SACCHI, Andrea
(b. 1599, Nettuno, d. 1661, Roma)

The Three Magdalenes

Oil on canvas, 68 x 50,5 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

This painting was first recorded as a work by Andrea Sacchi in a 1692 inventory of the collection of Pope Alexander VII's nephew Cardinal Flavio Chigi. It is the oil sketch for a larger canvas version (270 x 184 cm) of the same subject, once at the convent of S. Salvi and now at on deposit at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. According to Bellori, who describes the picture in precise detail, Sacchi's protector Cardinal Antonio Barberini commissioned it directly from the artist.

Considering the highly unusual subject (the three Magdalenes: St Mary Magdalene of Japan, St Mary Magdalene and St Mary Magdalene dei Pazzi), this composition must have been designed for a particular place. A scenario was proposed in which the large altarpiece was sent in 1634 by Urban VIII to the Florentine Convent of Santa Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi, where the pope's two sisters lived as cloistered nuns from 1628 to 1639. The oil sketch differs in certain details from the larger Florentine picture. The most notable of the changes is that the putti, nude in the oil sketch, are covered by drapery in the altarpiece: evidently this was done out of a sense of decorum for the cloistered ambient for which the painting was destined. Painting just after Pietro da Cortona undertook the grand vault of the Palazzo Barberini, and during the years of the bitter polemical exchange between Sacchi and Cortona about the baroque style, this painting re-proposes a classical pyramid composition. In the picture the three figures, firmly defined in their space, acquire a solemn monumentality in their classic, measured gestures. A preparatory drawing, datable to 1633, is conserved at Düsseldorf.