Monday, August 17, 2009

Mary Magdalene Approaching the Tomb

Title: Mary Magdalene Approaching the Tomb

Artist: Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 89.1 x 82.4 cm

Date: c. 1535-40

Location: The National Gallery, London.

On the Sunday morning after the Crucifixion, Mary Magdalene visited the tomb of Jesus, but found it empty. The story is recounted in the Gospel of John 20:11-16, and Mary Magdalene is here identified by the pot of ointment with which she anointed Christ's body, and by the glimpse of her traditional red dress beneath a silver-grey cloak. She was the first person to see Christ after the Resurrection.

In Savoldo’s depiction of these events Mary Magdalene looks up, as if disturbed while grieving. At the left edge of the painting, as part of a background that appears to represent Venice and its lagoon, there is the glow of the sunrise on the eastern horizon. And although the sun should rise in the east, the viewer is struck by the incongruity of the flood of bright, white light that strikes Mary’s shimmering robe from the right. The light that shines on Mary more intensely than the sun is meant to announce the presence of the risen, glorified Messiah. The moment shown here may be the moment when He calls her by name, and she recognizes her Lord.

Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo was born in Brescia. In 1508 he was in Florence, but thereafter he was mainly in Venice (except for a visit to Milan, 1532-4). His output was not great. His pictures are mostly of single figures against landscape backgrounds. The draperies of the figures are usually the most striking element, showing the light on the reflective textiles. Some of his pictures, such as 'Mary Magdalene' are known in a number of versions. The three principal Brescian painters—Moretto, Romanino, and Savoldo—would have a profound impact on Italian art thanks to their influence on a young artist born in the region later in the century: Caravaggio, who admired their approach to sacred painting, with its deliberately humble, earthy character.

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