Verona 1578 – 1649 Rome
The Communion of the Magdalene
oil on copper
21 ⅞ x 17 inches
55.5 x 43 cm
Lent by The Alana Collection, Delaware
Alessandro Turchi (1578-1649) was one of the leading artists in Verona in the first half of the 17th century and achieved a more than local, even international reputation. He painted on both a large and small scale, including a number of small pictures on slate for which the Verona school was renowned. This enabled him, as in the present work, to utilize the medium of copper with equal confidence, exploiting the warm tones of the copper panel to impart an inner glow to the colors, half tones and shadows.
Turchi trained under the late mannerist artist Felice Brusasorci and his career flourished right from the start. By the time he was recorded in Rome in 1614 he had already modernised his style, but in Rome itself he embraced the example of Caravaggio and his followers Orazio Gentilleschi and Carlo Saraceni, as well as the dynamic baroque of Giovanni Lanfranco. The present work has been dated to around the time of Turchi’s altarpiece of circa 1617 for San Salvatore in Lauro, the church of the Marchigian community in Rome. It also relates to another Turchi of this subject sold at Sothebys on 11 December 2003 (lot 18). The dramatic composition, rich shadows and palpable flesh tones are certainly Caravaggesque, but the energy of the compostion also reflects the Roman work of Lanfranco at this time. The diagonal of the angel’s arm extending through the arm of the Magdalene and the figure supporting her is a typical early baroque device, tying the figures together. This is one of Turchi’s most exciting Roman paintings, something that another major follower of Caravaggio Carlo Saraceni could never quite match, though he may admittedly have had less ambition to do so. Turchi’s later work becomes calmer, more static and closer to the baroque classicism of Guercino and the Bolognese school.
During the counter-reformation, images of St Mary Magdalene in the desert were very popular. Caravaggisti like Orazio Gentilleschi exploited the subject to emphasize her sensuous qualities as much as her penitent condition, continuing a tradition established earlier by Titian. The Communion of the Magdalene is a rarer subject, and emphasizes the saint’s reception into the Christian church after expiation of her sins. A small picture like this would have been used for private devotion. What is remarkable is the skill with which the artist has conveyed the feeling of a full scale altarpiece on a reduced and intimate scale. One can perhaps imagine a devotee kneeling on a prie dieu before it, sharing and witnessing the saint’s experience. ❖
Private European collection
Vienna, Dorotheum, 18 October 2016, lot 100
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner