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The Penitent Magdalene in the Grotto of Sainte-Baume
Maíno, Fray Juan Bautista
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Maíno, Fray Juan Bautista

Pastrana, Guadalajara, 1581 - Madrid, 1649

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The Penitent Magdalene in the Grotto of Sainte-Baume

1612 - 1614. Oil on panel.
Not on display

On 14 February 1612 Juan Bautista Maíno signed the contract to execute the paintings for the monastery church of San Pedro Mártir in Toledo. Maíno agreed to a period of eight months to make the paintings, which had to portray the scenes and episodes specified by the prior of the monastery. Despite the agreement reached in the contract, the paintings were not completed until December 1614. In the meantime Maíno entered the monastery, becoming a member of the Dominican Order on 27 July 1613.

As a result, this altarpiece is the key reference point in Maíno’s oeuvre. Antonio Palomino based his judgement of the artist’s work on it, describing Maíno as one of the most eminent painters of his day, as can be seen in his works for the said house [San Pedro Mártir], particularly the high altar of that church with the four canvases of the Cuatro Pascuas [four feasts], in which there are excellent nudes and other things painted in majestic life-size. For his part, Ponz singled out the invention, knowledge of chiaroscuro, draughtsmanship and skill in the use of colour that Maíno’s paintings revealed, and he was the first to refer to the subjects depicted: The coming of the Holy Spirit, the Resurrection of Christ, his Birth and the Adoration of the Magi. Together, these are the most important episodes in the life of Christ, from his birth to his resurrection, and thus constitute the great iconic images of the Catholic world and the most important festivals in the ecclesiastical calendar, known together in Spanish as the Cuatro Pascuas.

The San Pedro Mártir altarpiece is completed with four depictions of Christian saints from the late classical period. These figures were the subject of popular devotion and represented the quietude and renunciation of worldly affairs that was the aim of monastic life. Maíno painted them on a much smaller scale and located them above and below the principal canvases. Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist were made on canvas and installed in the lower or predella level, while Mary Magdalene and Saint Anthony Abbot were painted on panel and located above the two principal canvases on the upper level.

The composition of this Mary Magdalene, a figure linked to that of Saint John the Baptist in Maíno’s version on copper, was also derived from a print. The Magdalen is shown reclining on the ground, leaning in part against a rock. In the panel here, Maíno remains relatively close to a work by Annibale Carracci of around 1585, of which a print of 1591 and a drawing in red chalk are known. In the latter the figure’s pose is inverted in comparison to the painting and print, in both of which the Magdalen is located on the left of the composition with the landscape occupying the right-hand side. Maíno thus preferred to repeat the format of the red chalk drawing, clearly in order to adapt the scene to the overall design of the altarpiece, although giving the Magdalen a more markedly reclining pose than in Carracci’s version. By doing so he was conforming to the horizontal format commonly favoured for predella panels from medieval times onwards, and one that was widely used in Baroque painting. Important examples of the latter can be found in the work of Orazio Gentileschi, with which Maíno’s panel can be compared, although the Dominican monk placed less emphasis on a sensual presentation of the figure. Thus, he covered her breast, but he also pulled back her long hair to reveal her arm and shoulder and he emphasised her calves and feet, which, as Javier Portús noted, were considered extremely erotic parts of the body at this date. With her hands clasped, the young woman directs her gaze towards the cross that leans on two small boulders to her right, painted in a dark tone to make them stand out within the composition. As in Carracci’s version, the Magdalen makes the cross the object of her meditations, although her face lacks any sign of suffering or sorrow.

The Magdalen, partly covered by a white robe and an ochre mantle, is outlined against the darkness of the cave at Sainte-Baume. Her body is well rounded and solid and her delicate face is that of a very young woman, of a type conforming to the idealised concept of the period. Pérez Sánchez singled out the rounded modelling in a pale chromatic range, in the manner of Gentileschi. The Magdalen is brightly lit, as are the rocks and cave behind her that create the landscape, together with the blueish area of land on the left that probably depicts Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the port where the Magdalen arrived in France, according to medieval legend. As in the panel of Saint Anthony Abbot, the summary manner of painting the setting does not prevent Maíno from evoking a Roman classicising landscape. For Mina Gregori, these two panels combine classicising formulas with aspects derived from Elsheimer, Caravaggio and Filippo Napoletano, combining the transparency of the illuminated passages with the use of a horizontal format that allows for a more classicising vision.

