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Death of the Magdalen
This painting’s small format is suggestive of a preparatory sketch, but the copper ground support and the high degree of finish indicate that it was a completed piece. It may have been commissioned by Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, a great supporter of Conca and a collector of so-called cabinet pictures intended for private viewing and personal pleasure.
The protagonist, a “fallen woman” who accompanied Christ to the cross, is shown at the moment of her own death. The hovering putti and the halo encircling her head suggest that her penance is complete. Her traditional attributes surround her: an alabaster urn filled with spikenard (with which she anointed Christ’s feet), a crucifix, and the open Gospels. The skull under her left forearm is a memento mori (reminder of death), and the ropes lying on the ledge behind her allude to the Passion of Christ.
from Snite Museum of Art, Selected Works: Snite Museum of Art (Notre Dame, 2005)