Annibale Carracci (Italian, Bologna 1560 - 1609 Rome)
Saint Mary Magdalene in the Wilderness, ca. 1600-1605
Pen and brown ink, probably iron gall
Inscribed bottom left in brown ink over red chalk: Anble Carracci
4 1/8 x 7 5/16 in. (10.4 x 18.6 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1992
This drawing is a compositional sketch by Annibale Carracci for a now lost painting of the Magdalene in the Wilderness. Drawn with swift, searching lines, it represents the artist's initial thoughts for the design of the painting and remains the only evidence by the master himself of the appearance of the painting.
This drawing is a preparatory study by Annibale Carracci for a painting of the Magdalene in the Wilderness, formerly in the Galleria Borghese, Rome. The painting was sold by the Borghese family around 1800 and its present location is unknown. The composition is recorded in an etching by Domenico Cunego (1727 - 1794) published in 1773 in Gavin Hamilton's Schola italica pitturae with an inscription identifying it as a work in the Galleria Borghese. 1
A preliminary investigation of the printed archives of the Galleria reveals that around 1700 the Borghese possessed two small pictures of the Magdalene by Annibale. 2 According to the inventory of 1693, the two works were then hung close together in the "Quinta stanza della Udienza" (fifth audience chamber). One of these pictures, numbered "460" on its reverse, is described in the inventory as "un quadro alto un palmo e mezzo in circa con una Maddelena a sedere con una testa di morto in seno, che posa sopra un libro" (a panel about one and one-half palms in height depicting the Magdalene seated with a skull in her lap on top of a book). That painting is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. 3 The other painting, numbered "401," is described in the inventory as "un quadro alto un palmo con una Maddalena con un Angelo" (a panel one palm high depicting the Magdalene with an Angel). The Oberlin drawing is Annibale's design for the second painting; Cunego's etching represents the completed work.
As described by the inventory, the Cambridge panel is about 50 percent larger than the missing picture. As the extant painting is 32.4 cm in height, the missing picture would have been about 20 cm (8 in.) in height. (It is worth noting that at 10.8 cm in height, the drawing is almost exactly half this size.) The Fitzwilliam painting is on a copper panel, and it is likely that the missing painting was also on copper, especially since this was a common support for small pictures during the Baroque period.
The Oberlin drawing is a preliminary sketch used by Annibale to formulate the basic design of the painting. In the final version of the composition (as revealed in the print by Cunego), the artist altered nearly every element of the Magdalene's pose, from the position of her arms and legs to the turn of her head. The tentative and experimental nature of the drawing is especially clear in the successive alterations he made to the pose of her left arm. In the Oberlin sheet, it appears that Annibale first placed it across her body, and then raised it, changing it to a gesture of salutation; in the painting, he ultimately chose a different solution in which the hand thrusts forward with the palm turned upward. Moreover, he resolved the arrangement of the figures more fully by moving the angel to the right, into the corner diagonally opposite the Magdalene. Annibale also changed the skull under the Magdalene's right arm into an unguent jar and added a large tree behind the saint, as well as many other details.
The composition resembles that of other Roman works by Annibale, including the Magdalene in the Wilderness in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome, which is dated to about 1600 by Donald Posner; 4 and the handling and penwork also suggest a late date. It is likely therefore that Annibale made the drawing in Rome after 1600, and probably about 1603-5.
The owner's stamp (Lugt 2364) in the lower right corner of the sheet is that of the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds, a great collector of old master drawings.
Annibale Carracci was born in Bologna in 1560. His brother Agostino (1557-1602) was a painter and printmaker and his cousin Ludovico (1555-1619) was a painter. Annibale was trained initially by Ludovico and may have also studied with Bartolomeo Passarotti (1529-1592). Around 1580, under the influence of Passerotti and other North Italian painters, such as Correggio (ca. 1489/94-1534) and Veronese (ca. 1528-1588), Annibale broke away from the late mannerist style then dominant in Bologna. His early masterpieces were realist genre pictures that stressed spontaneity rather than refinement, as, for example, the Bean-Eater, in the Galleria Colonna, Rome. Intent on reforming the pictorial arts, Annibale, together with his cousin and brother, founded the Accademia dei Desiderosi in 1582 (renamed Accademia degli Incamminati in 1590), which stressed drawing after nature and the antique. The impact of the academy was profound, and under the Carracci tutelage, Bolognese painters, for the first time, attained a preeminent position in the arts.
In 1595, Annibale moved to Rome, and between 1597 and 1601 he frescoed the ceiling of the Galleria Farnese in Rome; this was perhaps the most important work of its kind since Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes at the beginning of the sixteenth century. In Rome Annibale also produced a number of highly influential altarpieces and devotional works. Increasingly ill and despondent following an apoplectic attack in 1605, Annibale created few works during the last four years of his life, dying in Rome in 1609.
Posner, Donald. Annibale Carracci: A Study in the Reform of Italian Painting Around 1590. 2 vols. London, 1971.
Dempsey, Charles. Annibale Carracci and the Beginnings of Baroque Style. Gluckstadt, 1977.
Collection Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), London (Lugt 2364)
Collection Sir Max Michaels (1860-1932), Cape Town, South Africa
Sale London (Christie's), 4 July 1989, lot 11 (sold for £13,200)
With W. M. Brady & Co., Inc., New York, from whom purchased in 1992
New York, W. M. Brady & Co., Inc., 1990. Old Master Drawings. 25 October - 14 November. Cat. no. 6.
The drawing is in pen and brown (probably iron gall) ink on ivory laid paper. It has been trimmed along all four sides. The ink has eaten through the paper in four spots, which have been repaired, and there is a repaired tear above the signature (or inscription?) at the lower left.
1. Etching, 31.3 x 36.5 cm. From Gavin Hamilton, Schola italica picturae, sive, selectae quaedam summorum e schola italica pictorum tabulae aere incisae curae et impensis Gavini Hamilton pictoris, Rome, 1773, pl. 29. On the print and its relation to the lost painting, see also École Française de Rome, Annibale Carracci e i suoi incisori (exh. cat., Rome, 1986), p. 281.
2. P. della Pergola, "L'inventario Borghese del 1693," Arte antica e moderna 28 (1964), pp. 454-55. Annibale's paintings of the Magdalene are also mentioned in an inventory from around 1700 published by A. De Rinaldis in Archivi 3, no. 3 (1936), p. 201, as "Li due rappresentazioni di S. Maria Madalena del suddetto [Annibale]." One of the two paintings is mentioned in a list from 1801 of paintings recently sold to the English dealer Durand. See P. della Pergola, "Per la storia della Galleria Borghese," Critica d'Arte 20 (1957), pp. 135-42. It remains to be established conclusively which of the two pictures was intended by the reference in the 1801 list.
3. Oil on copper, 32.4 x 43 cm, inv. PO.12-1976. See M. Jaffé, "'The penitent Magdalene in a landscape' by Annibale Carracci," The Burlington Magazine 123 (1981), pp. 88-91.
4. Oil on canvas, 51.5 x 67 cm; Donald Posner, Annibale Carracci, vol. 2 (London, 1977), p. 55, no. 125; pl. 125.