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Carlo Dolci (Florence 1616-86)

The Penitent Magdalen signed & dated 1670

RCIN 405546

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The penitence of St Mary Magdalen is a traditional subject, particularly popular in seventeenth-century Italian art. Here the Magdalen is shown in half-length, facing to the right. Her hair is untied, her right hand is on her breast and the palm of her left hand is held upwards and resting on an open book. Her traditional attribute, a pot of oitment, is in the right foreground among rocks. The saint's tumbling hair and pot of ointment reference the Gospel of Luke (7:37-8), which describes a woman who was a sinner, unnamed but usually identified with the Magdalen, who anointed Christ's feet, washing them with her tears and then drying them with her hair, when he was in the house of the Pharisee. Carlo Dolci was deeply pious and famous for his emotive rendering of religious subjects and his detailed and polished finish. Mary Magdalen was his most frequently represented subject. 
Dolci's distinctive and meticulous paintng style brought him fame both in Florence, where he spent most of his life, and further afield.This painting entered the Royal Collection as a gift from Sir John Finch to the Catholic Queen Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II. As English Resident at the court of Grand Duke Ferdinand II between 1665 and 1670, Finch met Carlo Dolci in Florence and had the opportunity to commission a number of works from him, including the self-portrait in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. From the evidence in Finch's notebooks, written during his sojourn in Florence, we know that he admired and befriended the artist. According to Dolci's biographer Filippo Baldinucci, Finch commissioned this work and two companion paintings, a Salome with the Head of John the Baptist (RCIN 405639), and a David with the Head of Goliath, probably the version in the Brera.

Signed and dated on the rock under the pot of ointment: A D 1670 / Carolu. / Dolci.