P.1 Portrait of a Young Woman as Mary Magdalen

P.1 Portrait of a Young Woman

c. 1512

Florence, Uffizi, no. 3245.

Panel, 45 x 33.

Fig.P.1a cropped
Fig.P.1b bw
Fig.P.1c finger, urn

Restored with repainting removed in 1894 (Uffizi Cat., 1979, 460). The painting has been cut on three sides but not at the top where an original unpainted edge still exists. At the lower left is barely visible the right part of a gray oval jar held in a hand of which only one finger can be seen. The halo seems to be original.1 Natali, in Natali and Cecchi, 1989, 15, reported that the lower part of the picture is much repainted including the drapery at the left and the black band that borders the neckline; furthermore that reflectography reveals that under the repaint the sleeve at the right shoulder turns differently. The outer part of the veil at the right falling down the sitter’s back may also be repainted. Abrasion and possibly the pigments having turned somewhat transparent with age may account for the lack of definition of the figure’s left jaw line and the adjacent part of her neck. A film of dirt and old varnish have discolored the surface. Berti, 1983, 45, announced that the painting will soon be cleaned.

The black of her dress frames a panel of gray-green brocade with a floral pattern, another piece of which appears at the bottom of her left shoulder just above the small area of a yellowish tan sleeve at the lower right. The neckline is edged with white, probably of a blouse that she wears under her dress. Over her right shoulder the drapery is dull reddish orange. Part of a gray jar and one finger can be seen at the lower left (Fig.P.1c). She has reddish hair held at the back in a black net; the transparent veil over her head is white. The beads of her necklace are orange (coral) with the four larger ones pearl gray (pearls). At the lower left, at the bottom of the pale blue sky, is a darker passage of blue suggesting a mist possibly over a lake or before distant mountains. The larger tree is olive green, the other more tan.

PROVENANCE: Inventario Gallerie, 1890, no. 3245; from the deposit, exhibited 1894.


Traditionally ascribed to Rosso, then given to the young Andrea del Sarto by Ridolfi, 1896, 8.

G. Pieraccini, 1912, 161, no. 3435, as Sarto.

Not accepted as Rosso’s or Sarto’s by Kusenberg, 1931, 130, since which time the portrait has never reappeared in the Sarto literature.

Attributed to Rosso with reservation by Berenson, 1932, 495.

Accepted as Rosso’s by: Becherucci, 1944, 24–25, and dated in the first years of the second decade of the sixteenth century, by Barocchi, 1950, 25–26, 245, and dated 1514–1515, by Bologna and Causa, 1952, 4, no. 2, by Baldini, in Mostra del Pontormo, 1956, 126–127, no. 157, Pl. XCVI, and by Hartt, 1952, 65, who suggested, because of the halo, that the woman may be St. Catherine.

Berenson, 1963, 194, as Rosso.

Carroll, 1964 (1976), I, Bk. II, 39–40, 95–97, P.4, II, Bk. III, Fig. 6, as Rosso, around 1514.

Becherucci, 1965, 39, no. 10, as Rosso, and valued at $90,000.

Borea, 1965, Pl. III, as Rosso’s and done a little before the date of the Assumption that she accepts as 1517; she relates the portrait to Leonardo’s Mona Lisa as interpreted through the influence of Sarto.

Luisa Becherucci, in Uffizi Cat., 1979, 460, no. P 1372, as Rosso, around 1514–1515.

Berti, 1983, 45, 49, indicates the awkwardness of the painting but as a work by Rosso he would place it toward 1518.

Caron, 1983, 7, n. 2, not sure as Rosso’s.

Wilmes, 1985, 96, 144–146, 149, Fig. 28, as an early Rosso, similar to the Angel Playing a Lute.

Carroll, 1987, 33, n. 12, as Rosso, c. 1512.

Natali, in Natali and Cecchi, 1989, 15, uncertain as Rosso’s, near to Sarto in style, and recalling the reputed early works of the Master of the Kress Landscapes.

Forlani Tempesti, 1991, 276, under no. 90, as Rosso, about 1514.

Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 11, 40–41, no. 2, with Color Pl., as Rosso and most related to the apostle second from the right in his Assumption of 1513–1514.

Costamagna and Fabre, 1991, 15–16, as Rosso, 1514–1515, stylistically related to Sarto, its prototype his Lucrezia del Fede in the Prado.

Franklin, 1994, 212, and Pl. 16, as Florentine School, near to Sarto and too weak and not sufficiently “Rossoesque” for the early Rosso as seen in the paintings he did at the Annunziata around 1513.

Marchetti Letta, 1994, 76 and Pl. 101, as Rosso, 1514–1515, resembling the Virgin in the Assumption.

Brilli, 1994, 64, and Color P1, showing the urn and part of a hand at the lower left, as Rosso, c. 1514.

Costamagna, 1994, 20, 106, under Cat. 5, 107, n. 2, as Rosso’s earliest work “avec certitude,” showing all the characteristics of his style.

Falciani, in Gnocchi and Falciani, 1994, 61, 63, Color Fig., as Rosso, 1513–1514, his work closest to Sarto’s.

The shape of the head and the character and set of the features of this young woman are very much like those of the Madonna in Rosso’s S. Maria Nuova altarpiece of 1518 (Fig.P.5a). They are also similarly executed in a rather loosely brushed Sartesque manner with the shading accentuated at the edges of the eyes, between the lips, and in the depression above the chin. But the over-all structure of the portrait head, taking its condition into account, appears less firm and recalls, in this respect, that of the heads in Rosso’s Assumption of 1513–1514 (Fig.P.3e).

