Magdalene with Two Flames
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Magdalene with Two Flames or The Penitent Magdalene is an undated work created c.1640 by the French painter Georges de La Tour. In 1978 Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman gave it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it still hangs.
The painting depicts Mary Magdalene, a companion of Christ, who exchanged her previous lifestyle for a life of penance and contemplation. She is shown, illuminated by a candle, sitting in a meditative pose in front of a mirror. The light from the candle and its reflection create a strong chiaroscuro effect, with the subject's brightly lit face and breast contrasting with the darkness of the rest of the composition.
Both the candle and the human skull she is holding are metaphors for the fragility of life and her discarded jewellery for the meaningless value of worldly possessions and for her atonement.
The work is one of several by the artist featuring a candlelit Mary Magdalene.
- Magdalene at a Mirror (de La Tour, c. 1635–1640)
- Magdalene with the Smoking Flame (de La Tour, 1640)
- Charles Bierer Wrightsman