For centuries, depictions of Mary Magdalene have been a hot commodity in western art. She is one of the most malleable characters in the Gospels, with stories about her appearing in both the Bible and several traditions that have developed outside of canonical religious literature.
The four gospels agree that Mary Magdalene was a follower of Jesus and an eyewitness to his crucifixion and resurrection.
There are twelve separate occurrences of her name in the four gospels that are considered canonical, making her the most often named female character in the gospels outside of Jesus’ immediate family.
Mary Magdalene was present at Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, according to the Synoptic Gospels and the other three canonical gospels.
All four gospels credit Mary with being the first to see the empty tomb and the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection, either on her own or as part of a group that included included Jesus’ mother.
Famous Mary Magdalene Paintings
1. Mary Magdalene – Frederick Sandys
An oil on panel painting by Frederick Sandys of Mary Magdalene, completed in 1858–1860 as part of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. The sole biblical figure by Sandys depicted was Mary Magdalene.
Mary is pictured against an intricately patterned forest-green damask, her sharp features evoking Lizzie Siddal (though the model is unknown). She is traditionally identified with the unidentified wicked woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with alabaster ointment (Luke 7:37) since she is shown holding an alabaster ointment cup. Frederick Sandys, following in the tradition of his fellow Pre-Raphaelites, gave Magdalene a sexually alluring appearance.
Dante Rossetti accused Sandys of plagiarizing his picture Mary Magdalene Leaving the House of Feasting because of the similarities between the two works. However, Rossetti’s own Mary Magdalene painting, completed twenty years later, was more reminiscent of Sandys’ work than the other way around.
The Delaware Art Museum received Mary Magdalene from the collection of Samuel Bancroft, the most prominent American collector of Pre-Raphaelite art, whose family had purchased the painting in 1894.
2. The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene – Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov
In order to provide a progress report to his patrons, the Society for the Encouragement of Artists in St. Petersburg, Alexander Ivanov painted Christ’s Appearance to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection while he was in Italy working on the painting.
In May of 1836, the canvas was transported to the Russian capital and displayed at the Imperial Academy of Arts, where it received widespread praise.
3. The Penitent Magdalene – Georges de La Tour
Alternatively known as “The Penitent,” Magdalene with Two Flames Georges de La Tour, a French painter, is credited with creating the oil-on-canvas picture known as Magdalene in the year 1640.
It was given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman in 1978, and it has been shown there ever since.
The subject of the artwork is Mary Magdalene, a follower of Christ who abandoned her former worldly way of life in favor of a pious existence marked by self-denial and introspection. A candle is burning as it focuses light on her as it shows her sitting in a meditative position in front of a mirror.
The contrast between the subject’s brightly lit face and breast and the darkness of the rest of the composition creates a powerful chiaroscuro effect. This effect is created by the light from the candle as well as the reflection of that light.
The candle and the human skull that she is clutching are both metaphors for the precarious nature of existence, and the jewelry that she has discarded serves as both a symbol of the pointless value of material belongings and a means for her to make amends.
The artist has created a number of works, including this one, that depict Mary Magdalene with candles in her hands.
4. Madonna and Child with Saints Polyptych – Duccio
An Italian Renaissance painter named Duccio da Buoninsegna was responsible for the creation of a five-panel Madonna polyptych that was titled Madonna and Child with Saints Polyptych (also known as Polyptych no. 47 by Duccio).
The art of Duccio is easily recognizable by its rich colors and gold leaf applications. The Madonna and Child, along with four saints, are shown at the top of the polyptych, directly above ten patriarchs and prophets.
Christ is depicted as standing in the middle of the polyptych, flanked on either side by four angels. There are depictions of the Saints Agnes, John the Evangelist, and John the Baptist, as well as Mary Magdalene.
This painting with tempera and gold on wood was created between the years 1311 and 1318 and is currently on display at the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Siena, Italy.
5. Magdalene with the Smoking Flame – Georges de La Tour
Magdalene with the Smoking Flame is an oil-on-canvas portrait of Mary Magdalene that was created around the year 1640 by the French Baroque painter Georges de La Tour. It is also known as La Madeleine à la veilleuse and La Madeleine à la flamme filante in its original language, French.
There are two different iterations of this picture, one of which can be found in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the other can be found in the Louvre Museum (La Madeleine a la veilleuse).
Despite the fact that he was working during an uncomfortable time of religious warfare and the carnage that followed, Georges de La Tour was a famous Catholic Baroque artist. His career was successful despite the fact that he was working at this time.
