The Ministry of Culture has acquired a Penitent cupcake in the desertpainted by Alonso Cano around 1653, for 200,000 euros, from a private collection and purchased from the Caylus Gallery. The work is destined to Prado Museum, which had closed the purchase four years ago, when it became aware of its sale. In 2015 the sale was practically decided, but the hard-fought inheritance to be distributed among several brothers of the noble family that owned the painting stopped the purchase. It has been now when the mess has been resolved in favor of the museum. For Javier Portús, Head of Conservation of Spanish Painting until 1800, “it is a great Christmas gift”.
The first known owner was the infante Don Luis de Borbón y Farnesio (1727-1785), son of Felipe V, and in his will they were in the sacristy of his palace in Boadilla del Monte. From there it goes to Godoy and, subsequently, becomes the property of the Dukes of Sueca and Alcudia, descendants of Godoy, until the day of its sale. Luis Carlos Ruspoli y Sanchiz is, since 2018, the VI Duke of Sueca, of Alcudia, XX count of Chinchón, VII Marquis of Boadilla del Monte and III Baron of Mascalbó. The picture of the Magdalena has its pair, a St. Jerome Penitent of the same measures, which closes the composition. It is held by the other branch of the family, but it is not for sale. “If it were released it would be a great purchase. The set of both closes the compositional parenthesis, ”adds Portús.
It is an extraordinary and very sexy painting for the Spain of that moment
Enrique Gutiérrez de Calderón
Now he rests in the restoration workshop of the Prado Museum, which is retouching the frame. As soon as the work is finished, it will go to room 17 of the museum, dedicated to Alonso Cano. Portús believes that, thanks to the format (two meters long by one high) you will not have to expel any of the exhibits in the room to the stores. The painting combines "beauty and emotion", in the words of Portús. "What makes an exceptional picture is the union of color, composition and drama," explains the curator to point out this Magdalena as a perfect emotional machine.
The discovery starts from José Antonio Urbino, Caylus partner, who found it, in 2013, in the house of the owners, in Madrid, very obscured. When Portús had news of the discovery, he contacted the gallery directed by Enrique Gutiérrez de Calderón. “It's an extraordinary painting and very sexy for the Spain of that moment. In Italy it was usual, but here it is the most provocative thing you can see, ”says the gallicist.
“The painting is important for its own quality and for its compositional rarity, because it has a very unusual, elongated format, to fit a single figure into it. Cano, who is one of the best artists and composers of that time, solves in a great way the difficulties of the format for the benefit of the representation. She is constrained in her own framework and that helps us to focus on the corporal expression of the Magdalena, ”explains Portús, who comments that Cano underlines the pathetic values of the subject.
A successful model
The representation of the Magdalene achieved great success during the seventeenth century for being an example of a repentant woman and, in addition, for giving painters the opportunity to recreate themselves in the naked body of a woman designated as sinful and beautiful. In front of the half-naked and long-haired woman who throws herself to worship the crucifix, in her life before repentance she usually shows herself in rich clothes. The Prado has a long list of muffins that it does not exhibit, such as a canvas by Andrea Vaccaro (1604-1670), with a dressed Cupcake, but leaving a wide neckline in sight. To the Magdalena by Guido Reni (1575-1642) the same thing happens. Guercino (1591-1666) decides to undress his torso and leave one chest in sight, while covering the other with his right hand. Maybe the most dignified of all be that of Luca Giordano (1634-1705).
The color contrast with her regretful expression is more pathetic
Alonso Cano solves with dark backgrounds and an ocher environment. Portús indicates that the Baroque painter highlights three fields of color with a lot of expressive personality: the naked arms of the Magdalena, with a flash; the pure blue of the mantle, with a study of its sculptural domain; and the golden hair of the Magdalena. "The contrast with her regretful expression is more pathetic," he says. These types of formats are typical of the lower part of the altarpieces, the banks, or also with the over-doors or over-windows. Is similar to Mercury and Argosby Velázquez.
Cano is an attractive painter for his dedication to a wide range of expressive media and the originality of some of his thematic interests and his compositions. The acquired canvas scene is endowed with a great monumental and expressive force, with lights and shadows that collide and create a stage in tension, at the moment of the protagonist's regret. The landscape has been reduced to a minimum, as an excuse for a new light showdown, on the left side (much less developed than the St. Jerome Penitent (1660) that the Prado does not expose). He maintains in this canvas his habit of accompanying the characters with objects loaded with symbolic strength and linked to his legend. Magdalena is assigned the skull – a symbol of meditation on death – and the glass of perfumes, with which she washed the feet of Christ.
In addition, the painting is part of a stage in the path of the painter of which the Prado has barely any representation. Until 1652 he is in Madrid, years in which he performs some of his best works and to which most of the twenty canvases that the museum owns correspond. From there he left for Granada, in 1652, and this representation of the Magdalena would come to fill this gap of the last decades of his life and career, although it was exhibited in Boadilla del Monte (Madrid).
His mark was more durable in Granada, his hometown, and the place where he spent the last decades of his life, very productive. There he gave himself, in addition to painting, architectural design and sculpture. In addition, he helped create a pictorial and sculptural school of great interest in the city. This shows that along with Madrid and Seville, as centers of artistic demand, other populations of notable artistic activity emerged from which the Baroque models expanded.
For Portús, Cano is also an artist gifted in the execution of chromatic values as a fundamental element of painting as never seen before in the Spanish pictorial tradition. And, in addition, it stands out for the freedom of invoice with which Velázquez's friend acted on The miracle of the well (1638-1640), one of his masterpieces.
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