This painting depicts Mary Magdalene, a symbol of the power of repentance. A reformed prostitute, the Magdalene washed and anointed Christ’s feet, leading him to pardon her sins. Her long hair and ointment jar reference this service to Christ, while the skull and ivy symbolize death, resurrection and immortality. The heavenly reward for her ardent faith is suggested by the light breaking overhead. El Greco often painted the Magdalene and devotional images of other penitent saints. Here we see examples of his typical style: expressive brushwork, eerie lighting and elongated forms.


  • Title: The Penitent Magdalene
  • Creator: Domenikos Theotokopoulos, called El Greco
  • Date Created: ca. 1580-1585
  • Physical Dimensions: Unframed: 40 x 32 1/4 inches (101.6 x 81.92 cm) Framed: 50 7/16 x 42 x 3 5/8 inches (128.11 x 106.68 x 9.21 cm)
  • Rights: Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Culture: Spanish

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