Under disguise

A supposed Mary Magdalen turned out, thanks to diagnostics and restoration, to be the portrait of a young noble woman

Before the restoration

After the restoration

When thinking about the works of Giovanni di Battista di Iacopo, known as Rosso Fiorentino, you think of grotesque figures, occasionally having an almost demonic appearance. Figures completely deprived of those refined and elegant filters typical of the Renaissance art.Rosso’s style is unique, extremely detailed, but at the same time characterized by geometric, almost static elements. Animated and tormented compositions are flanked by extremely wide drapery with angular shapes, sometimes unrealistic, and by an extreme expressiveness of the portrayed characters, as it happens in The Deposition.Born in Florence in 1494 and trained together with his peer Pontormo in the workshop of Andrea del Sarto between 1510 and 1517, Rosso showed, since his earliest works, a rebellious attitude towards the constraints imposed by the dominant artistic movement, of which the decline had already begun. Trying to recreate that dynamism in the bodies that he admired in Michelangelo’s works, he laid the foundations of the Florentine manner and after moving to France of the Fontainebleau school and of Mannerism as a whole.His unique and certainly easily recognizable style will later undergo a further darkening following the sack of Rome in 1527.However, looking at the Portrait of a young woman, an oil painting on panel, now exhibited in the new rooms of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, although belonging to this collection since 1894, one would think that there must have been a first moment in which the artist’s personality had yet to assert itself. Or, and more likely, that at the time, the young painter, just sixteen years old, was more cautious in determining the composition, and just followed the “fashion” of the time.This young woman is portrayed in a three quarter pose, in a gentle, orderly way. Her appearance, her dress, the whole composition, the simple, timidly hinted, landscape in the background seem to wink at Raphael. In fact, there are many similarities with e.g. La Gravida (1505-1506). The black low-cut dress with green inserts on the bust is very reminiscent of the fashion of the early sixteen century. However, before the analyses, details such as the veil and the halo, just hinted around her head, suggested the portrait of a saint, and indeed it was identified as a Mary Magdalene.

Visible image before restoration

UV image

Infrared reflectography

You can see in the first picture the appearance of the painting in 2009 when it was analyzed by Art-Test. With the objective to establish what was original and what was not, the painting has been analyzed with UV fluorescence imaging, to locate any previous restoration work, and with IR reflectography, to study the preparatory drawing. The combination of the two tests allowed the restorer to proceed with a rather important cleaning project which involved the total removal of those elements that turned out to be not original, such as the halo, the veil and the red drapery that partially covered the young girl’s shoulder. Now the young woman shows similarities with the girls portrayed by Andrea del Sarto in The Nativity of the Virgin and with those of the Assumption painted by Rosso in the cloister of the Vows in 1514. It is true, however, that the absence of Rosso Fiorentino’s stylistic peculiarities make the attribution of the work doubtfulThe diagnostic-restoration binomial thus culminated with the return to the Uffizi of the portrait no more of a Magdalene but of a young and elegant women with clothes, hairstyle, and jewelry typical of the sixteenth century.

Alice Fusco