She was the pious follower of Jesus – the one who washed his feet with her hair as an act of humility. She has been consecrated in art for millennia.
Paintings and allusions to Mary can be traced back as far as the 6th century – where she is depicted in illuminated manuscripts. Her place within Christian iconography has only grown since then.
She is present in Medieval art – at the crucifixion and resurrection likewise. Yet it was during the Renaissance and Baroque and Rococo periods that the Magdalene figure reached its artistic peak. Our own times are still littered with visual representations of her – or at least references to this central Biblical character – you only need to read the Da Vinci Code.
She is a mysterious character in the paintings – the viewer is constantly seeking to know more. This cannot be truer of the Caravaggio painting – Magdalene in Ecstasy – that had been lost for 400 years: Mary is shown protecting her stomach with an arm, her belly somewhat rounder than that of the normal person – Caravaggio is clearly alluding to her immaculate pregnancy.
Mary transcends religious denominations and has been appropriated by different cultures. She also crosses the boundaries of time, with many modern representations of her also – she maintains her prominency in religion as in art.