Vincenzo Spisani detto lo Spisanello

Vincenzo Spisani detto lo Spisanello


Orta Novarese, 1595 – Bologna, 1662

Saint Mary Magdalene in meditation

oil on canvas, cm 92,5×75

The painting depicts Saint Mary Magdalene in meditation, depicted in the usual iconography with her blonde hair loose on her shoulders, a skull on her lap to symbolise the transience of earthly things, and a cross held in her hand and secured to a gold chain. 

The subject was particularly widespread from the Counter-Reformation onwards, to stimulate devotion to the sacrament of confession. 

The light that envelops the saint, against the dark sky at dusk, creates a divine sense of sublime harmony between the pale robes and the pearly complexion. The stylistic, chromatic and compositional skills that created this figure can be identified in the Emilian area and attributed to the artist Vincenzo Spisanelli, a pupil, like most of the painters of his time, of the academy of Denys Calvaert. 

This singular artist, active in Bologna at the height of the Baroque period, can be recognised as the author of this painting due to certain characteristic traits, such as its skilful execution and gentle, vibrant touch, which can be compared to his other works featuring saints, including the Saint Lucy now in the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna. This elegant Mary Magdalene was evidently commissioned for a domestic setting, as demonstrated by her chaste yet sensual physiognomy.