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Christ sits enthroned in the Temple of Jerusalem. He blesses the woman in the lower right, who is extending her arms and kneeling in repentance. This is Mary Magdalene, whose conversion is not specifically mentioned in the Gospels, but which was often represented in art. Her sister Martha stands beside her, pointing at Christ.
Pedro Campaña’s painting is inspired by a lost fresco by Federico Zuccaro, datable to 1563 and formerly in the Grimani chapel in the church of San Francesco della Vigna, Venice. The chapel, which was dedicated to Mary Magdalene, also included a fresco of the Raising of Lazarus (which has survived). Among the crowd of onlookers are numerous portraits, presumably of members of the Grimani family.
This panel can be associated with a small painting mentioned in the will of Giovanni Grimani (1506–1593). Its attribution there to ‘Pietro di Fiandra’ (literally ‘Peter the Fleming’) confirms Campaña’s authorship, as the artist was also known by this name (referring to his Flemish origins).
A youthful Christ sits enthroned, preaching in the Temple of Jerusalem, which is filled with people. He blesses the woman in the lower right corner, who is extending her arms and kneeling in repentance. This is Mary Magdalene, and she wears opulent clothing and lavish jewellery which she will soon give up to pursue a life of piety. The woman standing beside her pointing at Christ is her sister Martha.
The conversion of Mary Magdalene is not specifically mentioned in the Gospels but it was often represented in art and featured in several Renaissance plays; another example in our collection is Paolo Veronese’s version, also painted in Venice around the middle of the sixteenth century. The spatial recession within the temple is created by the colonnade and tiled floor leading the eye to the arch in the centre, through which an imaginary city is visible.
Here Pedro Campaña has drawn inspiration from a lost fresco by Federico Zuccaro, datable to 1563 and formerly in the Grimani chapel in the church of San Francesco della Vigna, Venice. The chapel, which was dedicated to Mary Magdalene, also included a fresco of the Raising of Lazarus (Martha and Mary’s brother) which has survived. Zuccaro’s fresco of the conversion of Mary was severely affected by damp and was completely lost by the eighteenth century, but several of his preparatory drawings for the composition exist. Campaña’s painting may be based on an initial design by Zuccaro.
Among the crowd of onlookers are numerous portraits, presumably of members of the Grimani family. These include the little girl standing behind Mary Magdalene and the two children above her, silhouetted against the columns, as well as the numerous male figures in sixteenth-century dress who look out of the picture.
The colours in this painting have changed drastically, particularly evident in the figure of Christ. The red lake pigment of his robe has faded considerably, its brilliant rose colour surviving only in the deepest shadows. The dull grey-brown cloak he wears was originally blue – the smalt pigment used here has discoloured.
This work can be reasonably associated with Campaña. A small painting of the same subject by ‘Pietro di Fiandra’ (literally ‘Peter the Fleming’) is mentioned in the will of Giovanni Grimani (1506–1593), the powerful patriarch who had assumed responsibility for decorating the chapel in San Francesco della Vigna after 1558. ‘Pietro di Fiandra’ is the name by which Campaña was also known, referring to his Flemish origins. At the end of the eighteenth century, the art historian Luigi Lanzi wrote that Grimani had invited Campaña to Venice, where he painted various portraits and the ‘famous painting of Magdalene led by Saint Martha to the Temple to hear Christ preach’. This, and the evidence provided by Grimani’s will, point to Campaña’s authorship for this painting, despite the stylistic discrepancies between it and other works by the artist.
After spending extensive periods working in both Spain and Italy, Campaña returned to his native Brussels around the time that this picture and Zuccaro’s frescoes were painted.
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