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Audio Stop 470

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A young woman with pale skin sits at a table in a darkened room. Long chestnut hair drapes over her shoulder and her deep, cream-colored, long-sleeved garment is open at her neck. She rests her chin in her right hand, farther from us, as her left reaches for a skull placed on a thick book on the table in front of her. The scene is illuminated by a single candle mostly out of sight behind the skull. Shown in profile, she looks into a small mirror next to the skull, which reflects that object and the book.

Georges de La Tour

The Repentant Magdalen, c. 1635/1640

West Building, Main Floor - Gallery 37

According to the tenets of 17th-century Catholicism, Mary Magdalene was an example of the repentant sinner. She became one of Jesus’s most devoted followers, and he absolved her of her former sins. Here, 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 candlelight silhouettes Mary’s left hand, which rests on a skull that is placed on a book, which is then reflected in a mirror. The skull and mirror are emblems of vanitas, implying the transience of life.

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