Bernardino Cesari

Bernardino Cesari


Arpino, 1571 – Rome, 1622

Ecstasy  of Mary Magdalene

oil on canvas, cm 97×117

This painting features a three-quarter view of Mary Magdalene dressed in a green tunic and covered by a yellow cloak trimmed in pearl white. Her long, blonde hair falling loose over her shoulders, the closed book held in her lap, and the presence of the angel handing her the jar of ointments, make her recognisable as the saint, in keeping with a widespread iconography depicting the moment of her ecstasy, when she led a hermit’s life. 

The broken drapery pervaded by bright light on the crests, the calculated and almost geometric physiognomy of the face, the hands with long fingers but somewhat stubby palms, are characteristics that liken this painting to the production of Cavalier d’Arpino, one of the most outstanding protagonists of Roman painting at the turn of the 16th–17th century and, together with Roncalli, the most strenuous defender of mannerism. 

The tone of the painting and the strong lighting hark back to a more naturalistic painting of the early 17th century and suggest the attribution of this canvas to Bernardino Cesari, younger brother of Cavalier d’Arpino, who was close to him in sensibility and style.