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The Penitent Magdalene


 Abraham Janssens (Flemish, ca. 1575-1632), The Penitent Magdalene, ca. 1620
Photo Credit: 

 Laura Shea

Not On View
Janssens, Abraham
Flemish (ca. 1575-1632)
Place made: 
Europe; Flanders; Antwerp
The Penitent Magdalene, ca. 1620
Oil on panel
Frame: 58 1/2 in x 48 in x 4 in; 148.6 cm x 121.9 cm x 10.2 cm; Panel: 48 in x 38 1/2 in; 121.9 cm x 97.8 cm
Gift of David Giles and Louise Carter in honor of John Varriano, Professor of Art History (1970-2009)
MH 2011.3

One of a series of half-length, figural compositions undertaken by Abraham Janssens in the 1620s, this sumptuous painting of the Penitent Magdalen was intended for a private patron. Its owner would have savored the visual opulence of the pensive saint surrounded by jewels, silks, fruit, and a golden ointment jar, while also understanding the somber skull and crucifix as emblems of death and redemption. Janssens painted it during the Counter-Reformation, a period when the Catholic Church strongly encouraged penitence as the route to salvation. Traditionally described as a prostitute who became a devoted disciple of Christ, Mary Magdalen embodied notions of repentance and redemption. To this day, she remains a complex and mutable symbol of women and their place in the Church.

(Sept. 2016)