Mary Magdalene reading by Van der Weyden

Mary Magdalene reading by Van der Weyden
Mary Magdalene reading by Van der Weyden

The Flemish painterRogier van der Weydenhe was almost certainly an accomplished disciple of the artistRobert Campin. In fact, it is enough to see this image of Mary Magdalene reading to relate it to an earlier work by Campin such as the Santa Barbara Triptych.


Mary Magdalene reading from Van der Weyden

The work by Van der Weyden is in the National Gallery in London and can be identified as a representation of Mary Magdalene by several symbolic elements that we see in the table painted in oil. One of those elements is a white ceramic vase that we see in the foreground. An object that would refer to the ointment with which this character would anoint the feet of Jesus Christ according to the Gospels.

The truth is that this work until 1956 had a very different aspect. Until that year, the woman was seen sitting on a cushion reading and the background was dark and uniform, providing neutrality to the image. However, in that year the table was cleaned and it was discovered that this background was an addition and that behind it, there was what is seen today.

That is to say, a window that opens the perspective to a landscape and that bathes the interior of the room with light. But you can also see the bodies of two characters. One of them, the one who dresses in blue and carries a rosary hanging would be Saint Joseph. While on the other side of the window there is anothercharacter with a red robe who has been identified as Saint John the Evangelist. Some identifications that the experts have been able to make by reconstructing images of other places that are supposed to be part of the same altarpiece as this panel of the Maria Magdalena in the National Gallery.

Although the work is not complete, the truth is that this table, which would be made before the year 1438, is a perfect painting to see the characteristics of the art of Van der Weyden, the author of jewels such as The Descent or Calvary. His perfect mastery can be seen when it comes to painting down to the smallest detail, almost only visible with magnifying lenses, for example in the sparkles of the glass beads of the rosary of Saint Joseph or the heads of the nails on the wooden floor.

You can also admire his command of color, achieved with a technique as new at the time as oil. And it is that its red, green or blue tones are splendid. Like the naturalistic atmosphere that permeates the entire scene, where everything has realism, from the folds of Mary Magdalene's dress to her concentrated expression as she reads.

Popular topic