Title

Picturing the 'Pregnant' Magdalene in Northern Art, 1430-1550: Addressing and Undressing the Sinner-Saint

Document Type

Book

Publication Date

2014

Abstract

Examining innovations in Mary Magdalene imagery in northern art 1430 to 1550, Penny Jolly explores how the saint’s widespread popularity drew upon her ability to embody oppositions and embrace a range of paradoxical roles: sinner-prostitute and saint, erotic seductress and holy prophet. Analyzing paintings by Rogier van der Weyden, Quentin Massys, and others, Jolly investigates artists’ and audiences’ responses to increasing religious tensions, expanding art markets, and changing roles for women. Using cultural ideas concerning the gendered and pregnant body, Jolly reveals how dress confirms the Magdalene’s multivalent nature. In some paintings, her gown’s opening laces betray her wantonness yet simultaneously mark her as Christ’s spiritually pregnant Bride; elsewhere ’undress’ reconfirms her erotic nature while paradoxically marking her penitence; in still other works, exotic finery expresses her sanctity while celebrating Antwerp’s textile industry. New image types arise, as when the saint appears as a lovesick musician playing a lute or as a melancholic contemplative, longing for Christ. Some depictions emphasize her intercessory role through innovative pictorial strategies that invite performative viewing or relate her to the mythological Pandora and Italian Renaissance Neoplatonism. Throughout, the Magdalene’s ambiguities destabilize readings of her imagery while engaging audiences across a broad social and religious spectrum.

Published In

Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Press

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