Peter Wtewael (Dutch, 1596–1660),
The Repentant Magdalen
, ca. 1620s
oil on panel, 20 3/16 x 14 3/8 in.; 51.28 x 36.51 cm
Museum Purchase with funds from the Joslyn Art Museum Association and Collectors' Choice VIII, 1999.15
Mary Magdalen, the prostitute who renounced her worldly life to follow Christ, was a favored subject with many artists. While delivering a pious message, her story called for the dazzling display of sumptuous fabrics, precious jewelry, and sensual beauty. Wtewael’s portrayal includes Mary Magdalen’s conventional attributes — abundant blond hair (with which she dried Christ’s feet), a jar of unguent (used to anoint the body of Christ), and costly robes. The book and skull symbolize salvation and death, respectively.
Trained by his father, Peter Wtewael’s work shows the influence of Flemish Mannerism in its crowded composition, complex twisted pose, and smooth finish.