(Bracht 1558 - 1617 Haarlem)


The Penitent Magdalene with an Angel


Monogramed and dated lower right: HG. / 1610

Oil on canvas, 126 x 95.5 cm



Sale, London (Christie's), 20.7.1822 (Lugt 10302 / PI Record BR-2335), lot 0060, to Andrews, £3.3; possibly sale, London (Foster), 16.IV.1828 (Lugt 11706 / PI Record BR-3098), lot 53 ("Magdalen and Angel"), to Lawrence, £4.4, B-40i, q.v.; coll. E.J. Lowe, Shiro-Newton Hall, Chepstow, England [RKD]; sale (anon. section), London (Sotheby's), 15.1.1969, lot 63, to Betts (buying for Duits), £400; dealer Duits, London, 1969; dealer H. Shickman, New York, 1969; purchased from Shickman by Michael Montias, New Haven, 1969; on loan to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 1977-79, 1988-2002; on loan to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, since December 2004; private collection.



Van der Vlist 1974, pp. 36-37, no. 13; Colnaghi 1982, p. 40; Nichols 1983, p. 182; Dessau, Schloss Mosigkau cat. 1988, p. 22 (incorrectly stating that in correspondence Nichols had attributed it to W. Willemsz van der Vliet); Sutton 1990-91, p. 114, fig. 15; Sluijter 1993, p. 385 n. 82; Van Thiel 1999, p. 128; Krefeld/Oranienbaum/Apeldoorn 1999-2000, p. 356 (n. 3 correcting Dessau, Schloss Mosigkau cat. 1988, p. 22); Slive 2001, p. 92; L. Nichols, The Paintings of Hendrick Goltzius, Doornspijk 2013, pp. 65, 123, 125, 185, 207, cat. no A-24, Plate 25.



Poughkeepsie 1970, pp. 41-42, no. 48, pl. 10; New Haven 1975, pp. 5, 20, no. 29; New Brunswick 1983, pp. 41, 91-92, no. 60, ill.

Excerpted, with changes, from Lawrence W. Nichols (see literature 2013 above):

Mary Magdalene was one of Golzius's favorite subjects.  In addition to the present picture, he made two other paintings of her, and she also appears in his Christ on the Cross.  Moreover, he portrayed the saint in two engravings, a woodcut, and numerous designs that were turned into prints by Matham and Saenredam, the drawings for two of which have survived.

Whereas biblical scripture describes Mary Magdalene as present at the Crucifixion, as tending the body at the tomb, and as an early witness to the Resurrection, Western tradition has also associated her with the passage in Luke 7:37-38 - in which a woman, "a sinner," washed Christ's feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with ointment - and with the subsequent account of Christ in the house of Mary and Martha, told in Luke 10:38-42.  This conflation was strongly embellished by legend during the Middle Ages, foremost by Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend ca. 1275, which tells of the Magdalen's travels to Provence, where she lived in Sainte-Baume in a mountain grotto as a penitent hermit and was nourished for thirty years by angels who visited her seven times a day.

In his representations of the Magdalen, Golzius mainly followed the established iconography of portraying the saint as a penitent sinner.  In particular, Cornelis Cort's engraving of 1566 after Titian's great composition of the subject, of paramount importance for the appearance of The Penitent Magdalen in Dessau [sic] probably accounts for the position of the arms and hands in Golzius's painting of 1610.  Before a rocky background suggestive of the cave to which she had withdrawn, we see the Magdalen kneeling in penitential dishabille, her splendidly striped, colorful garments reminiscent of her earlier ways.  Her curly, golden locks of hair tumble over her bare shoulders, their effect being revealing rather than concealing.  An angel - unique in Goltzius's imagery of the Magdalen - directs her attention to a large book propped on a rock "altar" at the right.  As in his prints of 1582 and 1585, it is not the more typical motif of a crucifix from which the Magdalen derives her spiritual sustenance, but the written word of the Bible.  As she reverentially contemplates the holy text, tears streaming from her eyes, a number of her attributes and other motifs occupy the foreground.  By her knee is her obligatory ointment jar, here appearing as a glass vessel partially filled with a dark red liquid; nearby rests a skull, implying her continuous meditation on death and the vanity of earthly things.  The onion and two sticks next to the skull allude to sin.  At the left is a vine of ivy, symbolic of death and immortality, but also a reference to Christ's words, "I am the true vine" (John 15:1), and in the lower right appears a dandelion, a symbol of the Passion.