TIZIANO Vecellio
(b. 1490, Pieve di Cadore, d. 1576, Venezia)

The Penitent Magdalene

c. 1532
Oil on wood, 86 x 70 cm
Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence

The painting is of a penitent Mary Magdalene, using an iconography destined to become very successful on account of the unusual, bold erotic fascination that bursts out of the female nude of the saint, looking up to the heavens in an act of worship. Titian's Mary Magdalene is a penitent prostitute, a woman with a dissolute past who, according to the Gospels (Luke 7, 36-50), came to the house of Simon the Pharisee to ask Jesus for forgiveness, weeping penitent tears on the feet of Christ, which she then dried with her hair and scented with precious unguent from the jar on which Titian placed his own signature. It is a figure that is packed with femininity, portrayed by Titian using thick, concentrated brushstrokes and warm tones, highlighting the eyes, soaked in crystalline tears, and the marvellous cloak of copper blonde hair that covers her bare breasts - she is naked due to her resolve to strip herself bare of her past.

For this image, with its persistent idea of sinner and penitent, Titian may have used a Venetian courtesan as his model, as there were many in the 16th century who, having repented and converted, could use Titian's famous painting as their own example, such was its popularity that it was widely copied by the artist and by his workshop.

This version in the Palatine Gallery may be one of Titian's oldest prototypes, due to the astounding quality of the painting, and it was probably painted by the artist for Francesco Maria della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, in Venice between 1533 and 1535.

The painting is signed: "TITIANUS" on the rim of the opening on the vase, bottom left.