“Magdalene with the Smoking Flame” by Georges de La Tour
“Magdalene with the Smoking Flame” by Georges de La Tour depicts Mary Magdalene and was inspired by several themes popular with artists during the 1600s, such as the cult of Magdalene, melancholy and repentance. De La Tour, the French Baroque painter who painted this masterpiece in 1640, has given it a feeling of philosophical meditation that provides the opportunity for meditation and reflection.
Mary Magdalene’s body is enveloped in mysterious darkness, and her face brightened only by the candle. On her knees is a skull and on the table are some books and a lit candle wick floating in a glass of oil. There is also a wooden cross and a blood-stained scourge. The skull represents a play on words, representing Golgotha, the place of Christ’s crucifixion as well as the Aramaic word for skull. All the objects in this painting are references to the themes of the repentance and the trials sent by God.
During the 1600s, there was much devotion shown to Mary Magdalene in Catholic countries. There were also many cults of the Magdalene; she was represented as the perfect follower of Christ. Her beauty was made even more appealing by her repentance. This theme had a unique attraction during a period which was passionately interested in the subjects of mysticism, meditation and asceticism.
Saint Mary Magdalene, sometimes called the Magdalene, was a Jewish woman who travelled with Jesus as one of his followers and was a witness to his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. She is mentioned by name in the gospels, more than most of the apostles.
For Disney fans, the movie “Ariel the Little Mermaid” has this painting in her treasure trove “under the sea”. The picture is accurately portrayed in the film and references Ariel’s wish to see fire and understand the world. Georges de La Tour’s paintings can be found in museums across the globe, depicting grand story narratives and scenes.
Georges de La Tour
Georges de La Tour (1593 – 1652) was a French Baroque painter, who spent most of his working life in the Duchy of Lorraine, which was absorbed into France between 1641 and 1648. He painted mostly religious scenes lit by candlelight and specialised in Chiaroscuro compositions, using strong contrasts between light and dark.
Georges de La Tour often painted several variations on the same subjects, in addition, his son Étienne was his pupil, and distinguishing between their work in versions of La Tour’s compositions is difficult.
After his death in 1652, La Tour’s work was forgotten until rediscovered in the early 1900s. Some of La Tour’s work had in fact been confused with Vermeer when the Dutch artist underwent his own rediscovery in the nineteenth century.
Chiaroscuro, in art, is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. It is also a technical term used by artists and art historians for the use of contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume in modelling three-dimensional objects and figures.
Magdalene with the Smoking Flame
- Title: Magdalene with the Smoking Flame
- French: La Madeleine à la veilleuse,
- Artist: French
- Year: 1640
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions 128 cm × 94 cm (50 in × 37 in)
- Museum: Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Louvre
Georges de La Tour
- Artist: Georges de La Tour
- Born: 1593 – Vic-sur-Seille, Diocese of Metz
- Died: 1652 – Lunéville, France.
- Nationality: French
- Movement: Baroque
- Notable Works:
Exploring Christian Art
- Christian Art
- The Creation Of Adam – Michelangelo
- The Last Supper – Leonardo da Vinci
- Pietà by Michelangelo
- “The Holy Trinity” by El Greco
- “Christ in the House of His Parents” by John Everett Millais
- Saint Helena by Andrea Bolgi
- Saint Longinus by Bernini
- Saint Andrew by Francois Duquesnoy
- Saint Veronica by Francesco Mochi
- “Saint Michael and the Dragon” by the Sienese School
- Black St George Icon
- “The Repentant Saint Peter” by El Greco
- “The Tears of Saint Peter” by El Greco
- “Saint Jerome as Scholar” by El Greco (The MET)
- “Saint Jerome Penitent” by El Greco
- “Saint Francis in the Desert” by Giovanni Bellini
- “Saint Luke painting the Virgin” by Master of the Holy Blood
- “Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary” by Raphael
- “Crucifixion” by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano
- Crucifixion Diptych” by Rogier van der Weyden
- “The Virgin and Child with St. Anne” by Leonardo da Vinci
- The Crucifixion and The Last Judgment Diptych by Jan van Eyck (MET)
- Annunciation Triptych (Merode Altarpiece) by Robert Campin (MET)
- The Belles Heures of Jean of France, Duke of Berry
- Wilton Diptych
- “The Raising of Lazarus” by Sebastiano del Piombo
- “Salvator Mundi” by Albrecht Dürer
- “Salvator Mundi” by Andrea Previtali
- “Baptism of Christ” by Jacopo Bassano
- “Crucifix” by Master of Saint Francis
- “The Virgin and Child” by Master of the Clarisse
- “The Virgin and Child Enthroned, with Narrative Scenes” by Margarito d’Arezzo
- “Samson and Delilah” by Peter Paul Rubens
- “The Annunciation” by Duccio
- “The Healing of the Man born Blind” by Duccio
- Christ by Emmanuel Lambardos
- Pilgrim’s Bottle of Saint Menas
- “Massacre of the Innocents” by Peter Paul Rubens
- “Christ and the Woman of Samaria” by Rembrandt
- “The Last Supper” by Ugolino di Nerio
- “The Madonna of the Pinks” by Raphael
- “Mary Magdalene” by Girolamo Savoldo
- “Supper at Emmaus” by Caravaggio
- “Virgin of the Rocks” by Leonardo da Vinci
- “Saint George and the Dragon” by Tintoretto
- Madonna in the Meadow by Raphael
- The Alba Madonna by Raphael
- Small Cowper Madonna by Raphael
- “Adoration of the Magi” by Botticelli
- “Judith Slaying Holofernes” by Artemisia Gentileschi
- Have you stared at candlelight for inspiration or contemplation?
- What is your understanding of Mary Magdalene?
- What role has Mary Magdalene played in our culture?
Explore the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
- “The Raising of Lazarus” by Rembrandt
- “Magdalene with the Smoking Flame” by Georges de La Tour
- Shiva as the Lord of Dance
- Masterpieces of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
“For we live by faith, not by sight.”
– 2nd Corinthians
Photo Credit: 1) Georges de La Tour [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons