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Ambrosius Benson (active 1519-1550)
Ambrosius Benson (active 1519-1550)

Saint Mary Magdalen

Ambrosius Benson (active 1519-1550)
Saint Mary Magdalen
oil on panel
30½ x 25½in. (77.5 x 64.8cm.)
James Sotheby (1655-1720).
Major General Frederick Edward Sotheby, Ecton Hall; Sotheby Heirlooms Sale, Sotheby's, 12 Oct. 1955, lot 7.
with Hallsborough Galleries, London.
G. Marlier, Ambrosius Benson, Brussels, 1957, pp. 195-6 and p. 308, no. 99, pl. XLVI.

Lot Essay

The figure of the Magdalen in the present picture derives from one of the sibyls in the artist's Deipara Virgo, now in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp (Marlier, op. cit., pp. 1-3, 172-3, 176-82 and 302-3, no. 8, pl. XLIII). Benson was evidently proud of this figure as he re-used it numerous times. In addition to a number of variants where she appears as The Magdalen holding an Ointment Jar (see, for instance, that at Hampton Court, ibid., pp. 194 and 307, no. 94, pl. XLV), and as The Magdalen reading (see, for instance, that in the National Gallery, London, ibid., pp. 197 and 310, no. 105, pl. XLIX), Benson painted her as an isolated figure, or sibyl, holding a book, in the picture now in the Louvre (ibid., pp. 184, 187 and 304, no. 85, pl. XLI).

The Louvre and present pictures follow more closely the sibyl in the Deipara Virgo than do any of his other Magdalens: they share a common headdress, format and pose which distinguish them from the others. Marlier's praise for the present picture was high indeed: 'Cette oeuvre, qui nous montre Benson au sommet de son art, est dans un impeccable état de condition.'

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