Master of the Palazzo Venezia Madonna, Saint Mary Magdalene
Master of Palazzo Venezia Altarpiece Panels
These panels, which show Saints Mary Magdalene and Peter, were once part of the main tier of an altarpiece. The central image was of the Virgin and Child (now in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome) and two images of saints appeared on individual panels on either side.
Our two paintings were both to the right of the image of the Virgin, with Saint Peter probably closest to it. Another showing Saint Paul (now in a private collection) was probably situated directly to the left of the central image. Our panels were at one stage converted into rectangles – the current arched tops are modern additions, attached before the panels entered our collection to restore them to their original shape.
Silver has been detected on the back of the panels in other collections. We don't know the altarpiece’s original location, but if it did have a silver back then it’s likely that it was not designed to be placed against a wall.
These panels show Saints Mary Magdalene and Peter, and were once part of the main tier of an altarpiece. An image of the Virgin and Child was at the centre, with two images of saints on individual panels on either side. The altarpiece was eventually dismantled – we aren‘t sure when – and the panels are now housed in collections across the world: the Virgin and Child is now in the Palazzo Barberini, Rome and a panel showing Saint Paul is in a private collection.
The image of Saint Paul was probably situated to the left of the central image, while our panels were probably both on the right. Saint Peter was probably closest to the Virgin in the centre, mirroring the position of Saint Paul; it was very common for Peter and Paul, the two most important apostles, to be paired in altarpieces and to occupy this position of honour nearest the Virgin. Mary Magdalene tilts her head in the direction of the Virgin, suggesting that she too appeared on the right, probably next to Saint Peter.
The surviving panels have been associated with one another due to their size and the punched decoration of the haloes, which was made using shaped metal tools to indent the gold leaf. Both of our panels were converted into rectangles at one stage, perhaps to make them appear as individual pictures to be sold separately. The arched tops are modern additions, placed there to restore them to their original shape. These were added to the panels before they entered our collection.
Silver has been detected on the back of the panels in other collections, so it’s possible that the entire reverse was originally covered with silver leaf. While we don’t know the altarpiece’s original location, if it did have a silver back then it’s likely that it was designed to be viewed from the back as well as from the front, rather than to be placed against a wall.