Details & Cataloguing

Important Old Master Paintings, Including European Works of Art

New York

Guido Reni
oil on canvas, in its original 17th century painted wood frame
37 3/4 by 30 3/8 in.; 96 by 77 cm.
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Acquired by Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna (1637-1689), 8th Duke and Prince of Paliano and Grand Contestable of the Kingdom of Naples, Palazzo Colonna, Piazza SS. Apostoli, Rome, between 1667 and 1678 (when cited there by Malvasia, see Literature; in the Colonna inventory of 1679);
By descent to his son Filippo II Colonna (1663-1714), 9th Duke and Prince of Paliano (in his deceased inventory of 1714);
By descent to his third son Fabrizio II Colonna (1700-1755), 10th Duke and Prince of Paliano (in his inventory of 1730);
By descent to his son Lorenzo II Colonna (1723-1779), 11th Duke and Prince of Paliano;
By descent to his son, Filippo III Giuseppe Colonna (1760-1818), 12th Prince and Duke of Paliano (in his inventory of 1783);
Private collection, France;
With Colnaghi, London, from whom acquired by the present owner.


C.C. Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice, vol. 2, Bologna 1678 (2nd ed., Bologna 1841). p. 64, "Nel Palagio del sig. Contestabile Colonna... due Santine grandi del naturale, mezze figure, cioè S. Caterina e S. Margherita";
Inventario della Guardarobba, e Palazzo dell'Ecc.mo Sig:r Gran Conestabile D. Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna fatto in Sua assenza per l'andata di Vice Rè di Aragona, 1679, no. 43, "Un Quadro di p.mi 4, e 3 con S:ta Margarita con cornice di pero nero fatta à onde opera di Guido";
Inventario di tutti l'Effetti tanto in Roma Stato Ecclesiastico, e Regno trovati in essere doppo la Morte della Ch: Me: dell'Ecc. Sig.re D. Filippo Colonna defontoli 6 Nov.re 1714. Principiato dalli 15 Xbre 1714, e terminato i 26 Feb.o 1716 fatto in tempo dal Perugini e rogato dal Claudi suo successore, 1714-1716, no. 706, "Un quadro dj misura dj palmi quattro, e tre per alto rapp.te una santa Margarita originale dj Guido reno con sua cornice intagliata dorata Ereditario dj D. Filippo chia: me";
Galleria dell'Ecc.mo Sig.re Gran Contestabile Colonna Disegnata e colorita da Salvatore Colonnelli Sciarra Pittore, e Architetto, 1730, p. 1, no. 42, "S. Margherita di Guido Reni";
Catalogo dei Quadri, e Pitture esistenti nel Palazzo dell'eccellentissima Casa Colonna in Roma Coll'indicazione dei loro Autori diviso in sei parti Secondo i rispettivi Appartamenti, 1783, no. 224, "Un Quadro nell'altro Angolo, che è il secondo di 4 per alto = S. Margherita Vergine = Guido Reno";
England and the Seicento, exhibition catalogue (Agnew), London 1973, under no. 48;
Some Masterpieces from Manchester City Art Gallery, exhibition catalogue, London 1983, under no. 51;
S. Pepper, Guido Reni. A Complete Catalogue of his Works, Oxford 1984, p. 282, under no. 178 as a lost original;
S. Pepper, Guido Reni. L'Opera Completa, Novara 1988, p. 293, under no. 171, (as a lost original);
S.L. Caroselli (ed.), Guido Reni, exhibition catalogue, Bologna, Los Angeles, Fort Worth 1988-89, p. 302, under no. 56;
Advertisement in The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXLI, no. 1150, January 1999, p. xvi.

P. Vitale, Rome, 1782.

Catalogue Note

This exquisite painting, in which Saint Margaret of Antioch is shown with downcast eyes contemplating a small cross, the instrument of her salvation from captivity inside the dragon, is listed in the 1679 inventory of Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna (1637-1689), 8th Duke and Prince of Paliano and Grand Contestable of the Kingdom of Naples. It remained at Palazzo Colonna in Rome until at least 1783, after which there is no trace of it until its reappearance on the art market in 1999. The painting is sold in its original 17th century wavy black pear wood frame, the same frame in which it is recorded in the 1679 inventory (see Literature and fig. 1).

