oil on panel
support: h 66.3 cm × w 76 cm
h 86.5 cm × w 96 cm × t 5.5 cm
oil on panel
support: h 66.3 cm × w 76 cm
h 86.5 cm × w 96 cm × t 5.5 cm
The original support consists of two horizontally grained oak planks (29.2 and 24.5 cm), 1.0-1.4 cm thick, bevelled along the right and left edges. A third plank, approx. 12.5-12.7 cm wide and approx. 0.8 cm thick, was added at the top at a later date (see Entry). Dendrochronology has shown that the youngest heartwood ring in the two original planks was formed in 1510. The panel could have been ready for use by 1521, but a date in or after 1535 is more likely. The youngest heartwood ring in the added plank was formed in 1513. There are no unpainted edges or traces of a barbe. Although there is a white ground on the original support, the ground on the added plank is orange-coloured and contains lead white, making it register strongly in the X-radiograph of the painting. From stereomicroscopic examination and paint samples it has been determined that the sky on the added plank (which contains minute particles of natural ultramarine) continues down to the mountains on the original panel, carefully surrounding the Magdalen’s head and veil. The top of Magdalen’s head has been enlarged with overpaint just at the point of the join. Infrared reflectography reveals a fully worked-up underdrawing in a dry material (fig. b). Judging by its appearance in cross-sections, the material is black chalk and it has been applied on top of lead-white priming. All parts of the composition were laid out and defined with extensive diagonal hatching. Additional cross-hatching and loose zigzags occur in the figure of the Magdalen. The figure and trees were left in reserve in the paint stage, and there are noticeable differences in texture between areas of thin glazes, as in the deep red of the Magdalen’s robe, and impasto build-up, as in the highlights on foliage and rock surfaces of the background mountain. Natural ultramarine was used in the pale blue mountains on the distant horizon.
Good. The varnish is slightly discoloured.
…; estate inventory, Commandery of St John, Haarlem, 1572, in the great hall (‘1 Tauoreel van Maria magdalena gemaect by meijster ian scorel’);1 stored at an unknown location, 1572-1606;2 estate inventory, Commandery of St John, Haarlem, 1606, in the commander’s chamber (‘Noch een Magdalena van Schoorl’);3 estate inventory, Commandery of St John, Haarlem, 1625, in the commander’s bedchamber (‘Een Taeffereeltgen van Maria magdalena’);4 transferred to the Prinsenhof, Haarlem, 1628;5 estate inventory, Prinsenhof, Haarlem, 28 April 1667, in the reception room (‘van maria magdalena’);6 Prince’s room, at the Prinsenhof, Haarlem, c. 1750;7 acquired by the Dutch state and transferred to the museum, as Anonymous, 1804;8 on loan to the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, 2004-10
Object number: SK-A-372
Copyright: Public domain
Jan van Scorel (Schoorl 1495 - Utrecht 1562)
Jan van Scorel was born in 1495, according to Karel van Mander, in the village of Schoorl northwest of Alkmaar, the natural son of a priest, Andries Ouckeyn, and Dieuwer Aertsdr. He died in Utrecht in 1562 and was buried in the Mariakerk, where a funerary monument was erected that contained a portrait of Scorel by his pupil, Antonio Moro. Van Mander praised Scorel for having visited Italy, returning with a new and more beautiful manner of painting; and the artist is still recognised today for the widespread influence that his Italianate style had in the northern Netherlands.
Jan van Scorel was not only a painter but also a canon. His church office in the Mariakerk, Utrecht, prohibited him from marrying, but his will (1537) tells us that he lived with Agatha van Schoonhoven as his common-law wife; the date 1529 on Scorel’s portrait of her must mark the period when the two met.9 One of the couple’s six children, Peter (c. 1530-1622) became a painter. Van Mander’s remark that Scorel ‘was very familiar with and liked by all the great lords of the Netherlands,’ is almost an understatement. The artist built up an influential network among the clergy, beginning with Pope Adrian VI, the artist’s protector when he arrived in Rome around 1522, and including Herman van Lokhorst, dean of Oudmunster (St Saviour), Scorel’s first, important patron in Utrecht, and other fellow ecclesiastics. In addition, Scorel had high court connections. In the negotiations surrounding his canonry, Scorel’s sponsors were none other than the stadholders Henry III of Nassau-Breda and Floris of Egmond, the most powerful nobles at the Court of Holland at the time. In c. 1532-33, Scorel visited the courts at Breda and Mechelen, where he met the neo-Latin poet, Janus Secundus, and was at the court in Brussels around 1552. Scorel also worked for the municipality of Utrecht and received payments from the city for his activities associated with the triumphal entries into Utrecht of Charles V (1540) and Philip II (1549).