Maíno’s technique in this panel of the Magdalen is particularly interesting, as he combined the use of brushstrokes in very dilute oil with a transparency in the pigments that allowed the underdrawing of the figure to show through, as well as various small modifications that he made to the position of the cross. At the same time he also used occasional patches of impasto on the clothes and in the sky and very small brushstrokes to create the details of the mouth and eyelashes, applying tiny touches of an orangeish hue over the flesh tones in order to enliven them (Ruiz, L.: Juan Bautista Maíno: 1581-1649, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2009, pp. 289, 294-295).


Technical data

Inventory number
Maíno, Fray Juan Bautista
The Penitent Magdalene in the Grotto of Sainte-Baume
1612 - 1614
Height: 60.6 cm; Width: 154.8 cm
Retablo de las Cuatro Pascuas. Iglesia de San Pedro Mártir, Toledo.
Church of the Dominican Convent of San Pedro Mártir, Toledo; Museo de la Trinidad.

Bibliography +

Caravaggio y el naturalismo español, Comisaría General de Exposiciones de la Dirección, Madrid, 1973, pp. n. 73.

Camón Aznar, José, Pintura Española de los Siglos XVI al XIX, Direccion General de Bellas Artes, Madrid, 1973, pp. 62.

Serrera, J. M., Juan Bautista Maíno: Notas sobre el retablo de las Cuatro Pascuas, Boletín del Museo del Prado, X, 1989, pp. 35-41.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas (II). Museo de la Trinidad, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1991.

Pintores del reinado de Felipe III, Pintores del reinado de Felipe III, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1993, pp. 80, n. 22.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, El siglo de Rubens en el Museo del Prado: catálogo razonado, II, Prensa Ibérica, Barcelona, 1995, pp. 1650.

Boitani, M. C., Juan Bautista Maino, Fratelli Palombi Editori, [S.L.], 1995, pp. 168-170.

Portús Pérez, Javier, Indecencia, mortificación y modos de ver en la pintura del Siglo de Oro, En: El arte de mirar. La pintura y su público en la España de Velázquez, Istmo, Madrid, 1997.

Ruíz Gómez, L, Juan Bautista Maíno, 1581-1649, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2009, pp. 136, n. 19.

Papi, Gianni, Borgianni and Maíno: new discoveries, Artur Ramon Art, 2017, pp. 57.

Other inventories +

Inv. Museo de la Trinidad, Pintura. Núm. 895.
895. / Tabla apaisada. La magdalena en el desierto, recostada sobre una roca, con la calavera en el suelo y la cruz á la izqda del espectador fondo de pais. Cuerpo entº y fuigª poco mas de media vara. / Autor Maino / Rdo Alto 0,58 1/2 ancho 1,53 1/2 pr la luz del marco / Sin embtar ni rar con moldura lisa dorada colgdo en / Nº 47 s.g.

Exhibitions +

Juan Bautista Maíno (1581-1649)
20.10.2009 - 17.01.2010

Pintores del reinado de Felipe III
25.02.1994 - 27.03.1994

Pintores del reinado de Felipe III
21.01.1994 - 20.02.1994

Pintores del reinado de Felipe III
17.12.1993 - 16.01.1994

Pintores del reinado de Felipe III
12.11.1993 - 12.12.1993

Pintores del reinado de Felipe III
08.10.1993 - 07.11.1993

Pintores del reinado de Felipe III
03.09.1993 - 03.10.1993

Pintores del reinado de Felipe III
29.07.1993 - 29.08.1993

Pintores del reinado de Felipe III
25.06.1993 - 25.07.1993

Pintores del reinado de Felipe III
21.05.1993 - 20.06.1993

Pintores del reinado de Felipe III
15.04.1993 - 06.05.1993

Displayed objects +



Update date: 13-01-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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