Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Europe 1600-1815, Room 5, The Friends of the V&A Gallery

Painting on Glass

1660-75 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

This brilliant jewel-like image depicts the conversion of Mary Magdalen, a medieval legend painted by a number of artists in the seventeenth century, including Caravaggio, Rubens and Artemisia Gentileschi. The saint's eyes are raised in ecstasy toward the light which streams in from the left; the billowing drapery and discarded jewels suggesting sudden physical movement. Exceptionally in an image of the Magdalen there are two mirrors: one by the saint's head, catching the divine illumination and representing self-knowledge and wisdom, and a second, cracked mirror lying on the floor amid the discarded jewels in an allusion to the perils of vanity and self-deception. The sun as symbolic of spiritual insight is conflated in this object with references to Louis XIV as Roi Soleil, making what appears to be an image of divine revelation into something more complex. It may be that the figure of the saint is also intended as an allegorical portrait of one of the king's mistresses (a popular seventeenth-century conceit).
Intended for private devotion, this glittering image places the saint in an unusually sumptuous interior and was probably intended to be hung in a similar setting. The reflective qualities of glass, combined with the visual appeal of precious stones, made reverse painted glass popular for small devotional objects. Historically, however, such techniques have tended to be viewed as an inferior type of enamelling, hence the original cataloguing of this object as a ceramic in 1879.

Object details

Object type
Materials and techniques
Picture: 'verre églomisé', water gilding, engraved. Painted with red, blue and green oil-based lacquers and blue opaque paint (<i>amelierung</i>) Frame: 'verre églomisé', water gilding, engraved, oil based paint, chased gilt bronze
Brief description
Painting on glass depicting the Penitent Magdalen, in chased and gilded metal frame. Probably French, 1660-75
Physical description
Painting on glass depicting the Penitent Magdalen. Verre églomisé - clear glass gilded, etched and lacquered on the reverse and backed with foil; chased gilt bronze frame.
Dimensions
  • About height: 61cm
  • About width: 53.3cm
Measurements from RD - needs remeasuring
Style
Object history
bought from the Robinson Collection
ex J C Robinson Collection

Production
Possibly made by Swiss craftsmen
Subjects depicted
Summary
This brilliant jewel-like image depicts the conversion of Mary Magdalen, a medieval legend painted by a number of artists in the seventeenth century, including Caravaggio, Rubens and Artemisia Gentileschi. The saint's eyes are raised in ecstasy toward the light which streams in from the left; the billowing drapery and discarded jewels suggesting sudden physical movement. Exceptionally in an image of the Magdalen there are two mirrors: one by the saint's head, catching the divine illumination and representing self-knowledge and wisdom, and a second, cracked mirror lying on the floor amid the discarded jewels in an allusion to the perils of vanity and self-deception. The sun as symbolic of spiritual insight is conflated in this object with references to Louis XIV as Roi Soleil, making what appears to be an image of divine revelation into something more complex. It may be that the figure of the saint is also intended as an allegorical portrait of one of the king's mistresses (a popular seventeenth-century conceit).
Intended for private devotion, this glittering image places the saint in an unusually sumptuous interior and was probably intended to be hung in a similar setting. The reflective qualities of glass, combined with the visual appeal of precious stones, made reverse painted glass popular for small devotional objects. Historically, however, such techniques have tended to be viewed as an inferior type of enamelling, hence the original cataloguing of this object as a ceramic in 1879.
Bibliographic references
  • Jane Eade, 'Reflections on a Glass Madeleine Penitente', in: Erhardt, M.A. and Morris, A.M. (eds), Mary Magdalene, Iconographic Studies from the Middle Ages to the Baroque, Leiden, Boston (Brill), 2012, pp. 315-337
  • V&A Ceramics and Glass Collection Object Information File
  • Federer, Frances. Gold Leaf, Paint & Glass. Thomas Publications, London, 2012. Illustrated figure 2.1, p. 3.
Collection
Accession number
146-1879

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Record createdApril 24, 2008
Record URL
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