Saint Mary Magdalen


Quinten Metsijs
Leuven 1456/ 1466 - Antwerp 1530
oil on panel
45 x 29 cm
Inventory numbers 243

Few painters have a reputation like Quinten Metsijs. The myths surrounding his person were plenty, and the fact that so little was known about his apprenticeship period led to much speculation. Prior to 1512, he ran a workshop that specialised mainly in altarpieces. Later, his artistic preference shifted to smaller, more intimate paintings, such as this Saint Mary Magdalen, whom he depicted in an open porch. Her richly decorated surroundings and attire go back to the Golden Legend, according to which Mary Magdalene was born into a royal family and lived a life of luxury. Thus, she made the notion of worldly possessions acceptable, and in this sense she was a source of solace and comfort to Antwerp's middle classes. Moreover, she was the hope of every sinner, as she too had lived in sin before she met Christ and famously washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and finally anointed them with her expensive oils. Going against tradition, Metsijs chose to represent Mary Magdalene not as a sinner, but as an elegant, worldly woman. She comes to reason, rejects her earthly possessions and opens the ointment jar, her usual attribute.

Italian influences

Metsijs drew inspiration for this painting from various Italian Renaissance examples. Their influence is recognisable throughout the work: in the attire of the saint, in the architecture, and in the use of perspective in the background.

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