The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

Magdalene with the Smoking Flame

Georges de La Tour - Magdalen of Night Light - WGA12337

Magdalene with the Smoking Flame depicts Mary Magdalene and was inspired by several themes popular with artists during the 1600’s, such as the cult of Magdalene, melancholy and repentance.

Georges de La Tour, the French Baroque painter who painted this masterpiece in 1640 has given it a feeling of philosophical meditation which resonates with us today and provides us with an opportunity for meditation and reflection.

Mary Magdalene’s body is enveloped in mysterious darkness and her face illumined 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 objects are references to the themes of the repentance and the trials sent by God.

Image result for “Magdalene with the Smoking Flame” by  Georges de La Tour

During the 1600’s, there was great devotion shown to Mary Magdalene in Catholic countries. There were also a number of cults of the Magdalene. She was seen as the perfect follower of Christ. Her beauty was made even more appealing by her repentance. This theme had a special attraction during this period which was passionately interested in the subjects of mysticism, meditation and asceticism.

For Disney fans, Ariel the Little Mermaid, has this painting in her treasure trove “under the sea”. The painting is accurately portrayed in the film and references Ariel’s wish to see  fire and understand the world.

Many of Georges de La Tour’s paintings can be found in museums across the world. Depicting many famous story narratives and scenes. My favourites include:

  • Joseph the Carpenter, 1642, Louvre
  • Brawl, (Hurdy-gurdy group), c. 1625-1630, Getty Museum
  • Dice-players, ca. 1651, Preston Hall Museum, UK.
  • Nativity, 1644, Louvre
  • The Fortune Teller, 1633-1639, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:                         Magdalene with the Smoking Flame
  • Artist:                       French
  • Year:                         1640
  • Medium:                  Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions             128 cm × 94 cm (50 in × 37 in)
  • Museum:                 Los Angeles County Museum of Art & The Louvre

Artist Essential Facts:

  • Name:                        Georges de La Tour
  • Born:                          1593
  • Died:                          1652
  • Nationality:              French
  • Movement:               Baroque

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“For we live by faith, not by sight.” 2nd Corinthians 5:7

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Photo Credit: 1) Georges de La Tour [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons