St. Mary Magdalene
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The original location of Donatello's painted wood sculpture of Mary Magdalene is unknown. It was documented in the Baptistry in Florence in 1500, which may have been the original location. (It is housed today in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence.) Vasari later praises the work, commenting on the emaciated appearance of the figure and Donatello's understanding of human anatomy. Unlike earlier renderings of Mary Magdalene, which depict her in penitence as youthful and beautiful, Donatello has chosen to show her as gaunt and haggard, perhaps reflecting the effects of her earlier sins and the difficulties of her life as a hermit in the south of France after the death of Christ. Donatello used white poplar for this work, which is difficult to carve. The statue underwent a significant restoration by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure after it was damaged in the 1966 flood in Florence (after which it was placed in the museum). Restoration revealed the extensive polychrome of the work, specifically the blue colour of her eyes and gold of her hair, which grows to envelop and clothe her body, following traditional iconography of the saint. The gold does not cover the hair completely -- rather it is applied in strips that form shimmering highlights. Golden hair was considered beautiful, and so these roughly sculpted but golden locks help embody the paradox of a saint who was thought in the Renaissance to have been a prostitute before her conversion to Christ and subsequent mortification of her body. Recent technical examination and further restoration have revealed that Donatello, who often experimented with materials, used sometimes thick stucco to model the forms, in addition to carving the wood. Photograph(s) licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.