Maria Maddalena, c. 1480-87
Carlo Crivelli’s sublime Magdalene stands in a simulated niche like a sculpture suddenly brought to life. The illusionistic tricks and embossed and gilded details are perfect examples of Crivelli’s individual melding of late Gothic and early Renaissance styles and techniques. This is the unredeemed Magdalene, gorgeously arrayed in damask and gold and still with a sly, appraising look in her eyes though she carries the jar of perfume (a gift from one of her admirers?) with which she will anoint the feet of Jesus. The painting resides in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and it is worth visiting the museum’s superb website to view Crivelli’s details in high resolution. The Magdalene’s hair, for example, is an extraordinary combination of naturalistic detail and formal pattern, quite unlike the conceptions of any other painter. This is the most exquisite Mary Magdalene I know, and the work of a unique artist.