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Follower of Jan Gossaert (Jean Gossart), The Magdalen

Key facts
Full title The Magdalen
Artist Follower of Jan Gossaert (Jean Gossart)
Artist dates active 1508; died 1532
Date made early 16th century
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 29.3 × 22.1 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1907
Inventory number NG2163
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Magdalen
Follower of Jan Gossaert (Jean Gossart)

Saint Mary Magdalene is identifiable here by her halo and her emblem – the pot of ointment with which she anointed Christ’s feet. The pot seems to show scenes from classical mythology. On the lid, one woman carries another through water – perhaps the goddess Diana helping her mother across the strait to Delos, where she gave birth to Diana’s twin Apollo. On the main part of the pot is Mercury in his winged hat. The two cows below him are perhaps Admetus' cattle, which were herded by Apollo and stolen by Mercury. Why these myths are associated with Mary Magdalene is totally obscure.

Though abrasion makes it difficult to distinguish the true style of the head, the heart-shaped face, wide-open eyes and bowed upper lip are close to some of Jean Gossart’s types, and the lock of hair brought forward in front of the ear is found in a number of his female figures. This painting was perhaps made by a follower during Gossart’s lifetime or shortly after his death.

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