The Penitent Magdalene
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.