Titian's "Penitent Magdalene"

Volume I: "A Closer Look" Series

The Penitent Magdalene (signed ca. 1550) by TitianMuseo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte

Titian presents us with Mary Magdalene, attested to in the Gospels as a former prostitute and convert to Christ. Let us explore the iconographic details that confirm her identity.

With arms crossing her chest, the Magdalene is presented in a moment of repentance for he former life.

Near her lap is an open prayer book, indicating that she is in a moment of spiritual reflection. See how Titian carefully delineates the pages with swift strokes of white paint?

Below the book is a skull, which is a symbol of death and the necessity of repentance. True to life, Titian paints the sutures, or cracks upon the human skull, as the book's ribbon elegantly falls upon it.

In the left corner is a perfume jar. Alluded to in the Gospels and according to tradition, the Magdalene annointed Jesus' feet with perfume, then wiped them with her long hair.

With great care, Titian brings her curly locks to life by painting golden strands of hair that catch the light.

She weeps before us, moved by repentance and spiritual longing. Notice how Titian captures her tears by applying the most subtle touches of white paint.

And lest we forget the painting's author, Titian inscribes his signature in latin form at the picture's bottom left: "Titianus. P." The letter "P" stands for the latin "Pinxit", which roughly means "Painted by Titian."

If you look closely, you can see that Titian initially signed his name with smaller letters, spanning from behind the "A" to the "P". The final form of the signature is much bolder. When an artist repaints something, this is called a "pentimento".

Titian thus summons the inner movements of the Magdalene's soul with grace and sensitivity, capturing their outward expressions in visual form.

Credits: Story

Curated by James P. Anno

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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