Penitent Magdalene (Titian, 1533)

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Penitent Magdalene
Tizian 010.jpg
Artist Titian
Year c. 1533
Type oil on canvas
Dimensions 85 cm × 68 cm (33 in × 27 in)
Location Palazzo Pitti, Florence
Not to be confused with the same artist's 1565 version of the same subject.

The Penitent Magdalene is a painting of saint Mary Magdalene by Titian dating to around 1533, signed 'TITIANUS' on the vase to the left. It is now in the Palazzo Pitti in Florence.

It was commissioned by Francesco Maria I della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, who had already commissioned religious works from Titian. It has been questioned whether or not it is an original work or a copy of an earlier painting Titian produced for his patron Federico Gonzaga. Even if it is a copy, it is an autograph work entirely by Titian himself, since it is signed and was one of the Duke of Urbino's first commissions. Its use of light illuminating the subject from the left contrasts with the dark background landscape of a colourful sunset.

The subject of the Magdalene as a sinner and fallen woman returned to the path of virtue by Jesus continued to be very popular in the 16th century, allowing artists to combine eroticism and religion without courting scandal. Titian's version of the subject shows her at a moment of elation and deep repentance, with tears in her eyes (referring to her washing Jesus' feet and drying them with her hair) and her gaze raised heavenwards. Erotic though it is, as Vasari notes, her nudity refers to the medieval legend that her clothes fell apart during the thirty years she spent repenting in the desert after the Ascension of Jesus. Indeed most of the many depictions of the subject in art showed the Magdalen with no clothing at all, or just a loose wrap, as in Titian's later treatment. According to popular works such as the Golden Legend, she spent her last years naked and alone in a hermitage in the mountains of Provence, fed only by the singing angels who visited her daily. Thus her lack of clothing symbolises her abandonment of jewels, gold and worldly goods to her faith in Christ.

At the end of the Middle Ages a tradition grew up that she had grown a "suit" of hair all over her body except for her face, hands and feet. This is thought to have originated in liturgical drama and is often depicted in South German art. Titian's depiction achieves a similar effect and may well recall the German treatments.


  • (Polish) Wielkie muzea. Palazzo Pitti, wyd. HPS, Warszawa 2007, ISBN 978-83-60688-42-7
  • (Polish) J. Szapiro Ermitraż (translated Maria Dolińska), Wydawnictwo Progress, Moskwa, 1976