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El Greco - The Penitent Mary Magdalene

by Alexandra Tuschka

The self-proclaimed "painter-philosopher Domenikos Theotokopulos, we know today simply under the name "El Greco". His subjects were characterized by heroic and religious themes, although during his lifetime the Counter-Reformation was already beginning to prevail.

The penitent Magdalene fills the center of the picture as a triangle. El Greco painted five versions of this motif. The one shown here is inspired by a work of the same name by Titian. Here, too, the protagonist sits in the center of the work; here, too, the view into the distance can be seen on the right; here, too, the view is blocked on the left by a rock formation. This is overgrown with ivy, symbolizing eternal life made possible by penance. Magdalene is depicted here as a hermit in the wilderness. She directs her gaze to heaven and clearly expresses her attachment to God.

Greco draws the girl's face and neck unnaturally long, which creates an overall slightly distorted image. Magdalene has long hair, with which, according to the biblical source, she dried Jesus' feet. The flacon on the left is also often seen as her attribute and alludes to the same episode, as Mary anointed the Savior's feet after drying them. The attached skull is to be understood as a vanitas symbol.

El Greco - The Penitent Mary Magdalene

Oil on canvas, c. 1577, 107.9 x 101.4 cm, Worcester Art Museum in Worcester


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