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Martha Rebuking Mary for Her Vanity, after 1660

Guido Cagnacci

Italian, 1601-1663
Oil on canvas
90-1/4 x 104-3/4 in. (229.2 x 266.1 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation
M.1982.5.P
© 2012 Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

The scene of Mary Magdalene's repentance was frequently depicted by painters in the seventeenth-century. Cagnacci, however, created a unique version of this episode. He combined reality, idealism and fantasy into one, vivid allegory of Virtue triumphing over Vice. His satisfaction with the results is evident, as he signed himself "inventor."

At center, a penitent Magdalene is rebuked by Martha. The confusion of clothes and jewels cast aside suggests her desertion of vanity. Behind them an angel (Virtue) chases out a devil (Vice). The handmaids at the door reiterate these contrasts. The crying woman represents "contrition"; the other, gesturing in annoyance, represents "vanity." This brilliant tableau combines lofty allegory with sensuous representation to create an inventive, but effective visual metaphor.

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