Mysterious Mary

Musee du Louvre

One of my favourite depictions of Mary Magdalene appears in this magnificent Deposition of c. 1480-1510 by the anonymous “Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece”, which also happens to be one of my all-time favourite paintings and a work that abundantly rewards contemplation. Like Carlo Crivelli’s Magdalene the figures in this tragedy appear in a shallow illusionistic space, like actors before a stage curtain. The appearance of such vivid anecdotal and naturalistic details in the simulated theater of the picture frame lend this scene a very startling sense of heightened reality. The Madgalene here is an ambiguous presence. Opulently dressed in chaste white, her beautiful young face shows genuine sorrow. With one hand she fondles the leg of the dead Christ while with the other she clutches and proffers her ripe bosom. One can’t help feeling the artist might be winking at us here, showing by the subtlety of his art a Magdalene both saucy and sad.

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