Donatello Mary Magdalene

When I look at Donatello’s sculpture Mary Magdalen, her arms demand my attention. They are muscular, sinewy, powerful. These strong arms are starkly contrasted to her emaciated figure, especially evident in her legs and ankles which seem to be composed of only the thinnest flesh and bone. Everything about this sculpture hints at the decades Mary Magdalen spent living an ascetic lifestyle in the woods as repentance for her former life as a prostitute, except her arms. Why would Donatello give her such strikingly powerful arms in an otherwise realistic portrayal of a starving woman? I believe that Donatello wanted to portray Mary Magdalen as a figure of courage and vitality rather than simply highlighting her skeletal body as proof that she is repentant for her sins. Her arms tell it all. Here, Mary Magdalen is not on the verge of collapse: she is strong..

–Frances Lee