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Mary-Magdalene, 1887

  • oil paint, canvas
  • 111.8 x 77.3 cm
  • Inv. 2001-Q

Public Domain

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Alfred Stevens, painter of fashionable Paris, met the actress Sarah Bernhardt in about 1887, and did several portraits of her. In a number of these she posed as a character from history or from literature. Some are convinced that the actress also modelled for this painting, Mary-Magdalene, the sinner who later converted and took up the life of a hermit. The long hair, the skull – one of the main symbols in vanitas paintings – and the desolate landscape in the background link up with an iconographic tradition that goes back to medieval times. Typical for the 19th century, however, are the explicit sensuality and the melancholy, almost hallucinatory stare with which Mary-Magdalene looks at the viewer, thereby blurring the character’s religious context. This painting was commissioned by the Parisian dealer Georges Petit. Its provocativeness, even though it corresponds entirely to what Mary Magdalene represented, shocked the general public because they preferred to see her portrayed as a remorseful penitent.


Alfred Stevens RKD
Brussels 1823 - Paris 1906
painters (artists)AAT

Title Mary-Magdalene
Date 1887
Period 19th century
Signatures, inscriptions, and markings signature and year bottom left: A Stevens. / 87.
Collection paintings AAT
Object type oil paintings (visual works) AAT
Inventory number 2001-Q
Acquisition credit purchase
Bolckmans-Coutteel, H. (coll.)
Current whereabouts Work on display
IIIF Manifest
Art & Architecture Thesaurus 300055874 religious symbolism AAT
300015636 landscapes AAT
Keywords Iconclass 11HH(MARY MAGDALENE) the penitent harlot Mary Magdalene; possible attributes: book (or scroll), crown, crown of thorns, crucifix, jar of ointment, mirror, musical instrument, palm-branch, rosary, scourge Iconclass
11R71 skull as symbol of 'Vanitas' Iconclass
22C light Iconclass
22C2 artificial light Iconclass
25KK16 desert - KK - ideal landscapes Iconclass
26C3 storm Iconclass
26C31 storm on land Iconclass
26E thunderstorm Iconclass
31A25312 head held in the hand(s), with elbows leaning on an elevation or on the knees Iconclass
31A72 female sex; woman Iconclass
31AA235 sitting figure - AA - female human figure Iconclass
31D15 adult woman Iconclass
32A14 melancholic temperament Iconclass
33C2 lovers; courting, flirting Iconclass
33C5 prostitution Iconclass
33C52 whore, prostitute Iconclass
33C811 sensuality Iconclass
73 New Testament Iconclass
School / Style Symbolism (artistic concept) AAT
historicism (theory) AAT
Exposition Universelle Internationale de 1889 à Paris : Catalogue Général officiel ; Tome premier ; Groupe I: Oeuvres d'art ; Classes 1 à 5. - Lille : Imprimerie L. Danel, 1889 (p. 67, nr. 167 [Madeleine])
Exposition Universelle de 1889 (Paris) : Catalogue illustré des Beaux-Arts ; 1789 - 1889 / François-Guillaume Dumas. - Lille : L. Danel, 1889
Tableaux modernes, aquarelles, dessins, gouaches, pastels, ...(catalogue de vente Paris, Palais Galliera, 13 mars 1964). - Paris : Palais Galliera, 1964 (s.p., nr. 264)
'Antiquaires', in: Gazette des Beaux-Arts. - [s.l.] : [s.n.], [s.a.] (p. 19 (ill.))
'Gramo Fine Arts. Paintings and sculptures 19th and 20th Century', in: Apollo. - [s.l.] : [s.n.], [s.a.] (s.p.)
'Nieuwe aanwinst: Alfred Stevens, Maria Magdalena', in: Museumkrant / Paul Van Haute. - Gent : [s.n.] : [s.a.] (s.p. (ill.))
'La Chronique des Arts. Principales acquisitions des musées en 2001', in:. - [s.l.] : [s.n.], [s.a.] (p. 28 (ill.))
Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent : Catalogus schilderkunst ; Deel I: 14de - 18de eeuw ; Deel II: 19de - 20ste eeuw / Robert Hoozee, Johan De Smet, Bruno Fornari, Ruth Monteyne. - Gent : Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent, 2007 (dl II, p. 18, 313 (ill.))
Het Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent : een keuze uit de mooiste werken / Patrick De Rynck. - Gent : Ludion, 2007 (p. 79 (ill.)
Belgische schone : Ensor tot Magritte ; Hoogtepunten uit de verzameling van het Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent (tentoonstelling Laren, Singer Laren, 16.06 - 30.08.2015) / Johan De Smet, Jan Rudolph De Lorm. - Gent : Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent, 2015 ; Laren : Singer Laren, 2015 ; Heule : Uitgeverij Snoeck, 2015 (cat. 21 (ill. p. 41))
Alfred Stevens (1823-1906) en het panorama van de Geschiedenis van de eeuw (tentoonstelling Brussel, Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België, 8 mei - 30 augustus 2009 ; Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, 18.09.2009 - 24.01.12010) / Danielle Derrey-Capon, Alain Dierkens, Michel Draguet. - Brussel : Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België (Brussel), 2009 ; Gent : Snoeck, 2009 (cat. 16 (ill.))
Marie Madeleine : La passion révélée (exposition Bourg-en-Bresse, Monastère royal de Brou, 29.10.2016 - 05.02.2017 ; Carcassonne, Musée des beaux-arts, 24.02 - 24.05.2017 ; Douai, Musée de la Chartreuse, 17.06 - 24.09.2017) / Marie-Paule Botte, Magali Briat-Philippe, Marie-Noëlle Maynard, Isabelle Renaud-Chamska, Pierre-Gilles Girault. - Bourg-en-Bresse : Ville de Bourg-en-Bresse, 2016 (p. 170-171, nr. 115)
Maria Magdalena. De tentoonstelling!. - [s.l.] : [s.n.], [s.a.] (Museumtijdschrift: p. 14)
Maria Magdalena : Kroongetuige, zondaar, feminist (tentoonstelling Utrecht, Museum Catharijneconvent, 25.06.2021 - 09.01.2022) / Lieke Wijnia, Devon Abts, Diane Apostolos-Cappadona, Désirée Krikhaar. - Utrecht : Museum Catharijneconvent, 2021 ; Zwolle : Waanders Uitgevers, 2021 (p. 46, 89, nr. 24)
Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent : De collectie (tentoonstelling vanaf 21 maart 2021) / Johan De Smet, Bart Ooghe, Frederica Van Dam, Lieven Van Den Abeele, Cathérine Verleysen. - Gent : Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent, 2021
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Gand : La Collection (exposition dès le 21 mars 2021) / Johan De Smet, Bart Ooghe, Frederica Van Dam, Lieven Van Den Abeele, Cathérine Verleysen. - Gand : Musée des Beaux-Arts de Gand, 2021
onder vrienden : 225 jaar verzamelaars rond het Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent (tentoonstelling Gent, Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent, 25.11.2023 - 28.04.2024) / Johan De Smet, Frederica Van Dam, Willy Van der Gucht, Manfred Sellink. - Gent : Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent, 2023 ; Gent : De Vrienden van het Museum, 2023 (p. 156, cat. 51 (ill.))
Melchior de la Mars : Schilder van zyner style / Lieve Vande Casteele, Benjamin Biebuyck, Marianne Devogele, Monique Vanroose, Manfred Sellink. - Gent : De Vrienden van het Museum, 2023 (p.35)
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