The Magdalen with the Smoking Flame

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The Magdalen with the Smoking Flame

France, circa 1638-1640
Paintings
Oil on canvas
Frame: 57 × 47 1/2 × 4 in. (144.78 × 120.65 × 10.16 cm) Canvas: 46 1/16 × 36 1/8 in. (117 × 91.76 cm)
Gift of The Ahmanson Foundation (M.77.73)
Currently on public view:
Ahmanson Building, floor 3 MAP IT
Ahmanson Building, floor 3

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Curator Notes

Although Georges de La Tour spent his entire artistic career in provincial France, far from cosmopolitan centers and artistic influences, he developed a poignant style as profound as the most illustri...
Although Georges de La Tour spent his entire artistic career in provincial France, far from cosmopolitan centers and artistic influences, he developed a poignant style as profound as the most illustrious painters of his day. In his lifetime his work appeared in the prominent royal collections of Europe. La Tour's early training is still a matter for speculation, but in the province of Lorraine he encountered the artist Jean Le Clerc, a follower of the Italian painter Caravaggio. From this source likely came La Tour's concern with simplicity, realism, and essential detail. Mary Magdalen was traditionally depicted in her grotto or as an aged woman. The absence of explicit narrative in this painting emphasizes Mary's state of mind and heart rather than time and place. The simple composition of vertical and horizontal shapes draws the viewer into the Magdalen's contemplative world. The skull, books of Scripture, and scourge set the mood, but the chief symbol and true subject of the work is the candle at which Mary gazes in her meditation. Rendered in extraordinary detail and modulation, it emits the light that followers of St. John of the Cross called "the living flame of love," toward which spiritual pilgrims are drawn out of the "dark night of the soul." La Tour scrupulously conveys the tactile quality of surfaces. The polished skull and leather books have different reflective qualities; Mary's heavy skirt, thin, wrinkled blouse, smooth flesh, and hair are meticulously distinct. Each spare detail is carefully regulated to achieve an overall balance of form and light.
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Bibliography

  • Conisbee, Philip. Georges de La Tour and His World. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1996.
  • Donahue, Kenneth. Los Angeles County Museum of Art Handbook. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1977.
  • Conisbee, Philip. Georges de La Tour and His World. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1996.
  • Donahue, Kenneth. Los Angeles County Museum of Art Handbook. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1977.
  • Schaefer, Scott, et al. European Painting and Sculpture in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1987.
  • Price, Lorna.  Masterpieces from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  Los Angeles:  Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1988.
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art Members' Calendar 1990.  vol. 27-28, no. 12-1 (December, 1989-January, 1991).
  • Conisbee, Philip et al. The Ahmanson Gifts: European Masterpieces in the Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991.


  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art Members' Calendar 1993,  vol. 31, no. 1-11 (January-November, 1993).
  • Cuzin, Jean-Pierre. Georges de la Tour. Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1997.
  • Mittler, Gene A.  Art in Focus.  Glencoe/MacMillan McGraw-Hill, 2000.
  • Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  New York: Thames and Hudson, 2003.
  • Marandel, J. Patrice and Gianni Papi. 2012. Caravaggio and his Legacy. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
  • Muchnic, Suzanne. LACMA So Far: Portrait of a Museum in the Making. San Marino, California: Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2015.
  • Salmon, Dimitri and Andrés Úbeda de los Cobos, eds. Georges de la Tour: 1593-1652. Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado, 2016.
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