Marta e Maria Maddalena (c.1598)

Caravaggio (1571-1610)

Marta e Maria Maddalena (Martha and Mary Magdalene)
Oil and tempera on canvas, 100 x 134.5 cm
Detroit Institute of ArtsDetroit

“There is a Michelangelo da Caravaggio who is doing extraordinary things in Rome.” This quote by a contemporary Dutch painter provides a sense of Caravaggio’s revolutionary impact on the European art scene. Caravaggio’s dramatic use of light and shadow animates his religious images, which feature ordinary-looking people as models. This painting takes as its starting point a passage from the Gospel of Luke in which Christ has been welcomed into the house of sisters Martha and Mary Magdalene. It shows an imaginary exchange between the modest Martha, shown reproaching her sister for her wayward conduct and enumerating on her fingers the miracles of Christ, and the sensual, vain Mary, who wears luxurious clothing and rests her hand on a large mirror. However, Caravaggio introduced details that hint at Mary’s forthcoming conversion. In her right hand, she holds an orange blossom twig, a symbol of purity; the ring on her left hand alludes to her status as the bride of Christ. (DIA)

See also:

• Melandroni, Fillide (1581-1618)