Overview

According to the tenets of the 17th–century Catholic church, Mary Magdalene was an example of the repentant sinner and consequently a symbol of the Sacrament of Penance. According to legend, Mary led a dissolute life until her sister Martha persuaded her to listen to Jesus Christ. She became one of Christ's most devoted followers and he absolved her of her former sins.

In Georges de La Tour's somber canvas Mary is shown in profile seated at a table. A candle is the source of light in the composition, but the light also carries a spiritual meaning as it casts a golden glow on the saint's face and the objects assembled on the table. The candle light silhouettes Mary's left hand which rests on a skull that is placed on a book. The skull is reflected in a mirror. The skull and mirror are emblems of vanitas, implying the transience of life.

The simplification of forms, reduced palette, and attention to details evoke a haunting silence that is unique to La Tour's work. La Tour's intense naturalism rendered religious allegory accessible to every viewer. Although his work is deeply spiritual in tone, the solidity and massing of the forms reveal the same emphasis on clarity and symmetry that pervaded contemporary history painting and was a hallmark of French baroque art.

Inscription

Marks and Labels

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Provenance

Marquise de Caulaincourt, by 1877; by inheritance to his sister, comtesse de Andigné, by 1911.[1] art market, Paris; André Fabius, Paris, by 1936;[2] purchased 1974 by NGA.

Exhibition History

1937
Chefs d'oeuvre de l'art français, Palais National Des Arts, Paris, 1937, no. 24, repro.
1951
French Painting 1100-1900, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, October-December 1951, no.56, repro.
1951
Mostra del Caravaggio e Dei Caravaggeschi, Palazzo Reale, Milan, April-June 1951, no. 128, repro.
1953
La femme dans l'art français, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1953, no. 77, repro.
1958
Fem Sekler Fransk Konst, Miniatyrer, Malningar, Teckningar, 1400-1900, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 1958, no. 35, repro.
1972
Georges de La Tour, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, 1972, no. 15, repro., as La Madeleine Fabius.
1993
Georges de La Tour's "Repentant Magdalene", National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1993, brochure, color repro. on cover.
1993
Masterpiece in Focus: The Magdalenes of Georges de la Tour, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1993-1994.
1996
Georges de La Tour and His World, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1996-1997, no. 22, as The Magdalene at the Mirror.
1997
Georges de La Tour, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1997-1998, no. 37, repro.
1998
Conversion by Candlelight: The Four Magdalens by Georges de La Tour (1593-1652), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1998, no cat.
1999
Caravaggio's 'The Taking of Christ': Saints and Sinners in Baroque Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1999, brochure, no. 2, repro.

Bibliography

1937
Sterling, Charles. "A New Picture by Georges de La Tour." The Burlington Magazine (1937):8+, repro.
1973
Rosenberg, Pierre and François Macé de l'Epinay, Georges de La Tour, Vie et Oeuvre. Fribourg, 1973:no. 36
1973
Solesmes, François. Georges de La Tour. Lausanne, 1973:158-159, repro.
1973
Thuiller, Jacques. Georges de La Tour, Paris, 1973:93, no. 39, repro.
1973
Thuiller, Jacques. "Georges de La Tour: un an après." Revue de l'Art 20 (1973):93, repro.
1974
Nicolson, Benedict, and Christopher Wright. Georges de La Tour. London, 1974:174-176, no. 29, repro.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 188, repro.
1979
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 74, pl. 60.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 308, no. 406, color repro.
1985
Bajou, Thierry. De La Tour. Milan, 1985:69, repro.
1985
Del Bravo, Carlo. "Quadri a lume di notte: Georges de La Tour e Sant'Agostino." Artibus et historiae 11, VI (1985):9+, repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 219, repro.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: x, 263, 290, 295, repros.
1992
Lacau St Guily, Agnès. La Tour, une lumière dans la nuit. Belgium, 1992:101, repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 161, repro.
1992
Rosenberg, Pierre and Marina Mojana. Georges de La Tour: Catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1992:no. 24, repro.
1995
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. New York, 1995: 775, fig. 19-30.
1996
Georges de La Tour and His World. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1996-1997: no. 22.
1996
Seidel, Katrin. Die Kertze: Motivgeschichte und Ikonologie. Hildesheim, Zurich, New York, 1996:276, no. 178, repro.
1997
Bond, Bruce. Radiography. New York, 1997: cover, repro.
1997
Cuzin, Jean-Pierre and Dimitri Salmon. Georges de La Tour: Histoire D'une Redécouverte. Paris, 1997: 104, repro detail.
1997
Fohr, Robert. Georges de La Tour: Le maître des nuits. Paris, 1997: 64, repro.
1997
Georges de La Tour. Les expositions de L'oeil, 1997: 59, repro.
1999
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. 2 vols. Revised ed. New York, 1999: 774-775, fig. 19-26.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 176-177, no. 139, color repro.
2005
Fahy, Everett, ed. The Wrightsman Pictures. New Haven, 2005: 148-149, under cat. 41, fig. 2.
2009
Conisbee, Philip, et al. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2009: no. 63, 272-278, color repro.
2013
Harris, Neil. Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery of Art, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience. Chicago and London, 2013: 164-165.

Technical Summary

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