LA TOUR, Georges de
(b. 1593, Vic-sur-Seille, d. 1652, Luneville)

The Penitent Magdalen

1638-43
Oil on canvas, 133,4 x 102,2 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

An artist of great brilliance and originality, Georges de La Tour was from the duchy of Lorraine in northeastern France. Early in his career he gained knowledge of contemporary Caravaggesque painting with its emphasis on realism and dramatic effects of light and dark. This picture shows Mary Magdalen in a dark room at the dramatic moment of her conversion, her features lit by a candle flame that imparts a hauntingly spiritual quality to the work. The elaborate silver mirror, the pearls on the table, and the jewels on the floor symbolize luxury, which she has cast aside. In their place she clasps a skull, a common symbol of mortality.