Signed by Giovanna Garzoni, one of the most famous Italian female artists of the 17th Century, these recently rediscovered bodycolors highlight an obscure yet crucial aspect of the artist’s body of work, usually confined to miniatures, scientific illustrations and still lives. As recorded by a receipt of payment dated 12 February 1642, these works were executed by Garzoni in Florence for the Grand Duchess Vittoria della Rovere (1622-1694). The first one, Saint John in the Wilderness, reproduces the celebrated painting by Raphael (1482-1520) and his workshop, treasured in the Medici collections from the late 16th Century in the Uffizi Tribuna (for the full document see G. Casale, Giovanna Garzoni: Insigne miniatrice, Milan, 1991, p. 215). Of identical size, the oval of Mary Magdalen in the Desert derives from a painting by Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), now in the Pinacoteca, Lucca. The present work is of great art historical interest as it proves the Florentine provenance of Gentileschi’s painting now in Lucca, which has been debated by scholars in the past (K. Christiansen and J. Mann, Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi, New Haven and London, 2001, p. 177).
The present bodycolors were possibly commissioned by the Grand Duchess Vittoria as gifts for her friends recording two important works in the Medici collections. Characterized by extremely delicate details, smoothness of surface and shimmering quality of finish - especially the Baptist's leopardskin and the Magdalen’s glossy hair– these bodycolors can be considered among Garzoni’s highest artistic achievements, and a crucial missing link in her catalogue of reproductive miniatures.