However, the portrait is probably earlier than the fresco of 1513–1514 as suggested by the flatness of the face, by the unconvincing form of the shoulders, and by the reticent characterization of the young woman. How much earlier is a matter of conjecture as no earlier dated work by Rosso seems to have survived for comparison. But analogies with Sarto’s paintings of or datable around 1510 and 1511 strongly indicate that the portrait follows immediately upon them. The portrait is similar to the head of the first woman running in from the left in Sarto’s Healing of the Obsessed Woman at the Annunziata, a figure that also wears the same kind of dress. In the Funeral of St. Philip the head of the standing man seen from the front at the foot of the bier closely resembles the portrait head, as does the somewhat Leonardesque head of the woman seated with a child in the Healing by St. Philip’s Relics. Similar resemblances relate the portrait to the head of Christ in Sarto’s Noli me tangere in the Uffizi, to his Portrait of a Young Man at Alnwick Castle, to the head of the Archangel Tobias in Sarto’s altarpiece in Vienna, and to that of the young magus in the foreground of his Procession of the Magi at SS. Annunziata whose slightly angular drapery thrown over his shoulder may also be compared to the drapery of Rosso’s young woman. None of Sarto’s immediately subsequent works, such as the San Gallo Annunciation, the Marriage of St. Catherine in Dresden, or the Holy Family with St. Catherine in Leningrad, with their general fullness of form, richness of execution and chiaroscuro, and energetic and fluent activity, appear as closely related to Rosso’s portrait as do Sarto’s slightly earlier works.

Rosso’s portrait would seem to have been done around the time of his reported participation with Pontormo on the lost predella of Sarto’s San Gallo Annunciation, generally dated around 1512 (L.2). But no knowledge of the style of this altarpiece can be discerned in Rosso’s portrait which may, therefore, have been done before the Annunciation was completed.  Such may also have been the case with the lost predella. The costume of the woman is like that of Bugiardini’s La Monaca in the Pitti, dated by Freedberg around 1512.2 This portrait also has a landscape in the background. Rather than seen as weak compared to Rosso’s Assumption of 1513–1514 (Fig.P.3a; Fig.P.3b), which itself is not a fully accomplished painting, the portrait might rather be characterized as an immature work done when Rosso was eighteen and for the moment most under the sway of Sarto’s style. That his next painting, the Madonna and Child with St. John the Evangelist (P.2) of 1513 (Fig.P.2Aa; Fig.P.2B), should be so different in style accords satisfactorily with what we know of the abrupt shifts in manners of expression that are an aspect of much of his subsequent production. The drawing, modeling, and execution of the Uffizi portrait, as well as something of the nature of the sitter’s glance at the spectator all have, even in their uncertainties, much in common with Rosso’s next surviving portrait, the Portrait of a Young Man with a Letter of early 1519 (Fig.P.6a).

With halo and jar Rosso’s portrait could be of a woman named Maddalena, although this would seem to be unusual. It could also be a portrait of a young woman who was about to enter a convent whether or not her name was Maddalena, and possibly because she would then assume this name.3 In any case, the image could be related to penitence. The coral necklace might have apotropaic significance.

1The state of the edges of the panel and the condition of the halo were kindly related to me in May 1984 by Anne Fabre and Philippe Costamagna who had studied the panel out of its frame. They also pointed out the details at the lower left that are visible with the portrait in its frame but not in published photographs of the painting.

2 Freedberg, 1961, I, 207, II, Fig. 269.

3 It is highly unlikely that the picture is a devotional image of the Magdalen, but rather a portrait modestly in her guise. For similar later paintings by Pontormo (Fig.Pontormo) and Puligo, see Costamagna, 1994, 72, 195, Cat. 55 (the copy of Pontormo’s saint as a portrait of Francesca Capponi), and Anne Fabre and Marilena Mosco in Maddalena, 1986, 73–74, no. 14, with Fig. (Fig.Puligo, Florence). A much later Portrait of a Young Woman Holding A Skull (Louisville, Speed Art Museum, inv. no. 66.8; Terisio Pignatti, Veronese, Venice, 1976, I, 191, A168, II, Fig. 866), attributed to Veronese but seems instead by Fasolo, shows a girl of seventeen, in 1574, giving a record of her appearance at the time that she was about to enter a convent, as indicated by inscriptions (Fig.Veronese).  A fine Portrait of a Woman as the Magdalen, attributed to Puligo (Fig.Puligo, Ottawa) is almost identical to a Portrait of a Woman as St. Barbara, also given to Puligo (Fig.Puligo, St. Petersburg), as discussed by Elena Capretti, in Franklin, 2005, 171–172, with Figs.  I have not made a study of female portraits identified with female saints, but except for the Puligo portrait in St. Petersburg I know none other than those showing Mary Magdalen, nor any done earlier than Rosso’s, although Capretti indicates others but cites no examples.

The extensive and fully illustrated Maddalena catalogue of 1986 gives no examples of a portrait of a woman, identified with the Magdalen, earlier than Puligo’s portrait in the Palazzo Pitti of ca. 1525.

It is just possible that Rosso’s portrait is of Magdalena di Leonardo for whom he stood as a witness to her appointment of her husband as her legal male guardian, or mundualdus, and her renunciation of an inheritance from her late brother Alessandro (see DOC.1e and Waldman, 2000, 612, and n. 43).  Unfortunately, I do not know Magdalena di Leonardo’s age in March of 1514.  On the appointment of a mundualdus, see Thomas Kuehn, Law, Family, and Women: Toward a Legal Anthropology of Renaissance Italy, Chicago, 1991, Chapter 9, 212–237, 353–363.