· France, private collection
The Milanais, especially the regions around Lake Como, has always been a corridor and area of exchange between Switzerland, France, Savoy, Austria, and the Italian territories of Emilia and Venetia. Under French domination for awhile, then governed by the Sforza, it passed to Spain after the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis in 1559. Already before the end of the 16th century, the Spanish presence and Lombardy’s central position attracted a large number of Flemish craftsmen and artists, including a certain Roux d’Emes from Antwerp, whose name was Italianized into “Della Rovere.” Nicknamed the Fiamminghini, although born in Milan, his two sons became painters : Giovan Battista and Giovan Mauro, who was 14 years younger.
Giovan Mauro was trained in the Milanais Mannerist circle of Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo and Ambrogio Figino, but he mainly assisted his brother, starting in 1588 in Varallo, on the frescos for several Sacro Monte chapels. In 1593, he was already working alone on the paintings for the Chapel of the Virgin at the Francescan convent of Santa Maria di Sabbioncello in Merate. In fact, his activity associated with religious commissions is what is known best, whether for frescos or oil paintings.
His exuberant narrative style with clear refined coloring, dynamic compositions, and grandiloquent gestures, in the wake of Giovanni Battista Crespi and Giulio Procaccini, perfectly corresponded to the demands of the post-Tridentine church and attracted many commissions for the territories caught up in conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, as was the case around Lake Como. The Fiamminghino, sometimes in collaboration with his brother, thus worked in churches and monasteries in Milan, as well as Varese, Montemezzo, Novara, Peglio, Chiaravalle, and Chiari, and were sollicited by newly constituted brotherhoods, mainly those dedicated to the Holy Sacrament and to the Virgin of the Rosary.
Mina Gregori, the specialist of Pier Francesco Mazzuccheli called Morazzone, was the first to attribute our picture to Fiamminghino. In fact, this artist’s very personal manner is easily recognizable in this easel painting, although the bulk of the his known corpus is constituted of frescos and altarpieces. In our painting, the Magdalene’s pose appears to be a combination of those of Saint Francis in The Temptation of Saint Francis and Saint Francis Renouncing his Father’s Possessions, both painted in about 1610 for Santa Maria della Neve de Boffalora (on permanent loan tot the Pinacoteca Nazionale of Brera). The saint’s face lifted towards the sky corresponds to a good number of paintings by Giovan Mauro Della Rovere produced between 1610 and 1630 in Milan, such as the Nativity of Saint Francis of Assisi in the Church of Saint Mark, the Virgin and Child with Saint Francis and Saint Lucy in the Saint Eustorgio Basilica, or the Resurrection of Lazarus and the famous Triumph of Paradise, both in Santa Maria del Carmine. There also can be seen the same eloquent long-fingered hands, and in the Triumph of Paradise is Mary Magdalene herself with the same long undulating golden hair. Finally, similar little angels with fluffy hair and mischievous expressions people the fresco of the Musician Angels in Santa Maria Annunciata in Bienno.
Our large picture stands out from these works by its warm palette, built on hues going from light pink to deep brown, and including golden yellow and crimson. Perhaps coming from Morazzone who had sojourned in Rome, Caravaggesque influence is seen here in the bulging composition and neutral ground, even if Fiamminghino’s light remains soft and only creates slight secondary shadows, as beyond the saint’s figure itself, the artist seeks to capture and transcribe the saint’s emotion more than anything.
Marco Bona Castellotti, La Pittura lombarda del’ 600, Milan, 1985, pl. 252-258 and 665.
Paola Tenchio, L’Opera del Fiammenghino nelle Tre Pievi altolariane, Menaggio, A. Sampietro, 2000.
Amalia Gola Sola, Il Fiamminghino. Il pittore tragico : Giovanni Mauro della Rovere, Milan, 1973.
Giuseppe Fusari (dir.), Il gran teatro barocco. I Fiamminghini e i Trionfi dei santi Faustino e Giovita, exh. cat. Brescia, Museo diocesano, 2010.
Pier Giuseppe Agostoni, "Giovan Mauro della Rovere detto il Fiammenghino," Arte Cristiana, 1960, pp. 229-234.