The Joy of Museums

Finding Beauty & Meaning in Museums

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 much devotion shown to Mary Magdalene in Catholic countries. There were also many 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 unique 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 picture 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 great story narratives and scenes.


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


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



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