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Mary Magdalene reading

copy after Allegri Antonio called Correggio

(Correggio c. 1489 - 1534)

In the mid-17th century this small work on copper was mistakenly believed to be a Correggio autograph. It turns out that it is a copy of his lost Mary Magdalene, which he executed sometime between 1527 and 1530 and which was known through numerous copies. Depicting the saint lying in a grotto as she reads, the painting met with great success. This was certainly due to the unique character of her portrayal in a delicate, sensual pose, completely absorbed in reading a large volume, rather than traditional representations of her as a contrite, sorrowful woman.



Object details

17th century
oil on copper
cm 29 x 39

Late 19th-/early 20th-century frame, 33.5 x 43.5 x 3 cm


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1650 (Manilli 1650, p. 114); Inv. 1765, p. 156; Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese 1833, p. 15. Purchased by Italian state, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1874 Pietro Principi
  • 1905-06 Luigi Bartolucci
  • 1949 Carlo Matteucci
  • 2008 Paola Mastrapasqua


The provenance of this painting is still unknown. It was first mentioned in connection with the Borghese Collection in 1650, when Iacomo Manilli noted it among the works held at the Casino of Porta Pinciana. On that occasion, he believed it to be a Correggio autograph (Manilli 1650).

The dimensions of this work on copper correspond to those of the well-known Dresden Mary Magdalene by the master from Parma, now lost. While some critics in fact believe the original to be the work that was held for some time at the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden and subsequently lost (Gould 1976), others are certain that it is the version that recently appeared on the antiques market (Ekserdjian 2019). The success with which this work met is proved by the existence of numerous copies (Quintavalle 1970), some of which were executed by Cristofano Allori and his followers in Florence (Baldinucci, Vite, X, p. 281), which others formed part in prestigious collections in Rome. One of these, a work on panel by Jean Lhomme, is documented as having belonged to Marshal de Créquy in 1638, while two others were in the possession of Prince Maffeo Barberini and Giuseppe Pignatelli, respectively (Getty Provenance Index; now in M. Minozzi, Correggio e l'antico 2008). The Borghese family also owned one, which was listed among the belongings of the Casino of Porta Pinciana until the end of the 18th century. Later, it was moved to the Palazzo di Campo Marzio, perhaps on the occasion of the purchase in 1827 of the splendid Danaë (inv. no. 125). At the behest of Vincenzo Camuccini, it was given a new frame in 1833; it was recorded in the Inventario Fidecommissario of that year.

In 1893, Adolfo Venturi proposed attributing this work on copper to the Bolognese painter Francesco Albani. Although appealing, this hypothesis cannot be accepted, as no evidence has been forthcoming to support it (see Della Pergola 1955).

Antonio Iommelli

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 114;
  • G. Roisecco, Roma ampliata, Roma 1750, p. 119;
  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 82;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 95;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 189;
  • S. De Vito Battaglia, Correggio. Bibliografia a cura dell’Istituto di Archeologia e Storia dell’Arte, Roma 1934, p. 505;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 26, n. 26;
  • G. Copertini, Il Correggio, la vita e le opere, in “Parma per l’Arte”, XV, 1965, p.186;
  • R. Longhi, Saggi e ricerche 1925-28. Precisioni nelle gallerie italiane. La Galleria Borghese, Firenze 1967, p. 339;
  • A. C. Quintavalle, L’Opera Completa del Correggio, Milano 1970, p. 11;
  • 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. 46;
  • M. Minozzi, in Correggio e l’antico, catalogo della mostra (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 2008), a cura di A. Coliva, Milano 2008, pp. 59-69;
  • D. Ekserdjian, Correggio's reclining 'Magdalen' rediscovered, in "Burlington Magazin", CLXI, 2019, pp. 556-561.