Lot 44
  • 44

Josefa de Ayala e Cabrera, called Josefa de Óbidos

200,000 - 300,000 USD
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  • Josefa de Ayala e Cabrera, called Josefa de Óbidos
  • The penitent Magdalene comforted by angels
  • signed and dated lower left: (Jo)sepha em obidos 167(9)
  • oil on copper


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This painting has been restored. It is in beautiful condition. The copper plate on which it is painted has been reinforced around the extreme edges. The paint layer is stable and completely unretouched in many areas. There are a few spots of retouching in the dark colors in the upper right, and a concentration of retouches in the mauve dress of the Magdalene. The work should be hung in its current state.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Josefa de Ayala e Cabrera, known as Josefa de Óbidos, was one of the most celebrated Portuguese artists of the 17th century, famed as a painter of still lifes and religious subjects, as well as being an accomplished  engraver.  The daughter of Portuguese painter Baltazar Gomes Figueira and his Spanish wife, Catarina de Ayala y Cabrera, Josefa was born in Seville.  Her family returned to Portugal and was settled in Óbidos by 1634.  Though she entered religious training at the Augustinian convent of Santa Ana in Coimbra, she ultimately decided not to take vows and by 1653 had returned to Óbidos.  Josefa never married and, most remarkable for the time, lived as an independent woman earning her own living from her paintings which were mostly commissioned by convents and monasteries.1

This painting on copper is a relatively late work by the artist and one which beautifully expresses her piety and the deep sense of mysticism that pervades much of her oeuvre.  The Magdalene is depicted at the very moment of her conversion.  Still attired in rich satin robes, she has swooned in ecstasy before a vision of heaven in the form of musical angels set against swirling clouds, while two kneeling angels tenderly support her.  In the foreground can be seen her usual attributes:  the ointment jar, a skull and a scourge, to which the artist has carefully added the detail of dried blood.  It seems certain that Josefa knew works by Francisco de Zurbarán (indeed several of his panel paintings were included in inventories of her father’s, uncle’s and sister’s properties) and his influence can be seen here in the luminous touches of white and cream, and in the facial types and textiles.2


1.  See A. Hatherly, in The Sacred and Profane, Josefa de Obidos of Portrugal, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C. 1997, p. 34
2.  See V. Serrão, in The Dictionary of Art, London, 1996, Vol. 2, p. 878.