Martha and Mary Magdalene (Caravaggio)

Martha and Mary Magdalene
Artist Caravaggio
Year c. 1598
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 100 cm × 134.5 cm (39 in × 53.0 in)
Location Detroit Institute of Art

Martha and Mary Magdalene (c. 1598) is a painting by the Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. It is in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Alternate titles include Martha Reproving Mary, The Conversion of the Magdalene.

The painting shows the sisters Martha and Mary from the New Testament. In fact Martha's sister "Mary" in the Gospels is Mary of Bethany, but she was often confused with Mary Magdalene, hence the old title, which is not from the artist, but later. Martha is in the act of converting Mary from her life of pleasure to the life of virtue in Christ. Martha, her face shadowed, leans forward, passionately arguing with Mary, who twirls an orange blossom between her fingers as she holds a mirror, symbolising the vanity she is about to give up. The power of the image lies in Mary's face, caught at the moment when conversion begins.

Martha and Mary was painted while Caravaggio was living in the palazzo of his patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte. His paintings for Del Monte fall into two groups: the secular genre pieces such as The Musicians, The Lute Player, and Bacchus - all featuring boys and youths in somewhat claustophobic interior scenes - and religious images such as Rest on the Flight into Egypt and Ecstasy of Saint Francis. Among the religious paintings was a group of four works featuring the same two female models, together or singly. The models were two well-known courtesans who frequented the palazzi of Del Monte and other wealthy and powerful art patrons, and their names were Anna Bianchini and Fillide Melandroni. Anna Bianchini appeared first as a solitary Mary Magdalene in the Penitent Magdalene of about 1597. Fillide Melandroni appeared in a secular Portrait of a Courtesan done the same year for Del Monte's friend and fellow art-lover, the banker Vincenzo Giustiniani. In 1598 Caravaggio painted Fillide again as Saint Catherine, capturing a beauty full of intelligence and spirit. In Martha and Mary the two are shown together, Fillide perfectly fitted to the role of Mary, Anna to the mousier but insistent presence as Martha.


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