This work is an autograph reduced replica of Franceschini’s painting formerly in Cardinal Albani’s collection in Rome and today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.1 Apart from the difference in dimensions – the present painting is approximately two-thirds of the size of the Vienna canvas – the two works are identical in every respect; the Magdalene and putto are in similar poses, the colouring of her drapery is the same, and the landscape and foliage are identical. The Vienna painting has been dated to Franceschini’s mature years, that is to circa 1705-10, and more specifically to 1709; the year in which he painted a picture of this subject for Conte Ippolito Lovatelli of Ravenna. The commission is documented in Franceschini’s account books where it is noted that on February 12 the artist delivered a Magdalene to Matteo Conti (who received it on behalf of Lovatelli) and in the same instance Franceschini was asked to produce 'another', for which he was paid on July 18 of the same year.2 Until now the replica to which Franceschini’s libro dei conti refers has been assumed to be identifiable with a painting on the New York art market in 1992, in which the Magdalene and putto are shown in similar but not identical poses.3 The numerous differences between that and the Vienna (or present) version would suggest, however, that it is a third autograph variant, painted by the artist on another occasion: the Magdalene’s right arm is drawn up to her ear rather than dropped by her torso and the rope is no longer held by her but lies by her side as a result; her dress is purple rather than orange; and the putto holds the crown of thorns up above his head rather than beside him, altering his pose somewhat. It is far more reasonable to assume that if Ippolito Lovatelli had asked for another version (“un’altra”) he would have wanted it to be the same as the first, and thus it is quite likely that this might be that second version.
This painting is a supreme example of Franceschini’s refined interpretation of the works of the earlier generation of Bolognese painters, namely Guido Reni, the Carracci and Francesco Albani. Their influence is visible in the harmonious coloring; the warm tones of the Magdalene contrasting with the cool blues and greens of the lush landscape in which she sits. Franceschini achieves equilibrium in his composition by balancing the outward and upward movement of the putto with the weight of the Magdalene’s body in the lower part of the composition. It is a highly classicizing representation of a familiar subject and its success is attested to by clients' specific requests for different variants.
We are grateful to Dwight Miller for endorsing the attribution to Franceschini on the basis of photographs.
1 Inv. no. 225; oil on canvas, 119 by 96 cm.; D.C. Miller, Marcantonio Franceschini, Turin 2001, pp. 273-74, cat. no. 169, reproduced in color plate XLIII.
2 “Adì 12 febb. ho dato il Sig.r Matteo Conti la Maddalena fatta per il Sig.r conte Ippolito Lovatelli di Ravenna, con in licenza del detto Sig.r promessa, di farne un’altra e ne ho ricevuto vinti Doppie di Spagna, concordate prima col sudetto che sono...335” [“On 12 February I gave Mr. Matteo Conti the Magdalene done for Mr. Conte Ippolito Lovatelli of Ravenna, holding my promise to the above, to do another one...”]and again “Adì 18 luglio, Dal Sig.r Conte Ippolito Lovatelli, per residuo della sua Maddalena, quattrocentodieci Luigi...231”; cited by Miller, op. cit., p. 274.
3 Anonymous sale, New York, Christie’s, October 15, 1992, lot 136 (oil on canvas; 124.5 by 95.3 cm.).
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