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St. Mary the Magdalene-The “Cappella Nova”


(Cortona, circa 1450-1523)

Santa Maria Maddalena

The fil rouge that links the cathedral to its museum passes through some works that have a place in its history, such as this one that comes from the Cappella Nova.
The large panel can actually be considered as a “vow panel” that the Municipality of Orvieto had commissioned (to the painter) to invoke the Saint’s protection on the health of the people and good governance. Santa Maria Maddalena had in fact known sin, repentance and redemption and for this reason she became a symbol of restraint and moral stability, therefore a guarantor of peace.
In his Last Judgment frescoes, Signorelli gave shape to the terrifying images recalled by the preachers who described the hell of sin as a warning to change and move towards reconciliation: the visualization of the Dies Irae gave a representation to the anxieties of a community which, at the end of the last century, had expected its end, under threat as much by the plague as by an incurable political and social corruption.
Now, if the programme of the Cappella Nova expressed the aspiration of remodelling collective and personal behaviours, the figure of the Magdalene was given an exemplary role, which was precisely shown in Dies Irae itself: “You who forgave Maria di Magdala” said Tommaso da Celano “you gave me hope too.”
The small chapel of the Maddalena was dismantled between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Since 1872 the painting has been recorded in the Palazzo della Fabbrica where Guardabassi saw it and the following year Pennacchi recorded it, as one of the most precious items present in the collection of the Opera del Duomo Museum.

Alessandra Cannistrà


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Progetto realizzato con il contributo
della Regione Umbria