The Magdalen Reading

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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A young lady in an extravagant green dress sits on the floor, reading. Although she wears fifteenth-century clothing and is in a medieval room, she is a biblical figure: Saint Mary Magdalene. The pot of oil with which she anointed Christ’s feet – the object traditionally associated with her – stands on the floor beside her casting a strong shadow. Her figure forms a semi-circle, with her head and legs curving around her bent knees, emphasising her absorption in her book.

This painting was originally the lower right corner of what must have been a large altarpiece of the Virgin and Child with saints, painted for a church in Brussels. You can see part of a man behind Mary while another kneels to the left; his toes poke out from under his voluminous red robe.

The National Gallery, London



The Magdalen Reading


before 1438


Oil on mahogany, transferred from another panel


H 62.2 x W 54.4 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1860

Work type



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The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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