The piece that I have chosen for this week is The Magdalene with the Smoking Flame by Georges de La Tour. This painting was completed in France between the years 1638 and 1640.
Although La Tour spent most of his life in the Duchy of Lorraine, his works could be said to have been influenced by the Council of Trent’s decisions. One of the goals of the Council of Trent was to enforce the use of art to teach religious stories and virtues. La Tour is best known for his genre paintings depicting Bible scenes and characters. He also used a great deal of Tenebrism and his pieces were amazingly lifelike.
The Magdalene with the Smoking Flame, one of La Tour’s nocturnes, is an excellent example of all these points. Magdelene, a character from the Bible, sits in solitude, gazing into a simple flame lamp. She seems to be contemplating something, but we the viewers may never know what.
I like this piece because of its use of light and the subject matter. As the light reflects off of her pale skin and modest possessions, I have to wonder – why the skull? What are you thinking about, Magdelene? We can probably assume that one of the books on her desk is the Bible, but the title and content of the other book will never be known to us. This painting raises a great deal of questions in my mind, and that is why I am so attracted to it, I think.
Also, when I first saw this painting, I thought it looked familiar, and hark, a scene from my childhood…