Born in Molfetta in 1703, Giaquinto was apprenticed to Molfettese artist, Saverio Porta, for a number of years before leaving his home city in 1724. Giaquinto continued his career in Naples, Rome, Turin, Mafra and Madrid, where he became a patron of King Ferdinand IV of Spain.
For the people of Molfetta, his most recognizable work can be found within La Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, where Giaquinto painted a magnificent recreation of the Assumption of Mary above one of the side altars. Although a majority of his art can be seen only in Italy and Spain, the Molfettesi community in America need not be discouraged since a few of his canvases also adorn the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and of course the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Two Giaquinto works in particular are currently on view at the MET, the Penitent Magdalen and the Lamentation. Displayed side by side, both works are viewable within the museum’s European collection located on the second floor.
The Penitent Magdalen is a large oil painting displaying the image of Mary Magdalen, unjustly labeled for centuries as a prostitute and according to the New Testament, one of the few witnesses of the crucifixion. In his painting, Giaquinto pays homage to the traditional story of Mary Magdalen retiring in a French cave for thirty years in order to gain penance for her sins. In the image we see that she is bare shouldered, which emphasizes the notion of sexual impropriety. She also wears a cilice, or uncomfortable undergarment used to induce pain as atonement for a sinful life. On the side of the saint, we see three examples of still-life symbolism. The crucifix denotes faith, the skull symbolizes mortality, and the book represents Magdalen’s reflective life as a cave hermit. The Penitent Magdalen was purchased for the MET museum in 2006 for the sum of $1.3 million.
The second Giaquinto painting on view at the MET is the Lamentation. In this image, we see the Virgin Mary mourn the crucified Christ. Even though this painting portrays a classical image of sorrow, it still flaunts a rococo flair with playful cherubs and bright blue hues. This added elegance is perhaps why this painting is considered more of a mystical interpretation of Christ’s death rather than a historical one.
All images © Robert Gigante (2011)