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Sebastiano Ricci (Belluno 1659-Venice 1734)

The Magdalen anointing Christ's feet c.1728-30

Pen and brown ink and wash | 24.0 x 35.1 cm | RCIN 907099

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A drawing depicting several figures seated around a long table in front of four columns, with Christ seated at lower left and Mary at his feet, and pharasees rising out of their chairs on the right. This drawing is a study for painting of the same title now hanging at Hampton Court. Christ was at supper in the house of Simon the Pharisee when a penitent prostitute entered (not named in the Gospel, Luke 7: 36-50, but traditionally identified with Mary Magdalen). She washed Christ’s feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them from a jar of ointment. Simon expressed his disbelief that a prophet would let himself be touched by a sinner; Christ responded that her actions proved her love and thus earned the forgiveness of her sins. The drawing is a study for the largest of a series of seven New Testament paintings by Ricci from the collection of Joseph Smith, in the Royal Collection. Like many of Ricci’s paintings, the work owes much to the sixteenth-century example of Paolo Veronese - its composition, figure types, colouring, love of incidental detail, and not least its size, over 6 metres (20 feet) wide, which bears comparison to Veronese’s great dinner scenes such as the Wedding at Cana (Louvre) and the Feast in the House of Levi (originally a Last Supper; Venice, Accademia). Here the general layout has been determined, and the four principal figures (Christ, the Magdalen, and the two Pharisees on the near side of the table) were close to their final form, but much else remained to be resolved, and the drawing should be seen only as an interim summation of Ricci’s work on the composition. The drawing comes from an album of 211 sheets by Sebastiano Ricci, acquired (like the painting) by George III with Joseph Smith’s collection. Sebastiano travelled widely, working all over Italy and in Vienna and London, but for most of his last two decades he was based in Venice, during which time he became a friend of Smith. The majority of the drawings thus date from the latter part of Ricci’s career and include 41 studies for paintings also in Smith’s collection. They are mounted with wash-and-line borders in a style also found in albums from the collection of Smith’s friend, Anton Maria Zanetti, such as a volume containing another 133 drawings by Sebastiano, now in the Accademia, Venice. Many of the finishing tools used to stamp gold decoration on the bindings are also common to the Zanetti and Smith volumes, and it must be concluded that both collectors had their albums made up by the same bindery in Venice. Text adapted from Holbein to Hockney: Drawings from the Royal Collection