Title

Interpreting the Divine Magdalene: Caravaggio’s 'Martha and Mary Magdalene'

Description/Abstract/Artist Statement

In the year 1598, Caravaggio created Martha and Mary Magdalene (also referred to as The Conversion of the Magdalen). According to a will dated from 1606, the painting was originally acquired by one of Caravaggio’s patrons, Ottavio Costa. Painted in oil and tempera on canvas, Martha and Mary Magdalene is said to depict the exact moment of Mary Magdalen’s conversion. She is seen leaning against a convex mirror, which reflects an illuminated window behind her sister Martha. The two women seem to be in deep conversation as Martha, who is in shadow, is counting off her finger. Traditionally, scholars agree that Martha and Mary Magdalene depicts the exact moment of conversion of Mary Magdalene. However, if we compare this painting to Caravaggio’s 1597 painting of Penitent Mary Magdalene where the identification of Mary’s conversion is clear, the moment captured in Martha and Mary Magdalene is altogether different. This paper argues that the 1598 composition of Martha and Mary Magdalene is not portraying the scene of Mary’s conversion, but a moment afterwards. Caravaggio depicts a post-conversion Mary in order to communicate the two types of Christian beliefs during the Counter-Reformation: one of good acts, and the other of spiritual love, which are represented by the two women seen in the composition. It is through the examination of the formal and iconographic elements of the painting and other Magdalene paintings against the backdrop of the Counter-Reformation that a new interpretation emerges.

Presenting Author Name/s

Kayla Cochran

Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Anne Muraoka

College Affiliation

College of Arts & Letters

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Disciplines

Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture

Session Title

Art History 2: New Research Commemorating the 450th Anniversary of Caravaggio's Birth

Location

Zoom

Start Date

3-19-2022 2:15 PM

End Date

3-19-2022 3:15 PM

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Mar 19th, 2:15 PM Mar 19th, 3:15 PM

Interpreting the Divine Magdalene: Caravaggio’s 'Martha and Mary Magdalene'

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In the year 1598, Caravaggio created Martha and Mary Magdalene (also referred to as The Conversion of the Magdalen). According to a will dated from 1606, the painting was originally acquired by one of Caravaggio’s patrons, Ottavio Costa. Painted in oil and tempera on canvas, Martha and Mary Magdalene is said to depict the exact moment of Mary Magdalen’s conversion. She is seen leaning against a convex mirror, which reflects an illuminated window behind her sister Martha. The two women seem to be in deep conversation as Martha, who is in shadow, is counting off her finger. Traditionally, scholars agree that Martha and Mary Magdalene depicts the exact moment of conversion of Mary Magdalene. However, if we compare this painting to Caravaggio’s 1597 painting of Penitent Mary Magdalene where the identification of Mary’s conversion is clear, the moment captured in Martha and Mary Magdalene is altogether different. This paper argues that the 1598 composition of Martha and Mary Magdalene is not portraying the scene of Mary’s conversion, but a moment afterwards. Caravaggio depicts a post-conversion Mary in order to communicate the two types of Christian beliefs during the Counter-Reformation: one of good acts, and the other of spiritual love, which are represented by the two women seen in the composition. It is through the examination of the formal and iconographic elements of the painting and other Magdalene paintings against the backdrop of the Counter-Reformation that a new interpretation emerges.