The Power of Absolution: Bernini’s St. Mary Magdalen

Lara Belfield

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Figure 8: Bernini, “St. Mary Magdalen,” 1661-1663, Chigi Chapel, Siena Cathedral, Siena.  Photo Credit: Bob Britton

Bernini, "St. Mary Magdalen," 1661-1663, Chigi Chapel, Siena Cathedral, Siena. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Figure 9: Bernini, “St. Mary Magdalen,” 1661-1663, Chigi Chapel, Siena Cathedral, Siena.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Bernini’s sculpture of St. Mary Magdalen depicts her in the middle of a powerful religious experience, which is displayed in her facial expression and body movement (fig. 8).  Her face is turned upward, and her eyes gaze toward the ceiling and, therefore, towards the Heavens.  Though attractive, her face is twisted in agony. The way in which her hands are clasped together near her face convey a sense of desperation.  Since Bernini is depicting Mary Magdalen in a transitory state, her body is twisted into an S-curve to indicate that she is in the process of moving.  Her shoulders lean slightly to her right, while the lean of her hips pulls her to her left.  If she was actually moving in this moment, she would likely need to lean against the side of the niche to keep upright.  Her bent right leg, which extends beyond the confines of the niche, rests on her most common attribute, a jar.  A small portion of her drapery is trapped between her right foot and the jar, which further serves to visually pull her body weight to her right (fig. 9).