The Conversion of Mary Magdalene

Guido Cagnacci (Italian, 1601-1663)
c. 1661-62
Oil on canvas 
90-1/4 x 104-1/2 in. (229.2 x 265.4 cm) 
Credit Line:
Norton Simon Art Foundation 
Accession Number:
© Norton Simon Art Foundation 
On View

In the seventeenth century, Guido Cagnacci was celebrated for his deeply sensual paintings of female saints and heroines. The Conversion of Mary Magdalene , regarded as Cagnacci’s masterpiece, presents a unique treatment of this well-known subject. Full of earthy drama, it depicts Mary Magdalene rejecting her life of sin and excess in favor of following Christ. Her sister, Martha, reinforces her fateful decision. 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. A beautiful confusion of cast off clothes and jewels suggests her desertion of this vice. Cagnacci’s brilliant tableau combines lofty allegory with sensuous representation to create an inventive and effective visual metaphor. The artist’s pride and satisfaction with the results are evident, as he signed his name in Roman capital letters at the bottom right corner, followed by the word “inventor.”


Painted for the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I, Vienna, and proposed as gift to;
Dukes of Mantua by 1665, Duke Carlo II, villa Marmirolo and villa Favorita;
Duke Ferdinand Carlo Gonzaga, 10th and last Duke of Mantua in 1665, transported to Venice 1707; upon his death, transported 5 July 1708 to Padua, by inheritance to;
Duchess of Hanover, The Princesse de Condé and the Princesse de Salm (sale, Venice, 1711, purchased by);
Christian Cole, and transported to England in April, 1711 for;
Earl of Dartmouth, transferred or sold to;
Henry Bentinck (1st Duke of Portland by 1716), Bulstrode House by 1722, when (sold 19 February 1722, lot 78 to);
[Mr. Lamb" (possibly Aaron Lambe) to ?];
Marquise d'Ancezune, still in 1749.
Dukes of Portland, Bulstrode House, Welbeck Abbey and London, by 1809, by descent to;
Lady Anne Cavendish Bentinck, Welbeck Abbey (sale, London, Christie’s, 11 December 1981, lot 52, to);
[P.D. Colnaghi & Co., London, sold 1981 to];
Norton Simon Art Foundation.

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