Alessandro Casolani is one of the last painters of the Mannerist school of Siena. He was strongly influenced by the art of Domenico Beccafumi, whom he never met, as he died one year before he was born. One feels the same Medieval sense of mysticism in his often sort of floating figures painted in unusual colour combinations.
Saint Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380) believed in her mystical marriage to Christ. Siena remained a town of spiritualism: see how our Christ almost jumps from his cross to Mary Magdalene, one of his closest and most beloved disciples.
About Alessandro Casolani
Italian late Mannerist painter
Mensano 1552 – 1606 (or January 1607) Siena
Painter of religious subjects.
Also known as Alessandro della Torre and sometimes erroneously as Alessandro Casolano. He was born in the ancient castle of Mensano near Casole d’Elsa in Tuscany.
Pupil of Arcangelo Salimbeni.
Cristoforo Roncalli, called Il Pomarancio, who was born in the same year as our painter, stimulated him into painting. At the start of their career Casolani seems to have assisted him in several panel paintings made in Siena. He received his first independent commission in 1576, for a painting for a chapel in the Duomo of Siena. As a young artist, in 1578, Casolani made a journey to Rome in the company of Roncalli, where he studied, among others, works by the former assistant of Raphael, Perin del Vaga.
Through the Sienese painter Marco Pino (1521 – 1583) Casolani’s style was strongly influenced by one of the last important Sienese masters, Domenico Beccafumi (1486 – 1551), who died the year before our Alessandro Casolani was born.
Casolani married in 1585 Aurelia Rustici, daughter of the painter Lorenzo Rustici and sister of Vincenzo Rustici (known for his views of the Palio). The couple had many children.
Casolani painted mostly for churches and for private patrons in and around Siena. In Siena one can find his paintings in the Basilica di San Domenico (1585), in the Duomo (1594/1596) and in the Oratorio di San Bernardino. But he worked also near his birthplace, in Radicondoli, W. of Siena in the early 1590s. In 1599 and the start of 1600 he worked at the Certosa in Pavia. Apparently he also worked in Pisa (for the church of San Francesco), Naples and in Genoa, but there are very few traces of those activities. Contemporary writers describe him as a humble man with a shy character. He therefore rejected the invitation of Pope Clement VIII (1592 – 1605) to work at St Peter’s in Rome.
In 1602 and 1603 our painter worked together in Siena on fresco paintings for the Oratorio della Santa Trinità and in the old Chiesa dei Santi Quirico e Giulitta with Ventura Salimbeni (Siena 1568 – 1613 Siena), the son of his Master Arcangelo Salimbeni. They had already worked earlier together on large altar paintings on canvas.
Alessandro’s son Ilario Casolani (1588 – 1661) was also a painter. Bernardino Capitelli (1589 – 1639), who was also Casolani’s pupil, produced an etching with his master’s portrait.
About Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene is described, both in the canonical New Testament and in the New Testament apocrypha, as a devoted disciple of Jesus. The life of the historical Mary is a subject of ongoing debate, as Catholics have traditionally identified three women as the same Mary : Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the woman sinner.
Mary Magdalene was the sister of Lazarus and of Martha. She lead a sinful life as a prostitute, but finally became one of the closest followers of Christ.
Based on the New Testament Western Catholic painting shows her :
- in the house of Martha with Christ : while Martha is cooking for Christ (representing active life), Mary Magdalene is listening (contemplative life).
- in the house of Simon the Pharisee washing Christ’s feet with her tears, drying them with her hair and anointing them.
- standing weeping at the foot of the cross with Mary and Saint John.
- as the first one who saw Christ after His Resurrection, next to His tomb, at first mistakenly holding him for a gardener (“noli me tangere”).
French tradition says that fourteen years after the Assumption of Christ Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus, her sister Martha and other followers of Christ were set adrift in a vessel by the Jews. They arrived safely in Marseille and converted its pagan population. Thereafter the penitent Mary Magdalene retired into the caves of Sainte Baume amidst a deserted wilderness. She ate nothing except for a Holy Eucharist angels brought her regularly.
Every day during the last years of her penance angels came down and carried her up in their arms to heaven, where she listened to the sounds of unearthly harmony. In our painting we see Mary Magdalene waiting for the angels at the entrance of her cave.
After these years of penitence Mary Magdalene went to live in Rome and in Ephesus. Just before dying there she was miraculously transported to the chapel of Saint Maximin next to Sainte Baume.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because it is painted in the great mystic Sienese tradition of Domenico Beccafumi: within this Renaissance setting there is a sense of nervousness in the pose of Mary Magdalene, who is dressed in striking colours.