A New Image of Mary Magdalene for the 21st Century
Updated: Nov 24, 2019
A new image of Mary Magdalene has been added to the plethora of depictions of throughout the centuries. I believe this one will go down in art history. Danielle Storey’s illustration of Mary Magdalene breaks from many traditional images that portray her with European features. This image leaves the impression of a Middle Eastern woman, with her darker hair and complexion and facial features.
Note the two archaeological artifacts held in her hand. These are actual artifacts that were discovered in Magdala. The objects elicits her role as anointer/prophetess or her desire to anoint Jesus easrly Sunday morning. For this reason it can be 1) a bottle of myrrh, which she would have taken to the tomb for Jesus’ anointing; or 2) a bottle of perfume alluding to the anointing ointment used by Mary of Bethany, as the Western tradition tends to associate her.
In her other hand is an Herodian style oil lamp. This type of lamp was common in her days. This represents her role now as bringing light to the world by sharing the good news. It echoes Jesus’ words in Mt. 5:14-16. “You are light for the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way, your light must shine in people’s sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven.”
Danielle also integrated images found in Magdala’s archaeology into Mary Magdalene’s halo and dress. She made use of the rosette, the Magdala logo, in the halo, a unique creative license and something not common in pictures of saints. The rosette was found on the Magdala stone in the first-century synagogue and is believed to represent the veil before the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jerusalem. If one were to go through the veil, entering the Holy of Holies, they would be in the presence of God, in the presence of the shekinah, or glory of God.
In the Christian tradition, the tearing of the veil at the moment of Jesus’ sacrificial death, is symbolic of Jesus’ triumph over sin and death. He has opened the possibility of humanity returning to union with God the Father. Mary Magdalene reminds us of our call to conversion and journey back to God. She invites us to the same. This rosette symbol is significantly used in the halo to represent the glory of God that now shines through her by her faith in Jesus. Likewise you will find both the rosette and heart shapes on her dress. Her openness to Jesus’ transforming love restored her and launched her on a journey of deeper surrender to the Lord. This process of growth in freedom, love and surrender continues to change her to the point that she reflects God’s life in her.
Finally, the braid alludes to an historical association, by mistake, of her with the story of Myriam Meggadlella, a woman of ill-repute in a Jewish Talmudic story, whom a rabbi orders a young man to marry. Meggadlella means hairdresser or braid weaver and was associated with a woman of ill-repute. It reminds us of both the mystery of her person that has been misconstrued over the centuries, as well as the fact that, like us, she was in need of God’s mercy.