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

"Magdalene with the Smoking Flame" by Georges de La Tour

“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.

"Magdalene with the Smoking Flame" by Georges de La Tour

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


  • 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


“For we live by faith, not by sight.”
– 2nd Corinthians


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