George De La Tour was a lost master who was rediscovered in the 20th century. He was born on March 13, 1593 in the town of Vic-upon- Sessile, in Lorraine. He is the second son out of seven. It is not known where he studied or where he spent his youth.. Influenced by Aggravating, he created paintings in the chiaroscuro style. He devoted himself mainly to the representation of genre and religious subjects, both in day scenes as well as nocturnal ones. One of those many paintings was, “Magdalene with the Smoking Flame” (1638-1640).
He received a commission to paint a piece for he Council of Trend. It met as a response to the Protestant Reformation. Their goal was to use art to teach religious stories and virtues. Mary Magdalene was to be portrayed as a repentant who had become enlightened. The painting was to show her moment of turning away from sin. La Tour’s concern was simplicity, realism, and essential detail. His goal was to portray her as something more than religious propaganda. The symbols used throughout the painting help carry out his goal.
Mary Magdalene was once a sinner; a prostitute, who was exposed to the compassion of Christ. She renounced her pleasures of flesh for a life of penance. She was traditionally depicted as an aged woman or living in a cave. In De La Tour’s painting she is portrayed sitting in a dark room in a contemplative state. The absence of a detailed narrative emphasizes Mar’s present state of mind and heart rather than what she once was. La Tour is able to draw us into a different side of her that many tend to miss.
The simple composition helps us enter her inner world, while the darkness around her helps to emphasize the enlightenment represented by the candle. The candlelight can symbolize many things: for example the contrast between the spiritual darkness of this world and her inner enlightenment. The symbolism also emphasizes this new outlook on Mary. The skull present in the painting represents mortal life, and reminds her and us of death. She is very comfortably resting her hand on the skull as a sign of acceptance. Life leads to death and death leads to heaven.
To Mary, death is something that is quite eerily beautiful. The darkness brings out her curious questionable state and the light only takes us to hat private moment that she is having of self reflection. Her body posture and light set the mood, and the books bring out the purpose of knowledge. Mary gazes out at the flame in a state of meditation. The followers of Christ considered the light to represent of love’s victory over darkness, that is, sin. De la Tour went through a long process to depict this image of Mary. He did multiple renderings of the same subject.
Each one was done with a different view, pose, and mood. They were all meant to depict the same message in a different way. He kept repainting until he was satisfied with what he considered to be the perfect portrayal of Magdalene. “The Penitent Magdalene” also shows Mary looking into a mirror which is a symbol of vanity. The candle is reflected in the mirror. This painting is considered to be more elegant than the other versions because of the way her thoughtful state. In “The Repentant Magdalene” the light is barely seen as it is being blocked by the skull.
The light exposes her upper body only and her posture gives a hint of sadness to her thoughtful state. Her hands barely touching the skull show a slight hesitation of truly accepting death. The small flicker of the flame represents her deep understanding of this sad, yet beautiful, truth that is so misunderstood. The painting emphasizes her mystery of her state of mind rather than a mere contemplation Throughout all the renderings of the painting the established mood was fear through darkness and faith through light.
The final portrayal of Mary Magdalene was very successful and accepted by the Catholic Society. In the book The Penitent Magdalene and the Way to True Conversion of the Heart FRR. Jason Smith states: “l have found no better representation of conversion and penance in art than The Penitent Magdalene, by George De La Tour. Though simple, it expresses the essential elements behind every conversion, and we can find in it powerful lessons to apply to our own life. ” Smith brings out the fact that her thoughtful state is the state of all humans.
We contemplate in our darkness and question what lies ahead. Humans seek answers. Mary Magdalene was Just a girl like anyone else who when confronted tit enlightenment pondered over it for a long time. A hint of fear is true to all of us in life. To be afraid is the way one reaches faith. “Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, and something that makes life so beautiful?
Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? ” George De La Tour was able to capture this side of Christian concern through his portrayal of Mary Magdalene. His unique French chiaroscuro style is highly recognized today. The manipulated light gives all his paintings a set mood. He was able portray Christian thought through his own eyes. He was able to maintain his personal message when he was assigned one by the council of Trend for the Magdalene painting. His devotion to real human life and emotion was able to bring out a deeper connection with his audience.
He achieved his goal in portraying Magdalene as something more than religious propaganda. He represented her as an ordinary human being. His symbolism of the skull, candle, and books helped him succeed with his intentions. Http://www. Georges-De-la-tour. Com/ http://www. Beggarly. Com/layout/Latrobe. HTML http://mutest. Org/collections/search-the-collections/110001283 http:// collections. Lack. Org/node/238963 http://www. Nag. Gob/fig-bin/tinfoil_f? Object=54102. O&detail=none “The Penitent Magdalene and the Way to True Conversion of the Heart” By: FRR. Jason Smith