Sexual Fables

This article accompanies the fable
Sacred Prostitute

Mary Magdalene in the history of art

Mary Magdalene has been one of the most popular subjects for painters and sculptors, but they reflect the tastes and predilections of their time and place. There are too many to even begin to show the range but they tend to fall into three main categories.

Below left is a representative saintly image of her at the Crucifixion - it is a detail from the 16th century according to Wikipedia but I have been unable to discover the original. The second category places her at Jesus' tomb, an example of which is lower down the page. Below right is an example of the third category, the penitent or hermit: Donatello's extraordinary anguished figure of 1453-55, where Mary resembles Christ. It is in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence. Photo: sailko

Mary Magdalene          Donatello-Mary-Magdalene

Other images of Mary are scattered throughout this chapter. She perhaps was most popular in the 16th and early 17th centuries - Pietro Perugino here, Titian here, El Greco here but there is also Canova here and Lefebvre here. For the Pre-Raphaelites' take on the subject, here.

The painting below of The Holy Women at the Sepulchre is by Rubens from around 1611-1614. Truly not one of his best. Those are chubby angels on the right and the central woman lifting the veil is thought to be Mary Magdalene, with the Virgin Mary next to her. It is in the Norton Simon Museum, Los Angeles.


Below is a much better Rubens Magdalene - it is a small but exquisite detail from The Deposition (La Pietà in Italian) (around 1602 and possibly as late as 1606), in the Galleria Borghese, Rome.


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