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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.


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
Chefs d'oeuvre de l'art français, Palais National Des Arts, Paris, 1937, no. 24, repro.
French Painting 1100-1900, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, October-December 1951, no.56, repro.
Mostra del Caravaggio e Dei Caravaggeschi, Palazzo Reale, Milan, April-June 1951, no. 128, repro.
La femme dans l'art français, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 1953, no. 77, repro.
Fem Sekler Fransk Konst, Miniatyrer, Malningar, Teckningar, 1400-1900, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 1958, no. 35, repro.
Georges de La Tour, Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, 1972, no. 15, repro., as La Madeleine Fabius.
Georges de La Tour's "Repentant Magdalene", National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1993, brochure, color repro. on cover.
Masterpiece in Focus: The Magdalenes of Georges de la Tour, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1993-1994.
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.
Georges de La Tour, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1997-1998, no. 37, repro.
Conversion by Candlelight: The Four Magdalens by Georges de La Tour (1593-1652), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1998, no cat.
Caravaggio's 'The Taking of Christ': Saints and Sinners in Baroque Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1999, brochure, no. 2, repro.
Georges de La Tour, 1593-1652, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2016, no. 22, repro.
Sterling, Charles. "A New Picture by Georges de La Tour." The Burlington Magazine (1937):8+, repro.
Rosenberg, Pierre and François Macé de l'Epinay, Georges de La Tour, Vie et Oeuvre. Fribourg, 1973:no. 36
Solesmes, François. Georges de La Tour. Lausanne, 1973:158-159, repro.
Thuiller, Jacques. Georges de La Tour, Paris, 1973:93, no. 39, repro.
Thuiller, Jacques. "Georges de La Tour: un an après." Revue de l'Art 20 (1973):93, repro.
Nicolson, Benedict, and Christopher Wright. Georges de La Tour. London, 1974:174-176, no. 29, repro.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 188, repro.
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 74, pl. 60.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 308, no. 406, color repro.
Bajou, Thierry. De La Tour. Milan, 1985:69, repro.
Del Bravo, Carlo. "Quadri a lume di notte: Georges de La Tour e Sant'Agostino." Artibus et historiae 11, VI (1985):9+, repro.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 219, repro.
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: x, 263, 290, 295, repros.
Lacau St Guily, Agnès. La Tour, une lumière dans la nuit. Belgium, 1992:101, repro.
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 161, repro.
Rosenberg, Pierre and Marina Mojana. Georges de La Tour: Catalogo completo dei dipinti. Florence, 1992:no. 24, repro.
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. New York, 1995: 775, fig. 19-30.
Georges de La Tour and His World. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1996-1997: no. 22.
Seidel, Katrin. Die Kertze: Motivgeschichte und Ikonologie. Hildesheim, Zurich, New York, 1996:276, no. 178, repro.
Bond, Bruce. Radiography. New York, 1997: cover, repro.
Cuzin, Jean-Pierre and Dimitri Salmon. Georges de La Tour: Histoire D'une Redécouverte. Paris, 1997: 104, repro detail.
Fohr, Robert. Georges de La Tour: Le maître des nuits. Paris, 1997: 64, repro.
Georges de La Tour. Les expositions de L'oeil, 1997: 59, no. 37, repro.
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. 2 vols. Revised ed. New York, 1999: 774-775, fig. 19-26.
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 176-177, no. 139, color repro.
Fahy, Everett, ed. The Wrightsman Pictures. New Haven, 2005: 148-149, under cat. 41, fig. 2.
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.
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.
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