(1629 – Bologna – 1700)


The Penitent Magdalene


oil on canvas

28 x 23 inches (71 x 58.5 cm.)




Private European collection; Sale, Christie’s, New York, 04 June 2014, lot 65, as circle of Donato Creti. 

Most of what is known about Lorenzo Pasinelli’s life and career comes from his biographer, Giovan Pietro Zanotti.  A devoted pupil, Zanotti began writing the grandiosely entitled biography “Nuovo fregio di gloria a Felsina sempre pittrice nella vita di Lorenzo Pasinelli pittor Bolognese”[1] while Pasinelli was still living and completed it three years after his subject’s death. The Baroque artist was the oldest of six children and his father, a spice merchant, was intent on training Lorenzo in the family profession.  The business, however, held little interest for the young boy who was often found drawing on the walls and countertops of the shop and delaying his errands to observe the activity in the artist’s workshop next door.  His reluctant father eventually permitted him to attend classes part-time with a friend at the studio of Andrea Baroni.  Lorenzo excelled.  His talent was obvious, even to his father, who subsequently arranged a fulltime apprenticeship with one of Guido Reni’s most gifted pupils, Simone Cantarini.  Pasinelli simultaneously attended classes at the Accademia del Disgno, producing nude studies under the masterly instruction of Alessandro Tiarini, Francesco Albani, and Michele Desubleo.  

After Cantarini’s death in 1648 Pasinelli joined Flaminio Torri’s workshop.  The partnership deteriorated quickly and Pasinelli ventured out on his own around 1651.  He built a respectable reputation as an artist over the next decade, which soon extended beyond his hometown of Bologna and secured him commissions in Mantua and Turin.  In 1663 he traveled to Rome where he studied the great masters for several months.  Within a few years of his return Pasinelli emerged as a leading master in the city.  Only Carlo Cignani rivaled his great skill and stature.  The artist received important commissions from Vienna, England and the Prince of Liechtenstein, as well as from powerful local clergymen and nobles.  He ran a flourishing studio from his home where he worked exclusively on easel paintings for most of his career.  Pasinelli’s pupils included some of the most recognized artists in Bologna in the later years of the 17th and early 18th centuries, including Giovanni Gioseffo dal Sole, Gian Antonio Burrini, Aureliano Milani and Donato Creti.  In 1698 the master painter abruptly closed his school, discharging all of his pupils, in what Zanotti described as a series of rash decisions following a quick succession of family deaths, including that of his second wife and only child.   A few months into his second act of widowhood Pasinelli surprisingly married a twenty-six year old woman.  Even without the support of his studio, he continued to paint productively.  His biographer proposed that the aged yet tireless artist was driven by the expectancy of a long-desired son who would be born just two months after Pasinelli’s death in 1700. 

The present work depicts the bust of a woman, most likely a sibyl, holding an arrow and a scroll.  She wears a purple headdress decorated with pearls atop waves of hair that cascade over her shoulders.  The graceful naturalism of her face evokes other paintings by the artist, whose female figures consistently fall somewhere between invention and reality.  The gaze of the sibyl is distant but not aloof.  There is a strength to her countenance that is softened by the delicate wisps of hair framing her face, a characteristic detail of Pasinelli’s.  The sibyl holds the written prophecy with her left hand where a pentimento reveals a subtle shift to a more elegant arrangement of fingers. The painting appears to be an earlier work, bearing the influence of Torri in the rendering of the figure’s hair and complexion and by the flattened shape of the folds in her turban. The canvas was probably produced in the late 1640s when the two artists were collaborating after the death of their instructor.  


Two other works from Pasinelli’s early period provide convincing stylistic comparisons to the present work: Sofonisba (fig. 1) and Sibyl (fig. 2), both in private collections.  Painted with a subdued palette, the small-scale canvases feature busts of youthful women in headdresses set against a dark background.  The expression of all three subjects is strong and meditative, each immersed in thought.  Their rounded faces are finely modeled between shadow and light, and their supple necks and shoulders reveal no line of a collarbone or breastbone, only soft flesh.  Carmela Baroncini dates both of these paintings to the late 1640s, when Pasinelli was still developing his signature style.  In Sofonisba the artist has fashioned the woman’s brunette hair in a central part, similar to our subject.  However, the ringlets framing her face are tighter and fuller than the curls of our Sibyl.  Baroncini explains that Sofonisba’s curls were likely retouched at a later date; indeed the looser wisps seen in our work are more characteristic of Pasinelli’s style.  While Sofonisba’s hair is tucked into her turban, locks fall over the Sibyl’s shoulder.  According to Baroncini, these flowing tresses, evident in our painting, were a “habitual” feature for the artist.[2] 

Figure 1


Oil on canvas, 75 x 62 cm

Torino, private collection

(Baroncini, plate I)

Figure 2


Oil on canvas, 57.5 x 48 cm

Bologna, private collection

(Baroncini, plate II)

[1] Translation: “A Glorious New Honor for Felsina, Perpetual City of Painters, in the Life of Lorenzo Pasinelli, Bolognese Painter.” Felsina is the Etruscan city founded on the site where Bologna is now.

[2] Carmela Baroncini, Lorenzo Pasinelli, Pittore, Pittore (1629 – 1700), Translation by Anthony Charles Dewhurst, Stefano Patacconi Editore, 1993, p. 161.