Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Penitent Magdalen

Title: The Penitent Magdalen

Artist: Georges de La Tour

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 133.4 x 102.2 cm

Date: 1638-43

Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Mary Magdalene is described in the New Testament as the most important woman in the movement of Jesus. As a follower, Mary was one of many women who accompanied Jesus and the twelve apostles during his travels. Mary followed Jesus to the very end, and was the first to witness his resurrection. In The Gospel of Luke 8:1-3, she is described as one of a group of women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases, specifically, as one “from whom seven demons had come out.”

Magdalene was the object of great devotion in France and La Tour painted several pictures representing her. This picture shows Mary Magdalene in a dark room at the dramatic moment of her conversion, her features lit by a candle flame that imparts a hauntingly spiritual quality to the work. The elaborate silver mirror, the pearls on the table, and the jewels on the floor symbolize luxury, which she has cast aside. In their place she clasps a skull, a common symbol of mortality.

Georges de La Tour (March 13, 1593, Vic-sur-Seille – January 30, 1652, LunĂ©ville) was a painter, who spent most of his working life in the Duchy of Lorraine, which became part of France the year before his death. La Tour's work exhibits a high degree of originality in color and composition; the characteristic simplification of forms gives many of his pictures a deceptively modern appearance. Although the chronology of La Tour's output is uncertain, it is clear that he initially painted in a realistic manner and was influenced by the dramatic chiaroscuro of Caravaggio or his followers. The paintings of La Tour's maturity, however, are marked by a startling geometric simplification of the human form and by the depiction of interior scenes lit only by the glare of candles or torches. His religious paintings done in this manner have a monumental simplicity and a stillness that expresses both contemplative quiet and wonder.

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