Martha and Mary Magdalene
(Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari)


Martha and Mary Magdalene

Oil on canvas; 124.7 x 89.5 cm (35 x 48 ¾ in)

A. Orlando, I Fiori del Barocco. Pittura a Genova dal Naturalismo al Rococò, exhib. cat., Genoa, 2006, no. 73 (entry by Angela Acordon), pp. 214-215.

In this early work by the Genoese painter Giovanni Andrea de Ferrari the young and beautiful Magdalene, is placed at left, half-length behind a draped table. Before her is a detailed still-life comprised of a silver urn of flowers, a glass pyxis, a gossamer scarf and a long string of pearls. She wears a deep blue gown over a fine lace-trimmed chemise, and is lavishly accessorized with jewellery in fine-wrought gold with blue stones. While combing her long strawberry blond hair, she turns her arrested gaze to her ‘sister’ Martha at right, who is dressed in a more modest, but still richly coloured gown of silvery mauve over a plain linen chemise. Her dark hair is bound in a gold scarf worn round her head in the manner of a turban, the long ends draped over her shoulder. In profile, with her hands clasped, she turns to the Magdalene and pleads with her to abandon all that ties her to worldliness and sin in favour of following Christ’s path. Carlo Volpe first recognised this picture as an autograph work by Giovanni Andrea and the attribution was confirmed by Angela Acordon who pronounced the work to be “qualitativamente assai notavole”, dating it to between 1625 and 1630.