Early sources suggest Scorel began his training as an apprentice in Alkmaar or Haarlem, but neither suggestions have been substantiated. Van Mander’s account is more credible when it comes to the second step in Scorel’s training: after attending the Latin School in Alkmaar, Scorel moved to Amsterdam around 1512, where he became an assistant in Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen’s workshop. Van Mander also reports that Scorel studied briefly with Jan Gossaert, who came to Utrecht after his protector, Philip of Burgundy, had been elected bishop in 1517. By 1518-19 Scorel left the Netherlands on a long journey whose route was described in detail by Karel van Mander, eventually taking the painter to Venice, the Holy Land and Rome.
Scorel’s stays in both Venice and Rome can be construed as a continuation of his training, for he was profoundly influenced by his new surroundings. After returning to Venice from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem around 1520, Scorel painted a number of portraits and landscapes, and he may have ventured on to Rome after the Utrecht native, Adriaan Florisz Boeyens, was elected pope in January 1522. According to Van Mander, Scorel not only had access to antique statuary as overseer of the Vatican collections in the Belvedere, an appointment he received from Pope Adrian VI, he was also able to make drawings after Raphael, Michelangelo and the works of other Italian masters. Adrian VI’s promise to Scorel of a canonry in Utrecht led the artist to settle there in 1524 after his return from Rome.
Van Mander’s life of Jan van Scorel is the primary source for the reconstruction of the painter’s oeuvre. He knew, for instance, that during his early travels, the painter worked for nobility in Carinthia (Austria), where Scorel’s first signed and dated painting, the 1519 Holy Kinship altarpiece, can still be seen today.10 The major touchstone of Scorel’s first years in Utrecht, the Triptych with the Entry of Christ into Jerusalem painted as a memorial for members of the Lokhorst family around 1526,11 is described at length by Van Mander. When Jan van Scorel moved to Haarlem (1527-30), Van Mander tells us that he was received by Simon van Sanen, Commander of the Knights of St John. Both Van Mander’s account and the inventories of the order mention a number of key works that Scorel completed during this period: The Baptism of Christ, Adam and Eve12 and Mary Magdalen (SK-A-372). Scorel’s Haarlem period was an extremely critical and productive one: he established his basic repertoire of subjects, received more prestigious commissions, such as the Crucifixion Altarpiece for the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam (now lost), rented a house and took on students, among them Maarten van Heemskerck, and expanded and standardised the operations of his workshop.
Scorel’s ‘most flourishing period’, according to Karel van Mander, followed upon the artist’s return to Utrecht by September 1530. Unfortunately, many of the works Van Mander describes from this period have been lost. The Finding of the True Cross triptych, probably commissioned by Henry III of Nassau-Breda in the mid-1530s, has survived, although in poor condition.13 Some remarkable discoveries were made in the late 20th century of altarpieces executed by Scorel and his shop around 1540 for the abbey of Marchiennes in what is now northern France. Fragments survive from an Altarpiece with St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins, and the Polyptych with Sts James the Greater and Stephen lacks only one wing.14 These works, along with the Landscape with Bathsheba of c. 1540-45 (SK-A-670), provide us with a better understanding of Scorel’s late style. His oeuvre consists of some 60 extant paintings, between 20 and 25 drawings, and 6 designs for prints.
In addition to Maarten van Heemskerck, Antonio Moro and Scorel’s son Peter were apprentices in Scorel’s shop. Others, such as Lambert Sustris, may have had brief contact with his workshop as assistants. Van Mander describes Scorel as the typical uomo universale of his time. He was skilled in languages, wrote poetry as well as songs, acted as an amateur archaeologist and marine engineer, and participated in an ambitious land development scheme, the reclamation of the Zijpe in north Holland.
