is a woman alternately thought to be prostitute, mystic, secret lover of Jesus, and the apostle who reached higher levels than did any of the male apostles. Throughout the ages, Mary beckons both believers and non.
Her relationship with Jesus is a curious one, implying an intimacy that our age can conceive of only as sexual…think Sarah Brightman’s I Don’t Know How to Love Him.
While at the Baptistery in Florence several years ago, my husband John and I saw Donatello’s wood sculpture of Mary, Called Magdalene. The sculpture of Mary Magdalene is a study in human anguish and torment; the face and body are ravaged with indescribable pain. The sculpture seemed… wrong to me when I first saw it.
I know…Donatello is viewed as one of the world’s great sculptors but the thought that this “cannot be Mary Magdalene” echoed in my head, as I stood there staring at the statue.
Due to her recent feast day, once again I have studied this famous image of Donatello’s sculpted study of human agony. And find that my sense of misconception is more powerful as I do so. There is something fundamentally flawed with Donatello’s depiction of the woman who the Church calls, The Apostle’s Apostle.
Yes, of course, but let’s consider what we are told about the Magdalene:
If I had never read , Mary, Called Magdalene , by historical fiction writer Elizabeth George, perhaps I would not have such certainty about how she would have looked. Or even have formed an opinion about whether Donatello’s tortured visage or Jonathan Weber’s magnificently conceived Mary Magdalene better portrays one of the more perplexing persons in the Bible.
Norwegian artist Weber writes this about his painting:
She is seen in this painting at the tomb of Jesus, where she had come to anoint his body with oil, represented by the jar. She places her hand over her heart, where she feels her connection and devotion to Jesus. Having witnessed his painful and tragic crucifixion, and now realizing his ascension into the kingdom of heaven, she is immersed in the rapture of profound sadness and joy
Similarly, Elizabeth George’s book reveals the life of Mary in a way that coheres with the few tidbits of information given us in the Gospels. The author portrays Mary as a married woman who had prayed to Isis – one of the Egyptian fertility demons – as a young girl; ergo the seven demons requiring exorcism.
Upon meeting the Christ, Mary called Magdalene is changed forever; she meets the Answer to questions she never knew she had; she falls in love, eternally. Her face is filled with light, the light of Christ, the God-Man who captured her heart and soul.
Imagine the radiance of that face when she recognizes Him, the joy when she hears her name from those beloved lips. Donatello’s brilliant sculpture of Mary seems far more evocative of John the Baptist than of Mary. It is Jonathan Weber who best reveals her: Mary Magdalene, A Portrait.