after Ambrosius Benson, Mary Magdalene

Photo courtesy of Matthew Hollow (All rights reserved)


Country House
Raynham Hall
Mary Magdalene
early 18th century
The King's Bedroom
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
after Ambrosius Benson (active 1519-d. 1550)
Catalogue Number


This painting is a later copy of Ambrosius Benson’s Mary Magdalene of which there are several versions. The subject is identified by the ointment jar that she opens, alluding to the oil with which she anointed Christ’s body. The principal variant is held by the Groeninge Museum in Bruges (1972.GRO0008.I) but the Royal Collection also has an autograph version (RCIN 406108), which the present painting more closely follows. Here, Mary Magdalene wears a turban rather than the diaphanous veil seen in the Groeninge version and there are additional rows of ruffles on the sleeves. The Royal Collection version is thought to be the painting described as ‘Rosomond wth a cup of poyson in her hand’, which was sold from Hampton Court on 23 October 1651 and was recovered at the Restoration.

Benson particularly favoured the subject of Mary Magdalene and his representations can be divided into two types: the ointment jar type (the present portrait) and the saint reading a breviary with the jar to one side, as in the version in the National Gallery, London (NG655). The frame of the present painting dates to the first half of the eighteenth century and it is possible that this copy was made around this time. 

Ambrosius Benson (active c.1519–1550) was born in Lombardy but worked in Bruges. He acquired Bruges citizenship in 1518 and was admitted to the guild of painters and saddle makers the following year. He was a pupil of Gerard David who had a great influence on him but their relationship soured quickly and the younger artist took out a case against his master. Benson had a successful career, employing a large workshop and exported many of his paintings to Spain through the Spanish community in Bruges.

by Emily Knight

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