Magdalene, one and three

Jul 22, 2021 | Art-Test News, Authentications & attributions, Discoveries

Mary Magdalene, protagonist, in spite of herself, in the very popular book the “Da Vinci Code”, (where it is fictionalized that she was the wife of Christ, and mother of his descendants), has always inspired artists with her “irregularity” as a saint sinner.

The best known “penitent Magdalene”, or “Magdalene in ecstasy”,  is perhaps the one by Caravaggio. Because of the author’s fame, of course, but also because more versions of it have appeared, and critics are debating which one is the original.

These days, a version that emerged in the antiques market some time ago is exhibited in Possagno, after being at the MART in Trento. In 2014 the well known scholar Mina Gregori had authenticated another one, disavowing what for years had been considered the first version, the so-called Maddalena Klein, from the family of collectors who owned it. These two last versions have also been exhibited together to allow for comparisons.

The interest is also accentuated by the fact that the painting is perhaps the last created by the master. In fact, from his biographers we know that on his death during the return trip to Rome, he had with him a “half-length Magdalene”, perhaps still to be completed.

How do we find out which is the original? The question is complex, also because there are many other versions, some copies signed by Louis Finson, the painter who hosted Caravaggio in Naples, but others still to be studied.

ArtTest has investigated a very remarkable version, which has not yet been published.

We only know that the question of the autography of Caravaggio’s paintings and of possible copies or doubles is still open.

It is striking, however, that, when debating about authorship, no reference is made to diagnostic investigations and scientific data to at least narrow the number down.

Of course, the fact that there is an X-ray or a reflectography, rarely both, is not enough. The diagnostic companion should be complete and start from the basics.

For example: has the canvas been dated with C14?

Have the pigments been checked for any anachronisms?

As we have seen, opinions change and are subjective. The scientific data remain. There is still so much to discover. Let’s do it!

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