'In Remembrance of Her'
Mary of Magdala, Meditation Day Eight
Painting by Dieric Bouts in the Netherlands (1410-1475). Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin.
Click here or on the picture for an enlargement.
Studying the picture
Dieric Bouts recreates a Gospel account in a medieval setting. The scene suggests a combination of the four versions of the anointing. Although Luke normally follows the narratives of Mark and Matthew, in the case of the anointing (Luke 7,36-50) he tells a somewhat different tale. John, however, who in general differs very much from the storytelling of the other evangelists, for once joins the others' way of looking at the event. These facts are evidence that this anointing was considered of very great importance in the last days of Jesus' ministry, but may have given rise to different interpretations.
The artist has given all of the people very individual features. The faces are eloquent and so are the gestures of the hands. Everyone, except maybe the Dominican friar in the doorway, has something special to tell. It is easy to recognise their roles. Remember what they are saying according to the Gospel. If only he knew what kind of a woman (the Pharisee in green). She shouldnt have . . . (Judas and the other apostles, recognisable by their bare feet). She has shown great love . . . Your faith has saved you . . . And also, Wherever the Good News will be preached, the story must be told of what she has done in remembrance of her (Jesus).
What would we ourselves have thought if we had been there? What would our attitude have been towards Mary of Magdala? Would we have been equally embarrassed or hostile as the men? Or would we have understood, having followed the Rabbi through a number of years? Would we have felt sufficiently free to go against the judgement of the bystanders?
One may wonder if the Dominican has a function in the picture. He seems to be some figure with authority. He may have commissioned the painting and he came in handy to give the scene balance . . . Or does the artist say something more? The priest does not even look at what is going on . . . Is this holy indifference or do we see a smirk on his face?
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