Home » Exhibitions » Review : Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene at the National Gallery – 15th February to 21st May 2017

Review : Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene at the National Gallery – 15th February to 21st May 2017


The National Gallery is world-famous for its collections and exhibitions, however the Gallery often showcases individual paintings if they are considered of particular historical interest.


From the 15th February 2017, visitors to the National Gallery will have a unique opportunity to admire what is widely regarded as Guido Cagnacci’s greatest work, The Repentant Magdalene which is on a temporary  loan from the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena (California).

Guido Cagnacci (1601–1663) is considered one of the most unconventional and sensual artists of the Italian Baroque period, yet he is largely unknown today with none of his paintings represented in any UK public collections.


Little is known about Cagnacci’ s life except some mentions in a number of legal and criminal records of the time. By the age of 20 he was living in Bologna, from 1649 Cagnacci was in Venice and in 1658 he moved to Vienna. It was when the artist was living in Vienna (around 1660-61), that Cagnacci painted what is considered his masterpiece

Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene provides a controversial representation of Mary Magdalene, who became a follower of Christ and later a saint.


In the painting, Mary lies almost naked on the ground looking at her virtuous sister Martha who is trying to persuade her to abandon her life of vice and luxury. In the background, Virtue, an angel, chases out Vice, a devil who leaps away and a woman wipes away a tear.


What is unusual about the painting is the way that Cagnacci despite the moral theme seems to be more attracted by worldly temptations especially the expensive costumes, beautiful shoes, and jewellery scattered across the floor.


The painting has an illustrious history, once being part of the Gonzaga collection in Mantua, Italy in 1665 but arrived in England in 1711, entering the collection of the Duke of Portland. The painting remained in England for over 250 years until it was purchased by the American collector, Norton Simon (1907–1993) in 1981.

This free exhibition in Room 1 marks the painting’s return to England, it offers visitors a rare opportunity to discover Cagnacci’s masterpiece which is considered one of the greatest Italian Baroque pictures of all time.

Our Video review available here

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information, visit the National Gallery website here

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