The Frick Collection
Peter Paul Rubens, The Holy Women at the Sepulchre Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, The Birth of Saint John the Baptist Francisco de Zurbarán, Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose Jacopo Bassano (Jacopo da Ponte), The Flight into Egypt Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino, Aldrovandi Dog
The West Gallery of The Frick Collection
Special Exhibition

Jacopo Bassano
The Flight into Egypt
Podcast | Video

Peter Paul Rubens
The Holy Women at the Sepulchre
Podcast | Video

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri called Guercino
Aldrovandi Dog
Podcast | Video

Francisco de Zurbarán
Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose

Masterpieces of European Painting from the Norton Simon Museum
February 10 through May 10, 2009


Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), The Holy Women at the Sepulchre, c. 1611–14, oil on panel, The Norton Simon Foundation

Podcast Available Podcast available by Assistant Curator Margaret Iacono.

Another biblical narrative is recounted in The Holy Women at the Sepulchre, by Peter Paul Rubens. Executed sometime between 1611 and 1614, the painting depicts a small group of women who have gathered at Christ’s burial place to anoint his body. As described in Luke 24:1–12, they arrive to discover the tomb empty; two angels emanating a radiant light relay the news of Christ’s resurrection.

Despite being one of the most familiar accounts in the New Testament, Rubens’s Easter scene is inventive and intriguing. His mourners consist of six figures whose identities are uncertain. He uses Pudicitia, a famous Roman statue (now in the Musei Vaticani, Vatican City), as his model for the central figure, cloaked in purple. The goddess Pudicitia personified female modesty and fidelity, which were revered traits in Roman society. Rubens was well versed in antique Greek and Roman culture and doubtless would have been familiar with Pudicitia’s subtext. As the values Pudicitia embodies are more consistent with the Virgin than with the Magdalene, it seems probable that the lavender-sheathed woman represents Christ’s mother. Although the Virgin Mary is absent from Luke’s account, Rubens often strayed from textual sources. The artist included the Pudicitia reference in other depictions but only for pious figures of the highest moral caliber, consistently transcribing both the physical pose and inherent meaning of the original sculpture.

Which figure, then, represents Mary Magdalene? While scholars have made cases for each of the women depicted, the Magdalene is most likely the bareheaded woman in red. In Roman society, only unwed women, such as Mary Magdalene, appeared publicly with their heads uncovered. Her vibrant crimson gown evokes the bright colors worn by Roman prostitutes, and she is barefoot, as the Magdalene is commonly depicted. In addition to questions concerning the figures’ identities, other issues surround the panel, including a lack of conclusive documentation identifying its patron(s), function, and original location. It is unlikely that these questions troubled Norton Simon. A great admirer of Rubens, Simon already owned six works by the artist when he acquired this canvas in 1972 from the famed Czernin Collection in Vienna, which was admired for its extraordinary seventeenth-century paintings.

Margaret Iacono, Assistant Curator

A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition. It contains a comprehensive essay on Norton Simon’s collection by Sara Campbell, Senior Curator at the Norton Simon Museum, as well as detailed entries by Margaret Iacono on the five paintings on loan to the Frick.

Masterpieces of European Painting from the Norton Simon Museum is organized by Colin B. Bailey, Associate Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator of The Frick Collection, and Carol Togneri, Chief Curator of the Norton Simon Museum, with the assistance of Margaret Iacono, Assistant Curator of The Frick Collection.

Principal funding for the exhibition is provided by Melvin R. Seiden in honor of Colin B. Bailey. Major corporate support is provided by Fiduciary Trust Company International. Additional support is generously provided by the Thaw Charitable Trust, Mr. and Mrs. John P. Birkelund, and an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.