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Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo, Mary Magdalene

Key facts
Full title Mary Magdalene
Artist Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo
Artist dates about 1480 - about 1548
Date made about 1535-40
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 89.1 × 82.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1878
Inventory number NG1031
Location Room 9
Collection Main Collection
Mary Magdalene
Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo

On the Sunday morning after the Crucifixion Mary Magdalene visited Christ’s tomb but found it empty. The story is told in the New Testament (John 20). Mary Magdalene is here identified by the pot of ointment with which she anointed Christ’s feet and by the glimpse of her traditional red dress beneath a silver-grey shawl. The painting may represent Mary visiting Christ’s tomb unaccompanied, or it could be a highly dramatic ‘close-up’ of her meeting with the resurrected Christ, which followed her discovery of the empty tomb.

In the background, dawn is breaking over the Venetian lagoon. The stunning effects of dawn light on the woman’s shimmering satin shawl and her intimate glance towards us are what make this painting so atmospheric and captivating. It may be the portrait of a penitent Venetian courtesan in the guise of Mary Magdalene.

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