The Colonna collection was put together, almost in its totality, during the second half of the 17th century by Cardinal Girolamo I Colonna and his nephew Lorenzo Onofrio. Being listed in their 1679 inventory, and indeed cited in the Palazzo Colonna a year earlier by Malvasia (see Literature), the present work would have been one of their earliest major acquisitions. It is not listed in the inventory of the posessions of Cardinal Girolamo I that was put together the year after his death in 1666 and it must therefore have been acquired by his nephew and heir, Lorenzo Onofrio, some time between 1667 and 1678 (when Malvasia cites it). It would eventually have hung in the main gallery (completed 1703) along with the bulk of the Italian and religious pictures; landscapes and genre scenes which seem to have been reserved for the older wing of the complex known as Princess Isabelle's apartments. The painting is last recorded in the inventory of 1783, soon after which it was sold, along with many other great masterpieces such as Reni's Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, to pay off the crippling financial losses suffered by the family in the wake of the Peace of Tolentino in 1797. Lorenzo Onofrio had inherited the immense Colonna posessions in the Papal states and the Kingdom of Naples from both his uncle and his father Prince Marcantonio, making him one of the richest men in Europe. In 1661 he strengthened his already prominent position in European society by marrying Maria Mancini, niece of Cardinal Mazarin.

In the Colonna collection, Malvasia pairs the painting with a Saint Catherine, long identified as the Saint Catherine in the Manchester City Art Gallery (see fig. 2).1  Pepper concludes however that the latter is not synonymous with the Colonna picture, arguing instead for an identification of it with a Saint Catherine listed in the Crozat collection, Paris, in 1689 (before entering the collections of Robert Strange, Andrew Fountaine and finally Manchester). The re-emergence of the present work further endorses Pepper's hypothesis, its figural design following nearly exactly that of the Manchester painting, so that it seems extremely unlikely that they would have been paired together or even acquired for the same collection. Furthermore, an X-radiograph of the Manchester Saint Catherine reveals that she was originally conceived without the crown and, instead, wore a veil (now visible as a pentimento), and did not hold the feather, both it and the crown being later additions by different hands; it therefore would have resembled the present work even more closely, although minus the attributes of Saint Margaret. The present Saint Margaret was engraved by P. Vitale in 1782 while still in the Colonna collection in Rome. The engraving was devoted to the Venetian Ambassador to the Holy See.

The Manchester Saint Catherine is dated by Pepper to circa 1638-9 and a similar dating for the present work would seem appropriate. Reni depicts the saint isolated in meditation. As in so many of his late works this painting is characterized by a deeply spiritual air. Like the Manchester Saint Catherine and other works from this date that depict half-length figures in quiet devotion, such as the Artemisia in the Birmingham City Art Gallery or the Penitent Magdalene in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, Reni limits his palette to a few colours of light tonality, applying the paint, notably in the drapery, in broad, lively brushstrokes, reserving a more polished technique for the flesh tones.2  These paintings can be considered amongst the last of Reni's great works, before his refined technique abandoned him in the year or two prior to his death in 1642.

Martin Royalton-Kisch of the British Museum has pointed out the existence of another St Margaret by Reni, which is now in Münster but which is not recorded by Pepper. It was engraved while in the posession of Sir Joshua Reynolds and shows a completely different composition to the present work (and Vitale's engraving), depicting the protagonist in a prison setting; judging from photographs it would appear to be an early work by the artist, datable to the first decade of the 17th century.

1. C.C. Malvasia, under Literature, p. 64. For a reproduction of the Manchester picture see fig. 1, or Pepper, 1984, under Literature, p. 282, no. 178, reproduced plate 209.
2. Pepper, 1984, p. 284, no. 182, reproduced plate 212; Caroselli, under Literature, p. 294, no. 52, reproduced.

Important Old Master Paintings, Including European Works of Art

New York