Forty-nine

49

Maddalena penitente

c.Sixteenth-Century by Domenico Fetti
Galleria Doria Pamphilj

Hidden among the many clusters of paintings that crowd the walls of the Galleria Doria Pamphilj is the penitent Magdalen, small in a space that retains a feeling of intimacy with its house-like display. Despite its size, one is immediately drawn to the painting for its arresting use of light; predominantly dark, the burning flicker of candlelight rises beautifully from the bottom corner of the painting, resting on the brilliance of white linen on Magdalen’s resting elbow, and playing in a golden blush on her downturned cheek. The half-light of this painting mirrors the atmosphere of quiet reflection, for Fetti’s painting is full of emotion in contemplation, rather than over-acted dramatics, the trend of many contemporary portrayals of Magdalen’s repentance. Fetti’s painting is emotional, sorrowful, as Magdalen gazes down to the shining scull she holds, one side of her face cast in a deathly shadow. A sense of intimacy that escapes more dramatic portrayals is created; she is barely visible in an abyss of darkness, though the faint glint of a halo circles the crown of her head. The face is painted softly and is expressive, embodying a sense of humanism that allows us to identify with her as a person, rather than a character. She is not differentiated, it is only through the symbol of death and the halo that Fetti allows her identification; intensity is made more poignant through human intimacy. Finally, in splitting Magdalen down the middle with shadows, Fetti leaves us with a visual representation of choice: light and dark, the confliction of good and evil.

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