Mary Magdalene by Sebastiano del Piombo, church
of San Giovanni Crisostomo, Venice, 1510.
Sebastiano has captured a Mary Magdalene more true to the gospels than
the usual simpering, repentant, reclusive, passive, self-abasing Magdalene of
Church mythology; instead here she is portrayed as a bold and superior woman,
mysterious and powerful. ‘This face and
figure’, said the novelist Henry James, ‘are almost unique among the beautiful
things of Venice’. She is ‘a strange, a
dangerous’ woman, he said, ‘she walks like a goddess. ... This magnificent
creature is so strong and secure that she is gentle. ... But for all this there
are depths of possible disorder in her light-coloured eye’.
I am a writer and historian who lives in London, England. My books are published by Yale University Press, Profile Books, Harper Collins, The American University in Cairo Press, and others. Also see my website.