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Master of the Palazzo Venezia Madonna, Saint Mary Magdalene

Key facts
Full title Saint Mary Magdalene
Artist Master of the Palazzo Venezia Madonna
Artist dates active mid-14th century
Series Master of Palazzo Venezia Altarpiece Panels
Date made about 1350 (?)
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 60.1 × 34.5 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Misses Cumming in memory of their father, Charles D. Cumming, 1930
Inventory number NG4491
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Saint Mary Magdalene
Master of the Palazzo Venezia Madonna

The saint depicted here is Mary Magdalene, identifiable by the ointment jar she holds and by her robes of bright scarlet, a colour traditionally associated with her.

Saint Mary Magdalene was linked with the Mary of the Gospels, who Christ allowed to wash his feet when he was dining with his followers (John 12: 1–8). She was also the first person to whom Christ appeared after his resurrection. She had gone to his tomb with ointment, planning to anoint his body, but found it empty. Instead she saw Christ, and mistook him for a gardener (John 20: 1–18).

The artist has taken great care to paint the ointment jar so that it resembles white marble with pink and blue veins. Its surface has a soft luminosity, an effect achieved by painting a thin layer of white paint over a base of layer of bright colours. This technique is known as scumbling.

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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.