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Mary Magdalene by Carlo Crivelli
Mary Magdalene by Carlo Crivelli

Mary Magdalene, 1480

Carlo Crivelli

This beautifully preserved painting depicts the penitent harlot Mary Magdalene balancing a golden tankard in one of her strangely shaped hands. To contemporary viewers, her hand gestures — the crooked little finger of her right hand as it holds the vessel, and the two-fingered grasp of her mantle with the left — would have signalled a code of elegance. The artist painted in a hyper-realistic style that was way ahead of its time, rendering every fold of Mary’s sumptuous dress and every golden hair in painstaking detail. To create the illusion of depth, dimension and texture, he created the gemstones, brocades and silks in a varnish-like substance called gesso, then covered them with paint and gold leaf. He added more decorative details to gilded areas such as Mary’s bodice and the golden mug with a punch or stylus, giving them palpable texture.

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Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
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