Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mary Magdalene in Art - Feast Day July 22

There are many famous paintings
of Mary Magdalene with a pale
complexion and red hair.
It is an unlikely combination for
a 1st century Middle Eastern
Jewess or Gentile.
Although, women at the time did use
henna on their hair. But the paintings
are beautiful, none the less.

(above left)
by He Qi, Chinese scholar and artist

( near left) - Frederick Sandys 1829 - 1904 born Antonio Frederic Augustus Sands

Sister of St. Lazarus and St. Martha, she is called "the Penitent". St. Mary was given the name 'Magdalene' because, though a Jewish girl, she lived in a Gentile town called Magdale, in northern Galilee, and her culture and manners were those of a Gentile. St. Luke records that she was a notorious sinner, and had seven devils removed from her.
She was present at Our Lords' Crucifixion, and with Joanna and Mary, the mother of James and Salome, at Jesus' empty tomb.

(@left) painting by Bernardo Luini

Fourteen years after Our Lord's death, St. Mary was put in a boat by the Jews without sails or oars - along with Sts. Lazarus and Martha, St. Maximin (who baptized her), St. Sidonius ("the man born blind"), her maid Sera, and the body of St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin. They were sent drifting out to sea and landed on the shores of Southern France, where St. Mary spent the rest of her life as a contemplative in a cave known as Sainte-Baume.

She was given the Holy Eucharist daily by angels as her only food, and died when she was 72. St. Mary was transported miraculously, just before she died, to the chapel of St. Maximin, where she received the last sacraments.

Mary Magdalene was well known as a sinner when she first saw Our Lord. She was very beautiful and very proud, but after she met Jesus, she felt great sorrow for her evil life. When Jesus went to supper at the home of a rich man named Simon, Mary came to weep at His feet. Then with her long beautiful hair, she wiped His feet dry and anointed them with expensive perfume.
Some people were surprised that Jesus let such a sinner touch Him, but Our Lord could see into Mary's heart, and He said: "Many sins are forgiven her, because she has loved very much."
Then to Mary He said kindly,
"Your faith has made you safe;
go in peace."
(left side) artist: Abraham Janssens

From then on, with the other holy women, Mary humbly served Jesus and His Apostles.
(right) Greek Icon

When Our Lord was crucified, she was there at the foot of His cross, unafraid for herself, and thinking only of His sufferings.

No wonder Jesus said of her: "She has loved much."
After Jesus' body had been placed in the tomb, Mary went to anoint it with spices early Easter Sunday morning. Not finding the Sacred Body, she began to weep, and seeing someone whom she thought was the gardener, she asked him if he knew where the Body of her beloved Master had been taken. But then the person spoke in a voice she knew so well: "Mary!" It was Jesus, risen from the dead! He had chosen to show Himself first to Mary Magdalene, the repentant sinner.
(left) fresco from Basilica of St. Francis

(below) Mary Magdalene in Penitence c1577 by El Greco

Mary Magdalene in the cave 1876 Jules Joseph Lefebvre

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Bryan said...

I am certainly not an art historian. But, I find it fascinating she has been frequently painted with red hair.

Any idea why?

Soutenus said...

I think that red hair has long been associated with lust and sensuality. In our research on red hair (in my son's and my homeschool blog - The Red Door) we have found many astounding attributes associated with red hair. At one point women were burned as witches if they had red hair.
Given Mary Magdalene's history I would guess that the artists are portraying that part of her past with her hair color.

I am certainly not an art historian either. I think more research is in order for my son and for me!

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