The Penitent Magdalene, by French Baroque painter Georges de la Tour, was painted in 1640, when the Scientific Revolution was occurring. It shows its namesake, the pious Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene was one of the important female religious figures in Christianity. In the Bible, she was mentioned around twelve times, and was told to have there for Jesus during two crucial times, his crucifixion and resurrection. Mary was described to have been very courageous and brave. However, centuries later, her image was warped into something completely different. She became a legend, a remorseful, or penitent, prostitute whose repentance earned her a spot among Jesus’s most beloved followers. George de la Tour, along with other artists, tended to portray this entertaining, but incorrect version of her.
This is clearly a Baroque painting, whose features include Renaissance techniques, spiritual feelings,and dramatic effects, as well as lighting. Technique is shown through the detail in this painting. You can see every ruffle on her white blouse, the design on the mirror frame, the candle light and holder’s shape, the outline on her turned, hidden face, the eye sockets on the skull on her lap, and the “hidden” basket behind the mirror. The portions of the painting lit up by the candle are very realistic, and was made using chiaroscuro. Her body and the mirror create a very visible shadow. Although the basket is hidden, de la Tour put effort into casting a shadow on half of it. The top half of Mary’s body is brighter and more lit up than the rest of the picture, creating an undeniable contrast with it. This also happens with her fingers, parts of her arm, and the skull. This painting relates to its story because Mary seems like she is reflecting on something deep from her posture. The skull on her lap could relate to her evil past life.
George de la Tour uses beautiful art technique and effect to portray a very eminent woman, although incorrectly, in Christianity.