Donatello’s Unusual Depiction of Mary Magdalene

Building Catholic Culture | 7/22/2019 | Staff
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Catholic art tends to depict Mary Magdalene’s beauty, emphasizing her as the embodiment of a conversion from worldly pleasures and the pomp of life (drawing from her debated attribution as the woman caught in adultery). The Scriptures do testify (regardless of this attribution) that she had a dramatic conversion: “And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” (Luke 8:1-2). Luke states she was a disciple traveling with Jesus, and we, of course, know her as the great witness of love at the foot of the Cross and the first one to proclaim the Resurrection.

One sculpture, executed with classical precision by Antonio Canova, captures the more typical imaginative rendering of the repentant Magdalene.

Artists - Embodiment - Beauty - Body - Sculpture

Many artists have depicted her not only as an embodiment of natural beauty but also with her body exposed, as we see in this sculpture. Rather than an image of her sinful past, this exposure points more to the stripping down of her attachments and a newly found purity. She is returning to innocence and no longer fears the entrapment of bodily pleasures. The skull obviously points to penance as a preparation for death, but links her penance to Golgotha, the place of the skull.

A much earlier sculpture (c.1450), by the Renaissance pioneer, Donatello, turns the traditional narrative upside down. His wood carving (with some trace...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Building Catholic Culture
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