Artibus et Historiae no. 73 (XXXVII)

2016, ISSN 0391-9064

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PAUL JOANNIDES - An Attempt to Situate Titian’s Paintings of the Penitent Magdalen in Some Kind of Order (pp. 157-194)

The half-length Penitent Magdalen was probably the most commercially successful and most repeated subject painted by Titian and his studio. In treating it Titian was no doubt stimulated by the comparably extensive production of Penitent Magdalens by the Milanese painter Giampietrino, but it was Titian’s visualisation of the subject that became canonical. Titian produced the Penitent Magdalen in two closely related types, in both of which her pose is based on the antique model of the Venus Pudica. In Type I, a nocturne, she is set in an unforgiving grotto and is entirely nude but covered with her abundant hair. Titian seems to have invented this formula around 1530 and to have continued to paint versions of it for about a decade. In Type II, probably invented c. 1550 and repeated with variations into the 1570s, the Magdalen is placed in more hospitable country and draped: in all but one instance she wears a prayer-shawl. This type is diurnal and Titian sometimes indicates different times of day. Both types exist in different sizes but all known autograph or studio examples of Type II are larger than all known examples of Type I. Between the abandonment of Type I and the development of Type II, Titian experimented with at least two variant arrangements, although the evidence for these is limited.

This article was prompted by the appearance of two hitherto unknown versions of Type II and aided by the opportunity of examining little-studied versions of both types. It makes use of previously unpublished X-rays of some of the surviving examples and includes discussion of painted and engraved copies of paintings now unlocated or destroyed. It endeavours to arrange Titian’s and his studio’s versions of the Penitent Magdalen in a plausible chronological sequence and, as far as possible, to connect surviving or recorded paintings with references in written sources.

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