Kiki Smith’s "Mary Magdalene"

In recent years, no single Biblical figure has been reexamined and reinvented in popular culture and the mass imagination to the degree that Mary Magdalene—one of the most revered saints of Christianity—has been. Recognizable in tradition and art as the repentant prostitute who, in Luke 7:36-50, anointed the feet of Christ with ointment from an alabaster box and washed them with her hair and tears, Magdalene has received a makeover at the hands of skeptics and historians who have emphasized her importance as one of Christ’s most important female disciples.

Throughout the history of art, Mary Magdalene has been depicted in light of the many traditions attached to her Biblical persona:

The repentant sinner …

Marcantonio, “Mary Magdalene Bathing Christ’s Feet”, Engraving, 17th century

One of the few who remained with Christ during the crucifixion …

Giotto, “Noli me tangere” from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy, c. 1305

The first person to encounter Jesus after the resurrection …

Giotto, “Noli me tangere” from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy, c. 1305

The hermit, clothed in her own hair, who lived the remainder of her days in penance and solitude:

Donatello, “The Penitent Magdalene”, c. 1453-55, Wood with polychromy and gold Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence

Last week, the National Museum of Women in the Arts proudly installed Kiki Smith’s Mary Magdalene, 1994, in the second-floor sculpture gallery. On loan from a private collection in New York, Smith’s Magdalene follows the Medieval and Renaissance tradition of depicting Magdalene as the long-haired ascetic in her latter days. Painter, photographer, printmaker, and sculptor Kiki Smith is world-renown for figurative works that allude to the philosophical, social, and spiritual aspects of human nature.

Kiki Smith (American, b. 1954) “Mary Magdalene”, 1994 Cast silicon bronze and

Raphael Sikorra is Curatorial Assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

3 thoughts on “Kiki Smith’s "Mary Magdalene"

  1. Of all the female characters in history, Magdalene holds me her captive. I went to Provance and traced her footsteps, landing in her cave where she lived for 30 years with only her long red hair to keep her warm in winter.

    This statue is simply gorgeous and, actually the word gorgeous is almost too heavy threaded for her. It is truthful and worthy and I love it.

    Should you like to read my 14 day trek to Chase the Magdalene,

    Please pass on my heartfelt appreciation to the artist. I wish I could see this in person.

  2. Mary Magdalene first received ‘a makeover’ when early, male writers doubted that a woman was worthy to receive the resurrection message and began to question her honor. The unfortunate juxtaposition of Luke’s ‘Sinful Woman’ story (Luke 7:36-50) in which the woman is not named and his introduction of Mary Magdalene in Chapter 8:1-3 may have been one source of confusion. Biblical scholars, not just ‘skeptics and historian’s, are the experts who tell us that it is quite rare, and quite important that Mary Magdalene is named on her own, not in relation to a man. Your brief survey of false and partially false images of her does not include any of the positive, true images of her announcing the Resurrection to the disciples (see Albani Psalter, Mary Magdalene) or Mary going to the tomb (see image from Dura Europos at Yale.) There is no verifiable evidence that Mary Magdalene went to France (see. S. Haskins’ account of the fictitious relics at Vezelay). It is quite disappointing that a museum dedicated to women would not at least explore what the actual scripture texts say about Mary Magdalene and not believe centuries of slanderous misrepresentations generated by early church ‘fathers’. Thank you for your attention to this comment. It would be marvelous for NMWA to host an exhibit of ‘True and False Art of Mary Magdalene’. The history of her denigration and of the partial reclamation of hertrue story parallels the history of women’s subjugation and the partial successes of the feminist movement.

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