The Repentant Magdalene

Guido Cagnacci (Italian, 1601-1663)
c. 1660-63
Oil on canvas 
90-1/4 x 104-3/4 in. (229.2 x 266.1 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 Repentant 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.”


Dukes of Mantua by 1665, Duke Carlo II, villa Marmirolo and villa Favorita;
Duke Ferdinand Carlo Gonzaga, 10th and last Duke of Mantua in 1706, transported to Venice 1707; upon his death, transported 5 July 1708 to Padua, (sale, Venice, 1711, purchased by);
Christian Cole, and transported to England in April, 1711 for;
Henry Bentinck (1st Duke of Portland by 1716), Bulstrode House; Harcourt House by 1854;
Dukes of Portland, Welbeck Abbey and London, by descent to;
Lady Anne Bentinck, Welbeck Abbey (sale, London, Christie’s, 11 December 1981, lot 52);
[P.D. Colnaghi & Co., London];
Norton Simon Art Foundation.

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