Mary Magdalene at the Crucifixion

c. 1515 - 1520
Southern Netherlands, Bruges
oil on oak panel
85.8 x 58.1 cm

This dramatic vision of the Crucifixion stresses the unique role of Mary Magdalene, placing her at the forefront of the composition. Mary Magdalene was one of Christ’s closest followers and her intimate relationship with him is emphasised by the fact that her name is mentioned in the Gospels more than that of any other apostle or saint. The intimate friendship that developed between Mary Magdalene and Christ is emphasised in the Golden Legend: ‘He took her side at all times. He defended her when the Pharisee said she was unclean, when her sister implied that she was lazy, when Judas called her wasteful. Seeing her weep, he could not contain his tears.’ As a reformed sinner, she offered a Biblical parallel to life on earth. The visual and literary arts had an important role in shaping the story of Mary Magdalene, which served as a model for the medieval viewer. In both art and in medieval writing, Mary Magdalene is a vital presence during Christ’s most important moments on earth. It was believed that through devotion and prayer to images of Mary Magdalene, the viewer might, like her, regain purity and find the same redemption that she was given by Christ.

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Sam Fogg
Art of the Middle Ages