A frequent subject in seventeenth-century European painting, the Penitent Magdalene is caught here in a moment of fervid prayer, evidenced by her clasped hands and teary eyes raised to the heavens. This type of picture normally served as an aid to private religious, specifically Catholic, practice: the viewer could meditate on the skull as a symbol of mortality and the alabaster jar, which figures in biblical texts, as a symbol of devotion to Christ. Although seventeenth-century patrons tended to favor the looser and more expressive brushstrokes of artists like Salvator Rosa, Dolci painted his pictures slowly and with steadfast attention to detail, to great acclaim. Similar in dimensions to a picture of Saint Jerome reading that is now in an American private collection, this work may once have hung beside it in the collection of the Florentine Agnolo Teri.


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