Lampsonius 1572 (1956), no. 17; Buchelius 1583-1639 (1928), pp. 21, 26-30, 52, 63-64; Van Mander 1604, fols. 234r-36v; Muller 1880; Justi 1881, pp. 193-210; Scheibler/Bode 1881, pp. 211-14; Hoogewerff 1923a; Friedländer XII, 1935, pp. 118-56; Hoogewerff in Thieme/Becker XXX, 1936, pp. 401-04; Hoogewerff IV, 1941-42, pp. 23-191; ENP XII, 1975, pp. 65-81; Faries 1970, pp. 2-24 (documents); Faries 1972; Faries in Amsterdam 1986a, pp. 179-80; Miedema III, 1996, pp. 268-90; Faries in Turner 1996, XXVIII, pp. 215-29; Faries 1997, pp. 107-16; Van Thiel-Stroman in coll. cat. Haarlem 2006, pp. 303-04; Faries in coll. cat. Utrecht 2011, pp. 167-69
M. Faries, 2010
Updated by the author, 2016
Long regarded one of the Rijksmuseum’s masterpieces, the Mary Magdalen shows the saint half-length, seated before a broad, luminous landscape. She sits on a narrow plateau which is defined on the right by a curving tree trunk with a broken stump near the base. The saint’s portrait-like appearance, which Scorel intensified by having the Magdalen glance out at the spectator, was a well-established convention by this time. The Magdalen holds her traditional attribute of an ointment jar, referring to biblical accounts where she wiped and anointed Christ’s feet (Luke 7:37; John 12:3). Her richly decorated garments, especially the colourful robe that may depict an actual mid-eastern fabric and the dark blue-violet dress with sleeves wrapped by crossed pearl-studded black ribbons, allude to the Magdalen’s worldly life of luxury. Striking features are her wavy, reddish-blonde hair and her transparent chemise of thin cambric. The Hebrew letters on her bodice were no doubt meant to evoke her origins in Magdala in the Holy Land, even though they have no apparent meaning.15
Details in the background relate to the Magdalen’s life as told in De Voragine’s Legenda aurea.16 The unusual rock formation in the left background can be identified as the Sainte-Baume, a mountain grotto in Provence, where it was believed the Magdalen lived as a hermit for the last 30 years of her life. Her ecstasy has been depicted just to the left of her cave as a group of tiny figures that are barely discernible near the base of the rock outcropping. According to the Magdalen’s legend, she was borne aloft by angels at the seven canonical hours, and as a result required no earthly sustenance. Lower in the landscape, Scorel has even included the figure of a hermit priest who, according to De Voragine, was allowed to witness this miracle.17 Scorel’s master, Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen, showed the Magdalen as a penitent in the background of his 1519 portrayal of the saint,18 but Scorel’s depiction of the Sainte-Baume with the minuscule figures of the Magdalen’s ecstasy is closer to that in the background of Lucas van Leyden’s 1519 engraving of the Dance of St Mary Magdalen.19 The form of Scorel’s mountain influenced Maarten van Heemskerck and was repeated in a drawing he executed around 1535.20
The provenance of the Rijksmuseum painting from the Knights of St John in Haarlem has led to the assumption that it was painted during Scorel’s stay in that city, and perhaps for a member of the order.21 Some speculate that Simon van Sanen, commander of the order from 1514 to 1542, was the patron, since it was known from Karel van Mander that Scorel executed several works for him which were still to be seen in the Commandery.22 Even though this commission cannot be confirmed, the image of the Magdalen would not have been out of place in the Haarlem cloister. Beyond the fact that the order itself had special veneration for this saint, it would have been the Magdalen’s penitent life, specifically chosen for the background narrative, which had direct correlation with the lives of St John’s brothers. In addition, the Magdalen had widespread appeal as a repentant sinner who had been redeemed by Christ.23 In this respect, the tree on the right may have a special meaning. Previous growth is rotten and dead, while the new branch flourishes as the sign of the Magdalen’s new life after her conversion.24
The original format of the Mary Magdalen without the added plank at the top is best reflected in an important copy of this work in Palermo (fig. a). Dendrochronology indicates that this copy was executed late in the 16th century during the period when the location of the original Magdalen was unknown.25 All the other known copies show the state of the Mary Magdalen after the strip was added.26 As demonstrated by technical investigation, the Palermo copy was taken directly from the surface of the Amsterdam painting.27 There is just a bit of sky above the Magdalen’s head; her coiffeur is somewhat tighter, and there is only one long branch behind her head on the right. As is typical of a copy, the Palermo painting shows absolutely no change in its execution, while change is evident everywhere in Scorel’s original.
