(b. 1518, Venezia, d. 1594, Venezia)
St Mary of Egypt1582-87
Oil on canvas, 425 x 211 cm
Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice
In the Sala Inferiore there are two paintings of a solitary woman in a twilit, well-wooded and -watered landscape. Traditionally, but unconvincingly, the women are identified as St Mary Magdalen and St Mary of Egypt, penitent hermits who have nothing to do with context of the decoration of the room. The woman is the same in both paintings sitting in two adjacent spots by the same stream and wearing the same clothes. In one painting she faces the observer virtually head-on and in the other almost completely turns her back on us. In one pose she lowers her gaze to her closed book and in the other raises her eyes from the now open book in rumination. In all likelihood this is a dual picture of Mary as the protagonist of the story of redemption.
St Mary Magdalen is captured from the front, engrossed in reading, and given prominence like the large tree trunk on the left by a phosphorescent light falling on a magically mysterious nature. She is succinctly defined in the final fleeting instant before the night shadows fall on the outline of the rustic cottages, on the rolling plains, on the ridges of the hills and mountains.
Like the landscape with the figure of St Mary of Egypt, this work too was influenced by northern models: it suggests the paintings and prints of the Danube School (for instance by Albrecht Altdorfer and Wolf Huber), and woodcuts by Hans Baldung Grien, the Nuremberg graphic artist Virgil Solis, and the mysterious artist, known only by his monogram of HWG, who depicts St John the Evangelist on Patmos, surrounded by a fantastic landscape.