Eccentric, not trustworthy person of dubious morals, keen to spend time in the company of models dressed in clothes of the opposite sex — these are the opinions about Guido Cagnacci (1601 – 1663) from the unkind mouths of his contemporaries.
Several significant episodes of Cagnacci’s life describe the artist as quite an uncomfortable personality. Glorified by women, ruined by a woman. In 1628, Guido cast his wandering eye on a young widow, Theodora Stivivi, of aristocratic family. In doing so Guido “had offended the honor of the major families of Rimini”. Theodora’s relatives did not consent to marriage. A mess of legal quarrels led to a trial. Guido, a restless and quarrelsome temperament, kidnapped the woman from the convent in which she had been sheltered and tried to escape with her. The papal cops found the hiding lovers. Guido’s own father condemned him. As a result, the troublesome painter was banned from the city of Rimini.
This is not the usual idea of Mary Magdalene, who became a follower of Christ, and then a saint. Mary Magdalene lies almost naked on the ground. Virtue, a fair-haired angel, pursues the devil, who bites his hand in anger when he casts a last glance at Magdalene. The picture is a celebration of the triumph of virtue over vice, but the master with obvious pleasure describes worldly temptations — an expensive suit, beautiful shoes and ornaments scattered on the floor. Amazing naturalism and eroticism of his paintings…
This image of Mary and Martha is absolutely original, and Cagnacci knew it only so well. No wonder he boastfully signed his work “GVIDVS CAGNACCIVS INVENTOR”, not the usual “pinxit” (painted) or “fecit” (done).
In 1650, Guido traveled to Venice, and in 1658 appeared in Vienna. Emperor Leopold I became his patron. It is in free Venice that Cagnacchi creates his chamber paintings, mostly female nudes — carnal and sensual.
Among his favorite subjects was glorious Cleopatra. He painted quite a number of Cleopatras, so many that collected in one gallery it might be named “the cemetery of the dying Cleopatra.”