Penitent Magdalene (Titian, 1533)
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- Not to be confused with the same artist's 1565 version of the same subject.
It was commissioned by Francesco Maria I della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, who had already commissioned religious works from Titian. It has been questioned whether or not it is an original work or a copy of an earlier painting Titian produced for his patron Federico Gonzaga. Even if it is a copy, it is an autograph work entirely by Titian himself, since it is signed and was one of the Duke of Urbino's first commissions. Its use of light illuminating the subject from the left contrasts with the dark background landscape of a colourful sunset.
The subject of the Magdalene as a prostitute and fallen woman returned to the path of virtue by Jesus was very popular in the 16th century, allowing artists to create erotic compositions without courting scandal. Titian's version of the subject has a slightly different dimension, however - he shows her at a moment of elation and deep repentance, with tears in her eyes (referring to her washing Jesus' feet with her tears) and her gaze raised heavenwards. Erotic though it is, Vasari states that her nudity may also refer to the sacred legend that she spent her last year naked and alone in a hermitage in the mountains near Provence, fed only by the singing angels who visited her daily. Thus her lack of clothing symbolises her abandonment of jewels, gold and worldly goods to her faith in Christ.