A Master’s Touch

Searching for Mary Magdalene

The Dance of Saint Mary Magdalene (1519) by Lucas van LeydenMuseum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Lucas van Leyden was a child prodigy; he had already created masterpieces at an early age. However he made this work when he was somewhat older, between twenty-five and thirty.

Mary Magdalene was a follower of Christ. Before she met him she led a sinful life. Christ showed her the error of her ways. Believers could easily identify with Mary Magdalene thanks to her worldly life. Where can you see Mary Magdalene here?

Mary Magdalene can be identified here by her halo. She is portrayed in the foreground among musicians, dancers and courting couples. They represent her life of pleasure. At first glance the print looks like a genre scene.

Mary Magdalene is shown in the background on horseback.

Mary Magdalene appears in this print a third time. Can you find her?

While she was a hermit Mary Magdalene was borne up to heaven by angels every day.

Lucas’s virtuosity shines out again and again. The landscape in the print has unprecedented depth in which the artist placed the three storylines, one behind the other, and yet the composition remains uncluttered.

Lucas engraved this print. The lines of the design were cut in the copper plate with a burin.

A burin is V- shaped and has a sharp point at the end. Grooves are made in the copper plate by applying pressure to the burin.

Finally the plate is rubbed with ink. The plate is wiped with a cloth and some ink is left in the grooves. It is then ready to print.

An engraving has round lines, built up gradually. This technique results in the far ends of the lines being thin and shallow.

Lucas tried to make different shades of grey by experimenting with engraving techniques. For example, he suggested the subtle curves of Mary Magdalene’s breasts with light hatching.

This leg of a fool was depicted with dark lines that show its muscularity to the full.

Lucas signed this sheet lower centre with the letter L and the year (1519) in which he made the engraving.

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