Georges de La Tour was French painter of the Baroque period best known for his religious chiaroscuro scenes. As his work was being rediscovered in the early 20th century he was sometimes confused with Johannes Vermeer. In The Repentant Magdalen he evokes the stillness of night, when the quiet mind is visited by dreams and reflections.
Mary’s left hand rests upon a skull. Symbolizing the transience of life, it is rendered first in silhouette, and again in the mirror where she directs her gaze. There is little question that the subject of her meditation is death, which can be understood both in terms of the physical death of the body, and the spiritual death of the soul corrupted by sin. Yet, by her repentance she transcends death, receiving the promise of redemption and everlasting life through Jesus Christ.