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Mary Magdalene

copy after Vannucci Pietro called Perugino

(Città della Pieve 1450 - Fontignano 1524)

In spite of the far-fetched attribution of this work to Caravaggio made by the compiler of the Inventario Fidecommissario, modern critics agree that the painting is a quality antique replica of the panel by Perugino held today at the Galleria Palatina in Florence. Probably a product of the Umbrian artist’s workshop, the work depicts Mary Magdalene, one of Christ’s disciples. The half-length portrait is set against a dark background, with Mary resting her hands on a parapet. Her name runs along the collar of her dress.

Object details

first half of the 16th century
oil on panel
cm 50 x 35

Salvator Rosa, 59.5 x 44 x 5 cm


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room VIII, no. 15; Della Pergola 1955; 1965); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 21. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.



Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1903-05 Luigi Bartolucci


The provenance of this painting is unknown. It was first mentioned in connection with the Borghese Collection in 1693, when it was described in the family inventory of that year as ‘a work of roughly two-and-a-half spans on panel, a portrait of a young man [sic], with the inscription of Saint Mary Magdalene on his chest, no. ..., with a carved, gilded frame. Artist uncertain’ (Inv. 1693; see Della Pergola 1955; 1965).

While the Inventario Fidecommissario astoundingly ascribed it Caravaggio (‘A saint, by Caravaggio’; Inv. Fid. 1833), Giovanni Piancastelli (1891) rightly identified the work as a copy of the Pitti Mary Magdalene (Palazzo Pitti, Florence inv. 1912, 42), which Perugino executed in roughly 1500, distancing himself from the traditional iconography of the saint attired in penitent’s clothing. Influenced by trends in Flemish painting during his time in Florence, the Umbrian master presents Mary in contemporary dress. He set the portrait against a dark background, with the subject resting her hands on a parapet (F. Navarro in Perugino 2004). Her name is clearly visible on the broad collar of her dress: perhaps the painter feared that in the absence of her typical attribute – the small container with ointments – her identity could be mistaken.

As Paola della Pergola (1955) suggested, this copy is certainly an antique work, probably a product of the master’s workshop from the first quarter of the 16th century. This scholar’s opinion has been accepted by subsequent critics (Camesasca 1959; 1969; Navarro 2004; Herrmann Fiore 2006).

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 107;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 194;
  • T. Sillani, Pietro Vannucci detto il Perugino, Torino 1915, p. 24;
  • G. Briganti, F. Canuti, C. Ricci, IV Centenario dalla morte di Pietro Perugino, Perugia 1923, p. 21;
  • U. Gnoli, Pietro Perugino, Spoleto 1923, p. 51, 66;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 216;
  • F. Canuti, Il Perugino, II, Siena 1931, p. 352;
  • R. Van Marle, The Development of the Italian School of Painting, XIV, The Hague 1934, p. 362;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 94, n. 167 ;
  • E. Camesasca, Tutta la pittura del Perugino, Milano 1959, p. 78;
  • P. della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693 (III), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, XXX, 1965, p. 202;
  • E. Camesasca, L’Opera completa del Perugino, Milano 1969, p. 100;
  • P. Scarpellini, Perugino, Milano 1991, p. 101 n. 107;
  • F. Navarro, in Perugino il divin pittore, catalogo della mostra (Perugia, Galleria Nazionale dell'Umbria, 2004), a cura di V. Garibaldi, F.F. Mancini, Cinisello Balsamo 2004, p. 240, n. I.35;
  • 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. 132.