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DateLecture
16 April 2019SAINT OR SINNER? The changing Image of Mary Magdalene
19 March 2019THE WALLACE AND FRICK COLLECTIONS AND THEIR CONNECTION WITH KNOLE
19 February 2019THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS REVISITED THROUGH ITS ILLUSTRATORS.
15 January 2019THE RIVALRY BETWEEN LEONARDO AND MICHELANGELO
18 December 2018IS CHRISTMAS IN GOOD TASTE?
20 November 2018MAD, BAD AND FASCINATING TO KNOW: The colourful ancestors of the Dukes of Bedford
16 October 2018CELEBRATING THE ROYAL ACADEMY : 250th Anniversary 1768-2018
18 September 2018THE AMADEUS MYTH: Mozart and his world - society and culture in 18th century Vienna
19 June 2018THE ART OF CUISINE AND THE CUISINE OF ART.
15 May 2018THE SILVER THREAD. Silver filigree and Traditional Arts in Kosovo
17 April 2018LET THERE BE LIGHT. The Art and Science of light in Painting.
20 March 2018CHILDREN AS ARTISTS
20 February 2018LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Tortured Hero of Troubled Times
16 January 2018ROMANCING THE RAILS. British Railway Posters.
19 December 2017PICTURING THE NATIVITY. 15TH Century Artists Reinterpret the Nativity
21 November 2017HOCKNEY AT 80
17 October 2017THE BAUHAUS
19 September 2017WILLIAM COBBETT and JAMES GILLRAY . Personal and Political cartoons of the early 19th century.
20 June 2017THE INTERIORS OF JANE AUSTEN’S HEROINES
16 May 2017A LITTLE PARADISE. LAOS: Historic Buddhist Temples to Modern Silk Weaving.
18 April 2017FROM MAUVE TO MOMBAI: The History of Colour in Textiles from 1856 to the Present.
21 March 2017POP GOES THE ARTIST: From Warhol to Dylan
21 February 2017ARMOUR AND THE AFTERLIFE: The Funerary Monuments of Knights and Men-at-Arms.
17 January 2017WHEN BRITAIN CLICKED: Fab Photographs from the Swinging Sixties.
20 December 2016SINGE WE YULE
15 November 2016THE THAMES – Theatre of Pageantry and Pleasure.
18 October 2016DOUBLE DUTCH: Symbols and Emblems and "Double-Entendre" in Dutch Genre painting
20 September 2016THE ELGIN MARBLES.
21 June 2016“Punch and Judy”: A Subversive symbol from Commedia Del‘Arte to the Present Day
17 May 2016JMW Turner and the Day Parliament Burned Down
26 April 2016Wandering amongst the Nomadic Tribes of Iran and Afghanistan: Searching for the woven art and symbolism of the Nomad
15 March 2016The World of Carl Fabergé
16 February 2016Denys Lasdun and the National Theatre: Architectural Masterpiece or was Prince Charles right after all?
19 January 2016Velasquez: The Great Magician of Art
15 December 2015Christmas at Covent Garden: 300 Years of Christmas Shows at one of London's Great Theatres
17 November 2015German War Memorials
20 October 2015Radiant Art:Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass in the Farnham area
15 September 2015Bringing Back The Needle: The Story Of An Obelisk
15 June 2015Gilding the Lily
18 May 2015The Art of Waterloo
20 April 2015Kicking and Screaming: A Brief Story of Post-War British Art
16 March 2015“Saved!” – Animal Heroes In War And Peace
16 February 2015From Egg To Bacon: English Painting 1850-1950
19 January 2015Man Ray - The Magic Man

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SAINT OR SINNER? The changing Image of Mary Magdalene Dr. Sophie Oosterwijk FSA Tuesday 16 April 2019

Dr. Oosterwijk elaborated the background to the enigma of Mary Magdalene; a highly suitable topic for Holy Week.  Having first dismissed as highly fanciful Dan Brown’s concept that the somewhat female looking figure sitting next to Christ in the Last supper is Mary Magdalene, Dr. Oosterwijk went on to explain she is a conflation of four female characters. These come not only from the Bible but also from such writings as the Gospel of Philip, omitted from the official compilation, as well as the highly popular stories from the Golden Legend. Artists took all these as their inspiration in a variety of ways including painting, stained glass, psalters, tapestries and statues.  

 

It is confusing that Mary is the name of more than one person in the Biblical narrative, quite apart from the Virgin Mary herself. There is Mary the sister of Martha, and the Mary who features prominently in the resurrection story. Then there are two unnamed women. One who interrupts Christ at dinner, weeping and washing his feet with her tears before drying them with her hair and anointing them with expensive perfume and also there is the women exorcised of her seven demons.  All aspects of these stories appear in the artistic narrative.

 

Crivelli depicts Mary as beautifully dressed with lovely blonde hair holding a little jar with a knowing look in her eye. A similar image comes from the 19th century artist Hugues Merle where, apart from the small crucifix, she looks like a Hollywood star. By contrast Mary was also seen as a personification of the seven deadly sins with horns on her head when she appears in the temptations of St. Antony in the desert. While she is often shown splendidly dressed there is also the repentant Mary nearly naked having rejected her clothes and jewels. In another, Virtue is chasing the deadly sins away. In Vermeer’s painting of the house in Bethany, Mary is seated listening attentively to Christ, while her sister Martha works in the kitchen. A similar interpretation comes from Velasquez and here Mary is far too smartly dressed to be busy with chores. While the woman weeping at Christ’s feet is also beautifully dressed, it is the kneeling image while touching his feet which is continued into many crucifixions such as that by Rogier Van de Weyden. It is the Biblical narrative around the resurrection which gives us the most information about Mary. Here she is clearly a member of the disciples and the first person to whom He appears. Initially she mistakes him for a gardener and if he looked like either of the two images we were shown I’m not surprised!  Dr. Oosterwijk explained that the Latin phrase, Noli me tangere should be more properly translated from the Greek as Do not cling to me. Thus Mary’s instinctive human response is rejected by the resurrected Christ. She is then given the responsibility of passing on the good news to the disciples. This is beautifully illustrated in a 12th century psalter at St. Albans where she stands, finger raised, teaching a bunch of distinctly cowed disciples.

 

Although it is mainly through painting Mary’s story is told, she may also be found with her long blonde hair and jar in the Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows of Bradford Cathedral, in tapestries, psalters and statues.  Amongst the statues, that of Donatello stands out. It is a powerful life sized image in painted wood showing a skeletal Mary with rotting teeth and sunken eyes covered by her long hair. While Mary may be shown as naked or splendidly dressed, holding a skull or a jar, it is the long hair which remains a constant in the depiction of the enigma which is Mary Magdalene.

Report by Jenny Thorpe

 

Sophie is a researcher and lecturer with degrees in Art History, Mediaeval Studies and English Literature. She is an expert on the Middle Ages, Netherlandish and Dutch art, with a special interest in portraiture, death and commemoration. She has taught at the universities of Leicester, Manchester and St Andrews, and regularly lectures at Cambridge. She is a former editor of the journal Church Monuments and has published widely, including edited volumes on fourteenth-century sculpture and on the late-mediaeval Dance of Death.