Tenebrism, an unusually dramatic contrast between light and shadow, was one of the numerous techniques that he picked up from Caravaggio’s work, which he studied extensively.
The fact that he painted a variety of depictions of the Magdalene implies that more than one of his clients was interested in examining this topic. In each installment in his Magdalene series, he exhibits subtle shifts in the lighting, poses, and symbols he uses.
Despite the fact that just minor adjustments have been made, it appears that the paintings convey a variety of sentiments and meanings.
6. Mary Magdalene – Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo
Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo painted Mary Magdalene somewhere between 1535 and 1540 using oil on canvas. The artwork is currently housed at the National Gallery in London, which purchased it in 1978.
It is largely agreed upon that it is the first painting in a series of four paintings on the theme, which was popular with private Venetian commissions at the time. Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of Jesus on the Sunday morning following the crucifixion, but she discovered that it was empty when she arrived there.
The account may be found in John chapter 20 of the New Testament. In this passage, Mary Magdalene is recognized by the jar of ointment that she used to anoint the body of Jesus Christ, as well as by the typical red dress that can be seen peeking out from beneath her silver-gray cloak.
She was the first person after Christ’s resurrection to see him after he had been raised from the dead. There are a few different iterations of this Savoldo composition that are known to exist. It would appear as though the background were a landscape depicting Venice and its lagoon.
7. Noli me tangere – Antonio da Correggio
The exchange between Jesus and Mary Magdalene shortly after the Resurrection is depicted in Correggio’s c. 1525 picture Noli me tangere, also known as Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene in the Garden. The Museo del Prado in Madrid currently has it in their possession.
This picture depicts the events of the first Easter. Mary had recognized the risen Christ since Jesus addressed her by name.
She drops to her knees and is about to reach out to him when he uses a hand gesture to turn her away. She looks up into his eyes as Jesus outlines the mission she is to carry out among the disciples, and she is completely taken aback by the whole thing.
The only thing covering the resurrected Lord is a thick mantle that is knotted at his waist. His shirt is falling off his shoulders, exposing his midsection. Formally, it’s really pleasing, like a statue that would have been created in ancient Greece.
Alongside him on the ground are gardening implements including a hoe and spade; past them is his straw hat. Mary’s tears clouded her vision, and her confusion led her to believe the gardener had spoken to her.
8. Martha and Mary Magdalene – Caravaggio
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, an Italian Baroque painter, painted Martha and Mary Magdalene (c. 1598). You can see it at the DIA.
The New Testament sisters Martha and Mary are depicted here. Martha is currently engaged in the task of converting her sister Mary from a life of vice to a life of virtue in Christ.
Shadowed Martha leans forward, fighting vehemently with Mary, who holds a mirror and twirls an orange flower between her fingers as a metaphor for the vanity she is going to abandon. The expression on Mary’s face at the moment of her initial conversion is what gives the photograph its power.
Caravaggio created Martha and Mary while he was a lodger at the palazzo of Cardinal Del Monte, a patron of the artist. Secular genre works like The Musicians and The Lute Player and Bacchus, which depict young men and boys in confined interior settings, and religious works like Rest on the Flight into Egypt and Ecstasy of Saint Francis make up the bulk of Del Monte’s collection of his work.
There was a set of four paintings among the religious art that all used the same two women as subjects, either together or separately. Models included courtesans Anna Bianchini and Fillide Melandroni, who were regulars at the palazzi of Del Monte and other wealthy and powerful art patrons.
9. Mary Magdalene – Artemisia Gentileschi
This painting of Mary Magdalene was created by the Italian baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi between the years 1616 and 1618. It is currently shown in Florence’s Pitti Palace.
It depicts a woman in a yellow silk gown shoving away a vanity mirror emblazoned with the words “you have selected the best portion” (optimam partem elegit).
The Bible verses cited, Luke 10:41–42, are particularly apt because they depict Jesus telling Martha that her sister Mary has chosen the wiser option by embracing a spiritual life.
The chair’s wooden support is signed “Artimisia Lomi,” albeit this signature may be the product of a later hand. The painting is made up of three separate canvases, with the addition of the strip down the left side (which features the chair upon which the signature is discovered) being a probable addition at a later date.
10. Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy – Caravaggio
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, the Italian baroque painter, is credited with the work Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy (1606). (1571-1610).
In 2014, a copy of what is now thought to be the original artwork was found in a private collection after years of art historians only having access to reproductions made by the artist’s fans.
Most art historians agree that Caravaggio painted the piece in 1606 while hiding out on the Colonna family’s estates after fleeing Rome following Ranuccio Tommason’s murder.