CANOVA, Antonio
(b. 1757, Possagno, d. 1822, Venezia)

The Penitent Magdalene

1796
Marble, height 94 cm
Palazzo Bianco, Genoa

This work was considered the greatest of modern times by Stendhal and many others. First exhibited at the Salon in 1808, it was later acquired by the Milanese Bonapartist the Baron Sommariva, who installed it in his house - near Madame Récamier's - in a special room, half chapel, half boudoir, which was painted violet and lit by an alabaster lamp. The kneeling penitent, of a thoroughly worldly perfection of figure, transfixed by her contemplation of cross and skull, created a 'miraculous' effect on all who came to her shrine - and one which was surely not entirely pious.