FETTI, Domenico
(b. ca. 1589, Roma, d. 1623, Venezia)

The Repentant St Mary Magdalene

Oil on canvas, 98 x 78,5 cm
Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome

The image of this famous repentant sinner, prototype of the penitent in Christian art, became one of the favourite subjects of European art in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

In a career that spanned only thirteen years, Fetti's work underwent an astonishing evolution, from objective realism to lyricism, from compact form to the erosion of space, from solid and plastic modeling to a broken and agitated kind of painting, from descriptive to tortuous brush strokes, from dry to oily and liquid tints, from local colour to tonality, and from analytical concreteness to a sweetly sentimental air. Here the artist takes his inspiration from Correggio's Mary Magdalene reading. He represents the sensual and seductive heroine with half-closed eyes, lowered head, and the characteristic gesture of the hand on which she rests her head, with an intensely melancholic significance, equivalent to 'tristitia'. In fact the painter conceived this theme in terms of a Meditation or Melancholy.

It is worth remembering that Giovan Battista Andreini's drama Maddalena was published in Mantua in 1617, and may have provided the idea for the painting. In any case, the last possible date for its execution is 1621, the date on which a copy (now at Hampton Court), possibly the work of the painter's sister Lucrina Fetti, was delivered to Ferdinando Gonzaga.