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Penitent Magdalene - Georges de Latour. 133.4x102.2
The work belongs to the so-called "night scenes", which Latour, an artist of undoubted pictorial talent, whose name was long undeservedly forgotten, wrote mainly in the second half of his life. The theme of the penitent Magdalene, depicted here at the time of her conversion to Christianity, is found in three more paintings by the artist.
A woman reflects on the mortality of earthly existence and chooses the path of faith. A ray illuminating her face gently descends through her long flowing hair (one of the signs identifying the character), with which she will soon wipe the feet of Christ, washing them with her tears, praying for forgiveness of her sins. The bright flame of the candle spreads light in the empty space of the room, determining the volumes in their unnatural density and creating an atmosphere consisting of light and shadow, immersing the image in the endless silence created by deep mysticism and quiet melancholy.
Colour in its chromatic restraint follows the light, playing on the contrast of white and red, and, fading, goes into the shade. Latour transmits “night” - the emptiness of the human soul, which, as mystic writers of that era claimed, can realize itself only through the light of faith.
In the composition center of the canvas is placed mirrorin which a burning candle is reflected. Since the mirror is an allegory of female vanity, and therefore the power of female seduction, it corresponds to the symbol of voluptuousness. The candle, usually identified with the transience of life, in this case personifies the light of faith.
The skull, long associated with death, with a reminder of the fragility of existence, is often an attribute of holy hermits: a clear hint of their thoughts on death. Lying on the lap of Magdalene, he may indicate a calm acceptance by her of the completion of earthly life.