In the underdrawing of the Amsterdam painting (fig. b), the Magdalen’s lower hand and ointment jar were first seen frontally and were then changed in the paint surface so that they are now seen slightly from above, suggesting that the artist may have been working from sketches that he then had to adapt to the larger pictorial space of painting. The Magdalen originally had a slashed sleeve, and the folds in the cloth on her lap were in different positions.28 The fact that Scorel did not specify the ornamental details of the ointment jar or fabric in the underdrawing indicates that he must have sought out specific models for these items during the painting stage and underscores his intention to enhance the Magdalen’s elegant appearance. He also changed the Magdalen’s head: her hair was originally pulled back into a bun, and her eyes, nose and ear were differently positioned.29 Scorel refined her features and emphasised the oval shape of the head, striving for a Raphaelesque ideal that could have been known from Italian prints.30 Such a thoroughgoing change provides further evidence contradicting the assumption found in earlier literature that Scorel intended an exact likeness in the Magdalen, that of his life-long companion, Agatha van Schoonhoven.31
The original format of the Mary Magdalen concurs with Scorel’s frequent preference for a low, oblong shape, as seen in his Baptism of Christ. The latter work is especially relevant as a comparison, for it is known to have been painted for the commander of the order of St John in Haarlem and also has a plank added at the top.32 Both paintings rely on strong diagonals to order recession into deep landscape. This is a development that occurred during Scorel’s Haarlem years, 1527-30, and relates to his shift away from flat backgrounds and cramped formats, as seen, for instance, in a portrait of 1529 (SK-A-3853) to open, luminous landscape settings, as seen in his Portrait of a Man in Berlin.33 Scorel’s portrayal of the Magdalen resonated in Haarlem,34 and it had a specific impact on Scorel’s studio assistant, Maarten van Heemskerck. The shape of the Magdalen’s head and a simplified version of the mid-eastern fabric reappear in Heemskerck’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt in Washington, D.C.35 The head shape is also repeated in the first version of Mary’s head in Heemskerck’s St Luke Painting the Virgin.36 The dendrochronological dates of Scorel’s Magdalen and Heemskerck’s Rest have been estimated as late as the mid-1530s,37 but both works must have been completed before Heemskerck left Haarlem for Italy in 1532, and the Magdalen before Scorel returned from Haarlem to Utrecht in 1530. Taken together, the continuing presence of this work in the city where it was presumably painted, its influence on Maarten van Heemskerck, and its more expansive format, indicate that the Mary Magdalen must have been painted towards the end of Jan van Scorel’s stay in Haarlem, c. 1530.
M. Faries, 2010
Literature updated, 2016
Friedländer XII, 1935, p. 203, no. 338; Hoogewerff IV, 1941-42, pp. 100-02; Bruyn 1954, pp. 51, 54; Utrecht 1955, p. 42, no. 23, with earlier literature; Van Gelder 1965, pp. 29a-b; ENP XII, 1975, p. 122, no. 317; Faries 1975, pp. 93-97; Bruyn 1983a, pp. 120-23; Faries in Amsterdam 1986a, pp. 184-85, no. 63; Kloek et al. 1986, pp. 26-27; Faries 2006a; Ubl in Scholten 2015, p. 187, no. 69; Van Suchtelen 2015, pp. 34-35
1809, p. 64, no. 278 (as ‘Joan Schoorl, Eene zinnebeeldige Vrouw, zittende in een Landschap met eene Vaas in de hand: en hebbende een Hebreeuws geschrift op het kleed, moetende volgens hetzelve verbeelden de Dochter Sions’); 1843, p. 54, no. 283 (‘gaaf’, probably meaning undamaged); 1858, p. 282, no. 287 (as ‘de Dochter Sions’); 1880, p. 282, no. 327 (as wrongly attributed to Scorel); 1887, p. 157, no. 1331; 1903, p. 245; no. 2189; 1934, p. 263, no. 2189; 1976, p. 512, no. A 372 (with earlier literature)