Bible moralisée of Naples

Bible moralisée of Naples f. 160v: Mary Magdalene Washing Christ's Feet (Luke 7: 38)

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f. 160v: Mary Magdalene Washing Christ's Feet (Luke 7: 38)

“This is the story: How Saint Mary Magdalene washed the feet of Our Lord Jesus Christ with her tears and wiped them with her hair. Thus says Saint Luke in his Gospel, in the seventh chapter.”

According to the Gospel according to St Luke, Jesus met the sinful woman at the house of Simon the Pharisee who invited Christ to eat. Artist A employs a minimalist setting structured very like the one used for the parable of the wicked rich man (f. 155r). The aim is to suggest an indoor setting and not distract the beholder with ornamental details. The sparse setting, like its arbitrary spatial projection, serves rather as a foil for the image displayed in front of this geometrical, trompe-l’œil funnel as if the scene were emerging from timeless depths only to invade the here and now of devout contemplation.
The Pharisee and a guest sit talking to Christ at a table laid with three golden goblets and bowls. The young man on the right of the master of the house toys with his knife whilst Christ dips a piece of bread in his bowl and points his other hand at the woman lying full length at his feet. The paraphrase beneath the illumination calls the sinful woman Mary Magdalene – thereby associating her, as was sometimes the case in the catholic tradition, with Mary of Magdala, one of Christ’s beloved female followers, but Luke’s text says nothing about this. The repentant woman in tears wearing a scarlet gown wipes Christ’s feet with her long, unbraided hair hanging loosely over her shoulders: an indication in medieval Christian iconography of the very greatest sorrow. Such great love moves Christ to forgive her, much to the astonishment of those present.

Yves Christe
University of Geneva
Marianne Besseyre
Illuminated Manuscripts Research Center, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Fragment of the Bible moralisée of Naples commentary volume


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