The Penitent Magdalen

Georges de La Tour French

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 622

With its extreme contrasts of candlelight and shadow, pared-down geometry, and meditative mood, this painting exemplifies La Tour’s painting at its most accomplished and characteristic. These visual qualities were a powerful countertrend to Baroque painting’s typical pomp and showiness. A native of the duchy of Lorraine in eastern present-day France, La Tour was indebted to Caravaggesque painting, but tended toward even more simplified forms. The quiet atmosphere of this painting perfectly fits the subject, Mary Magdalen, who renounced the pleasures of the flesh for a life of penance and contemplation. She is shown with a mirror, symbol of vanity; a skull, emblem of mortality; and a candle that probably references her spiritual enlightenment.

The Penitent Magdalen, Georges de La Tour (French, Vic-sur-Seille 1593–1652 Lunéville), Oil on canvas

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