The J. Paul Getty Museum

The Penitent Magdalene

Object Details


The Penitent Magdalene


Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (Italian, about 1487 - 1576)






Oil on canvas

Object Number:



108.3 × 94.3 cm (42 5/8 × 37 1/8 in.)

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Object Description

The subject of the penitent Mary Magdalene lifting her teary eyes to heaven gained great popularity in sixteenth-century Italy amongst aristocrats, religious figures and the wealthy middle class alike. Titian and his workshop created many copies and variations of this composition, at least seven of which are known today. This work is likely to have been executed with some workshop assistance. In this variation, the artist omits the skull which appears in other compositions, and instead depicts the Magdalene's Bible resting on a cloth-covered support. Such minor alterations to compositions was often made at the request a patron, who wanted a work similar to one which already existed, but unique in some way.

The sacrament of Penance had important significance in Counter-Reformation spirituality, and artists frequently portrayed penitent saints as exemplars of religious fervor. Such works were meant to inspire a greater devotion, at a time when Catholicism was being challenged by Protestant reform. On the other hand, the popularity of The Magdalene as a subject is also associated with her implied sexuality. Her passive gaze and partially naked body appealed to male viewers, for whom such paintings offered a moralizing context through which to engage with the sensuality of the female form. The Magdalene’s partly exposed breasts and long, flowing hair, would have held erotic connotations for the sixteenth-century viewer. Upon encountering one of Titian’s conceptions of the Penitent Magdalene, biographer Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) denied such sexual undertones, and declared that the picture “profoundly stirs the emotions of all who look at it; and, moreover, although the figure Mary Magdalene is extremely lovely it moves one to thoughts of pity rather than desire.”

X-rays of the painting reveal that the artist made numerous changes to the composition, known as pentimenti, suggesting that the composition was developed and altered during its execution.

1790s - 1805

Sir Richard Worsley, seventh Bart., 1751 - 1805 (Appledurcombe House, Isle of Wight, England), by inheritance to his nephew, Charles Anderson-Pelham, 1805.

1805 - 1846

Charles Anderson-Pelham, first earl of Yarborough, 1781 - 1846 (Brocklesby Park, Lincolnshire, England), by inheritance to Charles Anderson Worsley Anderson-Pelham, 1846.

1846 - 1862

Charles Anderson Worsley Anderson-Pelham, second earl of Yarborough, 1809 - 1862 (Brocklesby Park, Lincolnshire, England), by inheritance to Charles Anderson-Pelham, 1862.

1862 - 1875

Charles Anderson-Pelham, third earl of Yarborough, 1835 - 1875 (Brocklesby Park, Lincolnshire, England), by inheritance to Charles Alfred Worsley Pelham, 1875.

1875 - 1929

Charles Alfred Worsley Pelham, fourth earl of Yarborough, 1859 - 1936 (Brocklesby Park, Lincolnshire, England) [sold, Yarborough sale, Christie's, London, July 12, 1929, lot 102, to Colnaghi.]

1929 - 1930

Colnaghi (London, England; New York, New York), sold to Otto Gutekunst, 1930.
Source: GRI, P. & D. Colnaghi records, private ledger, p. 311, no. 4867.

1930 - 1947

Otto Gutekunst, 1866 - 1947 (London, England; Switzerland), by inheritance to his wife, Lena Gutekunst, 1947.

1947 - 1955

Lena Gutekunst, sold through P & D Colnaghi & Co., Ltd. (London, England) to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1955.
Source: Provenance Index: Collectors File.

La Peinture Vénitienne (October 16, 1953 to January 10, 1954)
  • Palais des beaux-arts (Brussels), October 16, 1953 to January 10, 1954
Italian Art from the 13th Century to the 17th Century (August 18 to October 2, 1955)
Masterpieces of Art: In Memory of William R. Valentiner, 1880-1958 [...] (April 6 to May 17, 1959)
  • North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh), April 6 to May 17, 1959
Konstens Venedig (October 20, 1962 to February 10, 1963)
  • Nationalmuseum (Stockholm), October 20, 1962 to February 10, 1963
Gloria dell'Arte, a Renaissance Perspective (October 28, 1979 to January 27, 1980)
  • Philbrook Museum of Art (Tulsa), October 28, 1979 to January 27, 1980
Titian and the Commander: A Renaissance Artist and His Patron (October 4, 2005 to February 5, 2006)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), October 4, 2005 to February 5, 2006

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Goffen, Rona. Titian's Women (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997), pp. 187, 190, fig. 106.

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