Mary Magdalene Portrait Attributed to Raphael on View in France

Mary Magdalene Portrait, Controversially Attributed to Raphael, Is on View in the South of France Since Yesterday.

Apr 22, 2024By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Mary Magdalene Portrait
A portrait attributed to Raphael on view at the Basilica of Saint-Maximin, France, 2024. Photo: Christophe Simon / AFP via Getty Images.


Mary Magdalene portrait, controversially attributed to Raphael, is on view in the South of France since yesterday. About fifty enthusiastic spectators waited outside the basilica of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume on Sunday, April 21. They wanted to see the piece. A London auction house bought this 18-by-13 inch work last year from an anonymous French collector.


Mary Magdalene Portrait, Is It Unique?

Mary Magdalene Portrait
Photo: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt / AFP via Getty Images.


This collector spent $37,000 on the piece, allegedly created in Leonardo da Vinci’s studio at the time.  In September 2023, Annalisa Di Maria, a UNESCO expert in Renaissance art and Florentine Neoplatonism, controversially authenticated the work. She used ultraviolet analysis to identify the artist as the great Renaissance painter Raphael. The date of the artwork is 1505, the year Raphael and the polymath Leonardo first met.


During an interview with World Art News, Di Maria mentioned that the repentances included in the piece contributed to its uniqueness. The repentances are deliberate changes made when producing a piece of art. They, she explained, would be left by artists to “distinguish them from copyists who lack such subtleties”.


renaissance Mary Magdalene portrait
Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy by Caravaggio, 1606, in a Private Collection


In response to comments that the painting looks similar to Raphael‘s self-portraits, she also gave her point of view. “This resemblance attributes to what we refer to as the painter’s pictorial DNA. The shared attributes between Mary Magdalene in this painting and Raphael’s self-portraits serve as a testament to the artist’s distinctive touch. Also,  his ability to imbue his subjects with a profound sense of beauty and grace”.

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Some Call It a Replica

raphael school of athens painting
The School of Athens, Raphael, 1509-1511. Source: Vatican Museums.


Nonetheless, some reviewers met the attribution with scepticism. Among them was Vittorio Sgarbi, an Italian art historian and former undersecretary of culture. He described the rediscovery as “a journalistic scoop, since it is based on the knowledge of a few as it is a work in a private collection”. The Italian art publication Finestre Sull’Arte called the picture a “replica” in a post from September 2023.


Also, called out the experts who authenticated the painting as “unrelated to studies on Raphael and lacking scientific publications on the Renaissance master”. Given that Saint-Maximin-la-Saint-Baume church seems purportedly as the final resting place of Mary Magdalene, it is a natural place for the image. As Jesus’ disciple, Mary Magdalene was the first to see him after his crucifixion and his resurrection.


school of athens fresco raphael 1511
Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), detail from Raphael’s 1509 fresco The School of Athens, via Wikimedia Commons.


According to 13th-century lore, Magdalene lived in a cave in the Saint-Baume mountains, just 12 miles from the basilica, after converting local people in Marseille to Christianity. The painting required an admission fee of €3 ($3.20) for visitors on Sunday. The money raised from those who view the painting will go towards restoring the 13th-century basilica.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.