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Guido Reni, Saint Mary Magdalene

Key facts
Full title Saint Mary Magdalene
Artist Guido Reni
Artist dates 1575 - 1642
Date made about 1634-5
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 79.3 × 68.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1840
Inventory number NG177
Location On loan: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, Chimei Museum, Tainan City, Taiwan
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Saint Mary Magdalene
Guido Reni

Saint Mary Magdalene is here depicted with eyes raised heavenward, a sign of her devotion and penance. The Gospels describe Mary of Magdala as one of Christ’s followers, a witness to his burial and resurrection. Mary Magdalene was later identified with another biblical figure, an unnamed woman understood to be a repentant prostitute – an identification which is almost certainly untrue.

Guido Reni has included the saint’s typical attributes of a red cloak and long blonde hair. The nondescript background provides the painting with minimal narrative, suggesting perhaps that this was a work intended for quiet meditation.

The image of Mary Magdalene in penance was one of Reni’s most frequently addressed subjects – the artist and his studio produced dozens of variants on the theme. This painting would appear to derive from one of the many full-length depictions of the saint in the wilderness painted by Reni and his studio in the 1620s and 1630s, one of which is today in the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome.

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