During the period of the Reformation the Catholic Church went through one of the most difficult moments, as a response to the separation of the reformist sector, the ecclesiastical leadership launched the Counter-Reformation, a system that advocated piety, contrition and return to traditional values. In this context and during this period, the arts were put at the service of one or the other side, and in this way some icons were imposed that fit perfectly with the counter-reformist values; Thus, Penitent Mary would become one of the best symbols to embody these old values,a symbol of the repentant sinner who re-embraces the Catholic faith.
Perhaps for all these reasons, El Greco chose the figure of María Penitente as the subject of his first works presented in Spain; Through his canvases, the artist managed to convey the piety and repentance that the Counter-Reformation needed, which is why he became one of the Church's favorite painters, although it is true that some of his paintings – such as the canvas of Saint Maurice and the Theban legion that he presented to the Escorial Monastery - were not exempt from controversy.
Domenikos Theotokopoulos, better known by the nickname of El Greco (1541 – 1614) is one of the most prominent artists of Spanish mannerism. His personal style andhis unique style makes hispaintings are unmistakable and that during his lifetime he was enormously successful. Born in Crete, the artist was trained in the Byzantine tradition working for many years as an icon gilder; subsequently he traveled to Italy where he studied the painting of the great Renaissance masters both in Venice and Rome. It is precisely the heritage of the Venetian painters that will most influence the chromaticism of his painting and that will provide him with great success. Upon his arrival in Spain, the artist soon became one of the most notable pictorial figures of his time, the multiple commissions from the clergy consolidated him as one of the most refuted painters of his time, for which his services were also demanded by the nobility. Spanish.
With all this we can explain the presence of some iconic figures that are repeated in the artist's paintings, such as the figure of Mary Penitent or Mary Magdalene, the repentant sinner. The penitent Magdalena had been one of the most established themes in Christian aesthetics since the Middle Ages; the idea of a repentant woman for her sins often means that her sins have acquired a certain sexual connotation that allowed artists certain licenses when it came to representing the female body, licenses that had only been possible in the representation of the first woman but not in the context of the New Testament or the saints.
Here we will analyze at least four different canvases that the artist painted during his first period in Spain with the themeof the Magdalena and that will help us to analyze the evolution of his painting.