Mary Magdalene is hot – in current scholarship, that is. Although studies of the cult and iconography of the Magdalene were surprisingly limited until relatively recently, books by Susan Haskins (1993), Katherine L. Jansen (2000), and Penny Jolly (2014; reviewed below) – along with a Routledge volume of essays (edited by Peter Loewen and Robin Waugh, 2014) – have significantly deepened our understanding of this saint. This Brill volume of essays is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on this topic.
The volume is divided thematically into five sections. Unlike many other anthologies, the themes here are well conceived and, amazingly enough, the individual essays actually consistently address the relevant themes. Moreover, the numerous cross-references between the contributions give the volume a highly cohesive character. The book begins with a helpful introduction summarizing the treatment of the Magdalene in the Gospels and clearly explaining Gregory the Great’s conflation of Mary with the sister of Lazarus, and most importantly, with the sinner who washed Christ’s feet at the house of Simon – an identification which led to the conception of Mary as a reformed prostitute. The introduction also briefly examines the legends and cult surrounding Mary Magdalene.
The first section covers iconographic invention in the life of Mary, focusing on narrative cycles of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in Italy and Germany. The essays in this section (by Erhardt, Joanne W. Anderson and Morris) consider unusual scenes included within some imagery of the life of the Magdalene, most notably, Christ in the home of Martha and Mary, the conversion of Mary Magdalene by Martha, Mary’s sea journey and her arrival at Marseilles. These essays bring out the association of the Magdalene with penitence, preaching, and conversion, and demonstrate how these features explain her appeal to the Franciscans, female audiences and the Benedictines.
Part 2 examines the central theme of the Magdalene as a penitent sinner. While this section includes studies of well-known works by Tintoretto and Caravaggio (by Elizabeth Carroll Consavari and Patrick Hunt, respectively), it also includes a particularly intriguing essay by Rachel Geschwind on images of the Magdalene in popular prints in Italy. This essay examines chapbooks (cheap pamphlets sold by ballad singers and itinerant vendors), which held up the Magdalene as a positive exemplar for fallen women, and broadsheets, which portrayed the negative consequences of the lives of unrepentant prostitutes; these two print formats form positive and negative counterparts of a campaign against prostitution that was an important concern in early modern Italy.
The most famous scene featuring the Magdalene, the Noli me tangere, is the subject of part 3. The first essay (by Barbara Baert) considers the topic more broadly, arguing that in the North the theme was associated with female spirituality – with the Magdalene linked to the bride in the Song of Songs – whereas in Italy, it was more closely connected to the mendicant blending of clausura and public teaching. The remaining essays in this section consider specific renderings of the subject: one that Michelangelo made for Vittoria Colonna (which the author, Lisa M. Rafanelli, relates to Colonna’s devotion to the Magdalene and to a new emphasis on the value of women), and one by Rembrandt (which Bobbi Dykema links to the Calvinist interest in typology).
Patronage is the focus of the fourth section of this volume. Barbara J. Johnston’s essay focuses on a unique book, the Vie de la Madgalene, which was commissioned in 1516 by Louise of Savoy, the mother of Francis I, after Louise’s pilgrimage to the shrine of the Magdalene near Aix-en-Provence. The essay probes how elements of this book reflect the experiences and concerns of Louise, and even establish parallels between the lives of the two women, thereby enhancing Louise’s devotional experience. Margaret A. Morse considers how Correggio’s depiction of the Noli me tangere made for a Bolognese patron, Vincenzo Ercolani, operated between personal and civic spheres. She argues that the unusual, luxurious gold dress worn by the Magdalene in the painting, which the patron hung in his palace, is a direct reference to Raphael’s public altarpiece of Saint Cecilia – an allusion, which had both iconographic implications (recalling the Bride of Christ in the Song of Songs) as well as political ones (allying the patron with the papacy). A particularly unusual image of the Magdalene, the Penitent Magdalene shown in a seventeenth-century painting on the back of a piece of glass – using the technique of verre églomisé — is considered in an essay by Jane Eade. While the author’s suggestion that the image is an allegorical portrait of Louis XIV’s first mistress Louise de la Vallière remains hypothetical, her analysis of how the work’s mirror-like, reflective character relates the spiritual choices of the viewer to those of the Magdalene provides a very sensitive and insightful analysis of the relationship between image and audience.
The last section of the volume centers on new roles for Mary Magdalene. While it is perhaps a bit less cohesive than the other sections, the first two essays (by Andrea Begel and Vibeke Olson) complement each other in addressing gender issues not treated elsewhere in the volume. Begel examines the scene of the exorcism of the Magdalene in the Guidalotti-Rinuccini Chapel in Florence (also studied by Erhardt in Part 1), noting how the scene not only links the cult of Saint Francis with that of the Magdalene, but also reflects beliefs that women were more susceptible to demonic possession than men. Olson’s essay on the tears of the Magdalene emphasizes how the Magdalene’s image as penitent sinner provided a model for female behavior and piety. The final two essays touch on economic implications of the imagery of the Magdalene, with Annette LeZotte considering how images of the Madgalene in domestic environments addressed concerns of urban dwellers who sought to imitate Christ while acquiring wealth; and with Michelle Moseley-Christian arguing that the imagery of the nude Magdalene in a landscape had strong appeal on the open market for Netherlandish art in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
The volume is available as pdf https://lirias.kuleuven.be/bitstream/123456780/328823/2/0789004231955_08-Baert.pdf
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