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Mary Magdalene

Puligo Domenico

(Florence 1492 - after 1527)

While in the past this painting was ascribed to Andrea del Sarto, today critics agree that it is the work of the Florentine painter Domenico Puligo.

From a compositional point of view, the protagonist is reminiscent of the figure of Mary Magdalene in Raphael’s St Cecilia Altarpiece, painted for the church of San Giovanni in Monte in Bologna, which Puligo was probably able to see.

Of unknown provenance, the work was first documented with certainty in connection with the Borghese Collection in 1833.


Object details

1526 circa
oil on panel
58 x 45 cm

Frame: 16th-century frame with acanthus leaf and floral motifs, 76.5 x 62 x 6.5 cm


Borghese Collection, first cited in Inventario Fidecommissario 1833, p. 35, no. 12; purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1936 Carlo Matteucci
  • 1996-1997 Carlo Ceccotti (frame)
  • 2010-2011 Vega Santodonato


Of unknown origin, Domenico Puligo (born Domenico Ubaldini) was trained in Florence, frequenting the workshop of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio from at least 1513. His style was greatly influenced by his friend Andrea del Sarto (Andrea d’Agnolo), with whom he collaborated closely, such that he was able to study the master’s drawings and view his works in progress (A. Nesi, ‘Ubaldini, Domenico, detto il Puligo’, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, XCVII, p. 302).

This Mary Magdalene demonstrates the important role played by Andrea del Sarto in Puligo’s career, in particular with regard to the typical sfumato technique of his production, which Domenico decidedly imitated. In the view of Vasari, who included Puligo’s biography in the famous Lives, his abundant use of sfumato not only allowed the painter to exalt his figures but also to conceal errors resulting from his rather imperfect drawing skills. Vasari in fact wrote that by ‘causing the distances to recede little by little as though veiled with a kind of mist, [he] gave his pictures both relief and grace [...] the outlines of the figures that he made were lost in such a way that his errors were concealed and hidden from view in the dark grounds into which the figures merged’ (G. Vasari, The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, Florence 1568).

Here the painter incorporates Mary Magdalene’s sacred iconographic attributes, in particular her long hair and the vase of ointments, into the context of an secular portrait, in accordance with a widespread tendency in Florentine painting in the late 15th and 16th centuries. Puligo himself returned to this subject on several occasions, such as in the paintings held today in Palazzo Pitti in Florence and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

Of unknown provenance, the panel was only first mentioned in connection with the Borghese Collection in 1833, when the Inventario Fidecommissario listed it with this description: ‘Mary Magdalene, by Andrea del Sarto, 1 span 10 inches wide, 2 spans 7 inches high, on panel’.

In her examination of the inventory of paintings confiscated from Cavalier d’Arpino in 1607 – which then came into the possession of Scipione Borghese – Kristina Herrmann Fiore (2000, p. 64) noted the presence of a ‘small painting of Mary Magdalene’. Yet the lack of further information in the description does not allow us to assert with the certainty that Puligo’s panel is referred to here.

The attribution to Del Sarto given in the 1833 inventory was accepted by Giovanni Piancastelli (1891, p. 242) and Adolfo Venturi (1893, p. 163). The first scholar to propose the name of Domenico Puligo was Giovanni Morelli (1897, p. 123), who described the work as one of the most felicitous results of the artist’s career. His view was accepted by Roberto Longhi (1928, p. 208), Bernard Berenson (1936, p. 409) and, later, Venturi himself (1932, p. 243). For her part, Paola Della Pergola (1959, p. 48) also recognised Puligo’s style in the work in question; for the most part, subsequent critics followed suit (Gardner 1986, pp. 283-284; La Porta 1992, p. 33).

Scholars have noted that the figure of Mary Magdalene derives from the depiction of the same saint in Raphael’s St Cecilia Altarpiece (today in the Pinacoteca Nazionale of Bologna), which Puligo probably viewed, although we do not know the exact circumstances. The Borghese panel in fact seems to be a half-length reinterpretation of her portrayal in Raphael’s famous work, evident in both her lateral pose with the small vase of ointments in her hand and the colours of her garment.

The panel dates to Puligo’s last years, roughly 1526. In his monographic study of the artist, Gardner (1986, p. 284) pointed out the existence of several copies.

Pier Ludovico Puddu

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 242.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 163.
  • H. Ullmann, recensione a: A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese (1893), in “Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft”, XVII, 1894, p. 161.
  • G. Morelli, Della Pittura Italiana. Studi Storici Critici: Le Gallerie Borghese e Doria Pamphili in Roma, (trad. it. G. Frizzoni), Milano 1897, p. 123.
  • H. Guinness, Andrea del Sarto, (2° ed.), London 1901, p. 95.
  • J. A. Rusconi, La Villa, il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Bergamo 1906, p. 90.
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell’Arte Italiana, IX (parte 1), Milano 1925, p. 265.
  • C. Galassi Paluzzi, Indice delle Opere di Pittura esistenti in Roma, in “Roma”, V, 1928, p. 268.
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 208.
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell’Arte Italiana, vol. IX (parte 5), Roma 1932, p. 243.
  • B. Berenson, Pitture Italiane del Rinascimento (trad. it. E. Cecchi), Milano 1936, p. 409.
  • B. Berenson, The Drawings of the Florentine Painters, Chicago 1938, I, p. 296.
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1948, p. 50.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (“Itinerari dei musei e monumenti d’Italia”, XLIII), Roma 1951, p. 31.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, II, Roma 1959, pp. 47-48, n. 66.
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane. La Galleria Borghese, 2a ed., Roma 1968, p. 348.
  • S.B. Lockhart, The Work of Domenico Puligo, Dissertation, London, Courtauld Institute, 1973, n. 34.
  • G.A. Gardner, The paintings of Domenico Puligo, Dissertation, The Ohio State University, 1986, pp. 283-284, n. 66 (con bibliografia precedente).
  • P. La Porta, Ritratto di Domenico Puligo, in “Prospettiva. Rivista di storia dell’arte antica e moderna”, LXVIII, 1992, p. 33.
  • C. Stefani in P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese 2000, p. 293, n. 20.
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Caravaggio e la quadreria del Cavalier d’Arpino, in Caravaggio. La luce nella pittura lombarda, catalogo della mostra (Bergamo, Accademia Carrara, 2000), a cura di C. Strinati, R. Vodret, Milano 2000, p. 64.
  • Domenico Puligo (1492-1527). Un protagonista dimenticato della pittura fiorentina, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Palazzo Pitti, 2002-2003), a cura di E. Capretti et alii, Livorno 2002, p. 48.
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 108.