Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Studie der an das leere Grab Christi gelehnten schlafenden Magdalena (ehem. Büßende Magdalena), um 1655 - 1656
Originally inventoried at the Hamburger Kunsthalle as Saint Mary Magdalene, this drawing was linked by Diego Angulo Iñiguez (1974) to the patrician's wife in the lunette John the Patrician's Dream (1664) at Santa María la Blanca. Jonathan Brown (1976) correctly considered it a preparatory drawing for a Mary Magdalene on the basis of the perfume goblet lightly sketched in the background, which is one of this saint's specific symbols. The connection with the sleeping woman was followed by Manuela Mena Marqués (1982) and Alfonso Pérez Sánchez (1995), and was recently accepted by Brown (2012), who assigned it the title Study for The Dream of the Patrician and dated it from the painter's mature period.
The technique of this rapid pen sketch, however, links it to certain earlier examples from as far back as the mid-1650s, including pen drawings made with parallel or lightly crossed lines, such as the masterful Archangel Michael at the British Museum in London. The special manner of drawing the eyes with very fine parallel vertical lines that nuance the underlying anatomical drawings effectively links this figure to drawings from the middle of that decade. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo used small dots and accents to lay out his figures' facial features in black pencil and red chalk drawings like The Ecstasy of Saint Francis (iny, no. 38575, cat. no. 109). In this pen drawing, he precisely locates them in a very similar manner. A small dot and a rapid angular stroke fix the meeting of the hair's central part with the forehead, the beginning of both eyebrows, the left eye, the tip of the nose, and the curve of the wrist, thus centering the saint's head in its difficult and beautiful position.
This drawing has always been appreciated as one of Murillo's most spectacular due to its confident lines and the artist's efficient and economical use of pen stroke in light, kinetic modeling that brings life to the surface. Murillo painted various Magdalenes in his youth, but in those works he depicted her as a hermit atoning for her sins and renouncing her life of pleasure. Here, he presented a different idea: a young woman sleeping on the tomb, exhausted by the woe of Jesus's death and still bearing the handkerchief on which she has cried in her left hand. The perfume goblet rests on the in the background.
Interestingly, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, this subject was related to the idea of Melancholy, as can be seen in a canvas by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652/53) from around 1621-25 titled Mary Magdalene as an Allegory of Melancholy (Seville, Cathedral of Santa Maria). Purchased in Naples by the Duke of Alcalá, Spanish viceroy to that city, the painting passed to his heirs following his death in 1637. At an undetermined date, it entered Seville Cathedral, where it was already hanging in la Scala Chapel during the seventeenth century. It later hung in the Hall of Treasures. Its iconographic subject is identical to Murillo's drawing, and some of the latter's details appear to have been taken from this Italian painting, an they are reversed, as was the artist's custom when drawing on other artists compositions.
While no painting by Murillo is directly related to the subject of this drawing, its figure can be compared to that of a youthful, sleeping Jacob in Jacob's Dream from around 1660-65 (Saint Petersburg, Hermitage Museum inv. GE 344), which belongs to a series of large canvases on that patriarch's life. There, the youth's position resembles that of Mary Magdalene in the present drawing. Reclining on the floor, he leans on a block of stone with his right në resting on his robes in the same contrived position as that of the sleeping sain: Murillo also drew on this idea for male figures in other compositions, II the patrician, rather than his sleeping wife, in the lunette mentioned earn well as in various compositions for Saint Joseph's Dream, in which the saint depicted in a reclining posture with his hand resting in a similar manner.
Manuela B. Mena Marqués
1 Valdivieso 1978, 131, no. 511.
2 Valdivieso 2010, 33, no. 108.