committee of scholars and art historians was set up to identify the works of Sienese school between the 13th and 18th century. Among the artworks there are Segna di Bonaventura’s Madonna with Child Enthroned, St. Bartholomew, St. Ansanus and a Donor, Maestro dell’Osservanza’s Santa Lucia, Brescianino’s Madonna with Child and Little St. John, Ventura Salimbeni’s Santa Cecilia, Francesco Vanni’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Rutilio Manetti’s St. Jerome in Penitence and Bernardo Mei’s Holy Family with Magdalene.
The Malandri collection was named after the founder, photographer Ferruccio Malandrini, and it was established in 1975. The collection includes historical photographs from Siena territory, taken between 1853 and 1950. There are 135 units in the collection. The units consist of different themes, origins and technical and historical characteristics and in total they include 11,389 photographs.