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Rogier van der Weyden, The Magdalen Reading

Key facts
Full title The Magdalen Reading
Artist Rogier van der Weyden
Artist dates about 1399 - 1464
Date made about 1435
Medium and support Oil on mahogany, transferred from another panel
Dimensions 62.2 × 54.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG654
Location Room 28
Collection Main Collection
The Magdalen Reading
Rogier van der Weyden

A young lady in an extravagant green dress sits on the floor, reading. Although she wears fifteenth-century clothing and is in a medieval room, she is a biblical figure: Saint Mary Magdalene. The pot of oil with which she anointed Christ’s feet – the object traditionally associated with her – stands on the floor beside her casting a strong shadow. Her figure forms a semi-circle, with her head and legs curving around her bent knees, emphasising her absorption in her book.

This painting was originally the lower right corner of what must have been a large altarpiece of the Virgin and Child with saints, painted for a church in Brussels. You can see part of a man behind Mary while another kneels to the left; his toes poke out from under his voluminous red robe.

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