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Sir Anthony van Dyck (Antwerp 1599-1641 London)
Property from a Private Collection
Sir Anthony van Dyck (Antwerp 1599-1641 London)

Saint Mary Magdalene

Sir Anthony van Dyck (Antwerp 1599-1641 London)
Saint Mary Magdalene
oil on canvas
21 ½ x 13 7/8 in. (54.6 x 35.3 cm.)
(Possibly) with Abraham Salomon Staal, Rokin 154-156, Amsterdam, where acquired by
Dr. Aladar Popper, Amsterdam and Villa Fleur de Lys, Cannes, by 1935, and by descent to the present owner.
G. Glück, 'Notes on van Dyck's stay in Italy', The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, LXXIV, no. 434, May 1939, p. 207, pl. II, fig. D.
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This Lot is Withdrawn.

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Lot Essay

This spirited study was painted in the early 1620s, when van Dyck was working independently in Italy. Its authorship was first recognized in 1936 by Gustav Glück, who identified the fluid, virtuoso handling of the paint and the delicate shape of the hands, particularly the fingers, as characteristic of Van Dyck’s Italian oeuvre. Glück subsequently published the picture in 1939 (loc. cit.)

Arriving in Genoa in 1621, Van Dyck joined the flourishing local community of Flemish painters led by Lucas and Cornelis de Wael, the nephews of Jan Breughel I. Van Dyck remained in Italy for seven years and travelled extensively throughout the peninsula, closely studying the Italian Old Masters and infusing his style with an Italianate sensibility. The present painting was likely painted during a stay at Parma, where the artist would have seen and clearly admired Correggio’s celebrated Madonna of Saint Jerome (fig. 1), known as Il Giorno, commissioned in 1523 by Briseide Colla for a private chapel in the church of Sant'Antonio Abate at Parma (now housed in the Galleria Nazionale, Parma). Praised at the time of its creation by the art historian and painter Giorgio Vasari, who commended the work's ‘mirabile colorito’ [admirable coloring], that picture is still considered a masterwork among Correggio’s altarpieces.

Here, Van Dyck reproduces with some variations the twisting figure of the Magdalene and the putto with a chrismatory in the lower right quadrant of Correggio’s composition, omitting details that might detract from the harmony of his own: the foot of the Christ child present in the Parma picture is missing in Van Dyck’s version, so that his graceful Magdalene inclines her head and lifts her tapering fingers into the air uninterrupted. Van Dyck also uses warmer, more saturated colors than the Italian master; compare, for instance, the orange-yellow and pink of the skirt and sleeve of Van Dyck’s Magdalene with the paler peach and milky lemon used by Correggio. The sharpness of detail in the Parma altarpiece also stands in stark contrast to the vigorous, sketchy quality of the present study, which must have been swiftly painted: the colors have been brushed on with a masterly sureness, as evident in the bold application of paint swept across the Magdalene’s sleeve and the white scumbles across her lower left leg that evoke a transparent, gauzy fabric. Van Dyck’s strokes are broad and loose and his forms have a monumental solidity, lending the Magdalene great presence despite the softness of the modelling.

Van Dyck made a number of painted sketches after the great Italian masters, who were a defining influence in his work. The majority of these studies are preserved in the artist’s sketchbook formerly in the collection of the Dukes of Devonshire at Chatsworth and now at the British Museum, London. In it, Van Dyck recorded compositions by Titian, Veronese, Raphael, Annibale Carracci and others, frequently including inscriptions denoting the artist responsible for the design as well as the color scheme, material texture and where the sketch took place. Many of these studies were used by Van Dyck for his own works and, indeed, the present figure of the putto holding the jar of ointment was adapted for his Penitent Mary Magdalene in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, and the motif of the crouching Magdalene swathed in gold reappears in both his Pietà in the Louvre, Paris, and his Crucifixion in the Prado, Madrid.

We are grateful to Dr. Susan Barnes for confirming the attribution to Van Dyck on the basis of firsthand inspection and for suggesting a dating of c. 1623.

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