Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Red: Mary Magdalene's Case:Medieval Art, History of Color # 7

Mary Magdalene wasn't depicted only in red though history, as Virgin Mary wasn't depicted in blue only. But let take a look at the red, as both Marys were depicted in red garments. For example the red of the robes of Mary Magdalene had a different, double symbolism, than for example red of other persons' cloaks. Mary Magdalene's robes were painted in cinnabar red, (vermillion), having more hint of orange. Red in general can tend toward more to direction of yellow, or blue, and during the Middle Ages the quality of red was important, which red was symbolizing which idea. The other red symbolized regal values and charity.

 Here comes Crucifixion by Juan Rexach from Northon Simon Museum, Los Angeles. Due to poor lighting conditions the color of Mary Magdalene robes not very accurate on this photograph, in person is like on the photo bellow.

 Crucifixtion by Jaun Rexach, Norton Simon Museum Los Angeles

Here you can see desctiption and a better quality photo 
You can zoom into, and see very well the specific color of Mary Magdalene's garment.

Crucifixion by Masaccio, Museo di Capodimonte, Naples,public domain,  via Wikimedia Commons
 I am glad that Maria Rzepinska wisely comments is her book about color that red in Middle Ages was not just red, but it had two aspects. Red was one color in which case people paid attention to its shade, shades had codified meaning. Two types of red were differentiated: the noble one, considered sublimed, and the earthly one, viewed as "sinful". Several examples of this red can be seen close to my living place in California: Norton Simon Museum and  the Huntington Library art collection.But today Massacio, as more widely known.

In general, red stood for love in sense of charity, blood of martyrs, sacrifice on the cross, redemption through crucifixion. But as it could be a color of love in spiritual sense, redemption, also when in specific tone, could symbolize sin, or lust, or both: redemption form sin.This dichotomy is visible in portrayals of Virgin Mary as the sinless one who is represented in another red than Mary  Magdalene  ( dressed in "sinful" red). A medieval painted wouldn't confuse those two reds.

We need to remember that color in medieval art isn't always symbolic: sometimes just the need of decorative usage of color was important. In Latin Christianity (Byzantium was another case) the robes of such a person as Virgin Mary wouldn't have been painted in the same as red of Mary Magdalene's.

Above the crucifixion scene by Masaccio, Mary Magdalene in dramatic gesture of devotion and anguish dressed in red so typical for her. Although there are quite a number of representations of Mary Magdalene in this type of red, specially at crucifixion, this one is probably the most famous one. It is still very medieval. But there are hints of coming of the new era: the Renaissance in Italian art,there are more of human emotions shown. Gothic was very emotional in other countries, (for example showing suffering of Jesus),  but art in Italy was more reserved, making more usage of  Byzantine ideals.

 All  older medieval representations of crucifixion in Latin Christianity would show Jesus fully dressed, each foot nailed separately, and no signs of his suffering. With the passing of time Jesus became more humanized, specially in the art of Northern and Central Europe. The body was more and more exposed, agony and blood shown, feet nailed together. For example in German art Jesus was shown with great attention to expression. From Jesus as a symbol there was a shift  toward showing Jesus as a human being.

What about Masaccio himself? His name was Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone. He died when he was only 27 years old, and he wasn't as famous as the other painters of his times. Even his name was a humorous take on his given name. Masaccio, as he is known even today, is a form from Tom, meaning "clumsy" Tom, as separated form his collaborator Masolino,  the "delicate " Tom.

Yet Masaccio influenced the other Italian artists. It was his example which caused a shift in art:  more and more toward realistic representations of the world around. Here we see a paintings which is still medieval: composition, golden background.  But carved into the golden background humans who were much more real, not idealized, captured in a moment of strong emotion. Figures are real, not ideal.

Other colors of Mary Magdalne's robes in another post, more colors.
And my post about Mary Magdalene depicted in blue click here

Byzantine Christianity depicted her also in red,  with an egg in her hand. In this tradition she was an extremely virtuous woman in similar age of Jesus's mother, and both women died in Ephesus. Mary Magdalene's body was was kept in Constantinople as a very venerated relic. This dissapeared still during the Middle Ages, but also later her relics started to be venerated in Western Europe, Latin Christianity. Relics were hot commodity then, and many stolen from the Churches in Constantinople in 1204 when crusaders sacked and looted this cultured city. Virgin Mary's house is believed still to be there, what was one part of the Byzantine Empire, among ancient ruins of Ephesus, today in Turkey, in a rather remote location but among the most wonderful ruins.