One of the most significant painters active in Florence in the second half of the sixteenth century, Allori was the pupil and adopted son of the great Bronzino and the father of Cristofano Allori, the distinguished Florentine painter of the early Baroque. His work reveals a deep respect for the bel disegno of the masters of the golden age of Florentine art, Michelangelo, Bandinelli, Andrea del Sarto and, of course, Bronzino. His style, however, incorporates a variety of more contemporary influences such as that of Northern painting, his landscapes reflecting perhaps even a first-hand knowledge of those of Paul Bril.
As Dottoressa Simona Lecchini Giovannoni has kindly confirmed, the present picture is an autograph variant of Allori's painting in the Musée Fabre, Montpellier, which is signed and dated 'A.D. MDLXXXVI ALEXANDER BRONZINUS ALLORI CIV. FLOR. FACIEBAT' (S. Lecchini Giovannoni, Alessandro Allori, Turin, 1991, p. 267, no. 105, fig. 242). The latter is on copper and small (31 x 23 cm.), resulting in significant differences in the handling of the paint. Furthermore, the present work differs from it in numerous details of the composition, notably the position of the cross (upright and directly before the saint's gaze in the Montpellier version), in the angle of the saint's head and in the fur hanging below his thigh, but also in the draperies, the vegetation, the rocks and the landscape. Lecchini Giovannoni compares the more languid approach of the present painting with works of Allori's final period, such as the Penitent Magdalen in the Museo Stibbert, Florence (ibid., p. 293, no. 159, fig. 381), and suggests that the present picture must date from at least ten years later than the version on copper, the differences in the artist's treatment of the subject reflecting changes in the artistic mood of Florence towards the end of the century. A contemporary reference is provided by the bowl by the saint's right hand, which resembles the familiar manufacture of the Medici granducal porcelain factory.
The painting is a highly unusual example of a sixteenth-century canvas which has never been lined.