Menarini Pills of Art: Mary Magdalene by Pietro Perugino

Florence, Palatine Gallery of Palazzo Pitti. Here, the expert in Florentine Art Olivera Stojovic introduces to us a minor work by Perugino, born as Pietro Vannucci. A small oil painting panel and a delicate example of femininity and beauty: the Mary Magdalene.

The artwork measures 47×34 cm and depicts a “modern”, not suffering Mary Magdalene. The three-quarters turned figure seems to appear from darkness. The background is indeed dark, in contrast to the light and rosy skin tone of the woman’s face. Her hair – framed by a thin halo – are dark and wavy, falling gently on the shoulders. She gazes downwards and her face is slightly inclined.

This posture is in contrast to the usual depiction of the Saint, often portrayed suffering. Looking at this painting, the viewer is rather surprisingly pervaded by the sense of peacefulness the figure of Mary Magdalene radiates. To accentuate the feeling of calmness is also her gesture: the hands are placed on top of each other, as if the woman were waiting.

The “sacred” identity of the woman is identifiable by the golden inscription on the neckline of her elegant and fashionable dress, colored in red and green, symbols of love and penance. Her body is wrapped in a dark fur, which highlights the bright complexion of the woman.

To make this painting, Perugino probably used his wife as a model: Chiara Fancelli, daughter of the architect Luca Fancelli – a pupil of Brunelleschi – who collaborated in the construction of Palazzo Pitti, where the work is now preserved. Since there are no testimonies on the commissioner of the artwork, Perugino’s wedding – which took place in 1493 – is an important reference point to determine the time when the artist made the painting.

This artwork is a little gem of Italian Renaissance painting, incredibly refined, a hybrid between sacred painting and portraiture.