During the Counter Reformation the subject of Martha and Mary Magdalene came to illustrate the very nature of spiritual conversion. However, pictorial treatments of the theme are nevertheless relatively rare in Italian art before 1600; most artists preferred to illustrate the Magdalene’s Damascene moment less specifically in group compositions wherein she is swayed by Christ’s preaching. In composition and overall approach to subject matter Giovanni Andrea appears to have been influenced by Caravaggio’s tempera on canvas of the same subject, The Conversion of Mary Magdalene (Detroit, Institute of Arts). However, it is unlikely that the artist could have known this work at first hand, as it was painted in Rome; Giovanni Andrea is not known to have left Genoa and its environs throughout his entire career. Moreover, while Caravaggio’s composition is underpinned by a complex visual and literal tradition associated with this subject , Giovanni Andrea’s interpretation appears to be more closely associated with allegorical genre scenes by Venetian masters, such as Titian or Palma Vecchio. Such influence could only have been transmuted into Giovanni Andrea’s work through his most influential master, Bernardo Strozzi.
While Giovanni Andrea’s first teacher (after his father Orazio) was Bernardo Castello, it was his subsequent studies with Strozzi that so pervasively informed his style, so much so in fact that his paintings (and to a lesser extent his drawings) are often still confused with those of Strozzi. Giovanni’s Andrea’s style can often be distinguished from Strozzi’s by his thinner application of paint, notably tapered hands and tightly rolled drapery sleeves.
Several borrowings from Strozzi are immediately apparent in the present work including Martha’s gold scarf, which is similar to that worn by the kitchen maid in La Cuoca (Genoa, Galleria di Palazzo Rosso), a painting dated by Piero Baccardo to the 1620s when Strozzi was still working in Genoa. Furthermore, in both pose and attitude, the figure of Martha recalls that of Saint Zita, in Strozzi’s slightly earlier work The Miracle of Saint Zita, (Genoa, Private Collection), dated by Anna Orlando to between 1615 and 1620. That Giovanni Andrea knew this particular work is evidenced by a pen and ink with wash study in the Uffizi after Strozzi’s painting. Finally the Magdalene’s necklace and bracelet are stylistically very similar to those worn by Strozzi’s Saint Catherine of Alexandria (Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum), which is also dated to the early 1620s. Finally, one might also mention a Penitent Magdalene in a Venetian private collection, which Luisa Mortari notes as being unusual in Strozzi’s oeuvre, but nevertheless attributes it the artist comparing the work to Strozzi’s Faith, Hope and Charity (Venice, Coll. Donà dalle Rose). In the face, hands and the handling of the hair, the former picture shares appreciable similarities with Giovanni Andrea’s Magdalene.
Giovanni Andrea appears to have used the same model for the Magdalene and for the left foreground figure in the Birth of the Virgin, which his signed and dated to 1630-1632 (Genoa-Voltri, Church of S. Ambrogio). And as Angela Acordon has noted, the face of the Magdalene is also similar to the Madonna in Giovanni Andrea’s Holy Family, now in the collection of a Genoese nobleman. The stylistic shift towards a more feathery, painterly hand, which typifies the artist’s later work and reflects the influence of his contemporaries Gioacchino Assereto and Domenico Fiasella, can clearly be seen in Giovanni Andrea’s later Penitent Magdalene in a Genoese private collection. It should be noted however, in context with the beautiful still-life included in the present work, that Giovanni Andrea’s interest and skill in this genre was also influenced by the work of Antony van Dyck and Cornelius and Lucas de Wael, who were active in Genoa in the 1620s.
While Giovanni Andrea was primarily an easel painter, he also produced several altarpieces. Together with Gioacchino Assereto and Orazio de’ Ferrari, he helped forge a lyrical, richly coloured style that strongly informed the later development of the Genoese Baroque. As Mary Newcome has noted in her biography for the artist, with few exceptions, such as the allegorical figures of Justice and Temperance Giovanni Andrea painted as part of a series for the Palazzo Ducale, Genoa (in situ), to which Andrea Ansaldo and Fiasella also contributed, his work consists primarily of religious subjects. All of his earliest known dated pictures, including the Birth of the Virgin (1616; Genoa, Nostra Signora del Rimedio) and his Life of the Virgin series (1619; Genoa, Figlie di S Giuseppe, Conservatory) reflect his close working relationship with Strozzi, particularly in the facial types.
Throughout the 1620s Giovanni Andrea painted several large canvases with scenes from the lives of the saints and drew on a number of influences. For example, the tightly knit figure groups, sense of recession and focus on architecture seen in the St Thomas Preaching to the King of India (1624; Genoa, S. Fede) and the Charity of St Antonino (1628; Montoggio, S. Giovanni Decollato) suggest the work of Ansaldo, whereas, the richly detailed religious genre scenes and subtle emotion reflected in the present work is also evident in the aforementioned Birth of the Virgin in San’Ambrogio and his Guardian Angel (1632; Santa Margherita Ligure, S Margherita d’Antiochia) point to Giovanni Andrea’s response to Castello.
In 1634 Giovanni Andrea was made a member of the Accademia di S Luca in Rome, but there is no record of his being in Rome. His work during this decade includes the lunette painting the Miracle of St Bridget (commissioned 1634; Genoa, Mus. Accad. Ligustica B.A.), the Madonna of the Rosary with SS Dominic and Catherine (1635; Varazze, S. Domenico) and the Carmine Madonna with St Simon Stock (1635; Alássio, church of the Carità). After the 1630s there are few dated pictures to establish a chronology for the artist. Moreover, while his handling changes his figure types remain for the most part consistent. Dr Newcome does draw our attention however to the fact that in his later work, Giovanni Andrea withdrew from the mannerism of Strozzi and Ansaldo and achieved success with a more refined approach to religious narrative and psychology in works such as Esau Selling his Birthright (Genoa, Mus. Accad. Ligustica B.A.).
As he never left Genoa and had no family, Giovanni Andrea proved a particularly attentive teacher in his studio, which included Valerio Castello, Giovanni Battista Merano and possibly even Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione.

124.7 x 89.5 cm (35 x 48 ¾ in)
Oil on board

A. Orlando, I Fiori del Barocco. Pittura a Genova dal Naturalismo al Rococò, exhib. cat., Genoa, 2006, no. 73 (entry by Angela Acordon), pp. 214-215.

Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Historical events
Italian - Genoese
Price band
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