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Saint Mary Magdalene
Carlo Crivelli
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This elegant woman is Mary Magdalene, holding the pot of oil with which she anointed Christ’s feet. Although a biblical figure, she is dressed in the height of fifteenth-century fashion. Her red cloak and uncovered hair were meant to hint at the medieval understanding that she ‘gave herself to all delights of the body’.

In a kind of Renaissance virtual reality, Crivelli plays with our knowledge that we are looking at a flat painted surface by creating an illusion of three-dimensional space. Here Mary stands on a shelf in front of a curved stone recess, casting a shadow on the wall behind her. Her toes in their red sandals protrude over the edge of the shelf, as if she is about to step forward into our world.

Key facts
Artist Carlo Crivelli
Artist dates about 1430/5 - about 1494
Full title Saint Mary Magdalene
Group Panels from a Frame or a Predella
Date made probably about 1491-4
Medium and support Tempera on lime
Dimensions 37.5 x 18.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1874
Inventory number NG907.2
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Panels from a Frame or a Predella

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These two female saints, Mary Magdalene and Catherine of Alexandria, almost certainly came from a polyptych (a multi-panelled altarpiece) and were part of the frame or predella, the bottom tier below the main panels.

Both Mary Magdalene and Catherine were enormously popular throughout the Middle Ages so their inclusion doesn't help us to work out where the altarpiece was meant to go originally. They are attributed to Carlo Crivelli, though have often been thought to be by his assistants.

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