The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has been closed for renovations for a decade- I happened to have the great good fortune to arrive in Holland the very week it was opening. I was even luckier to be allowed in for the pre-opening reception, with one catch: it was only for an hour. What would you do if you had just one hour to see one of the greatest museums in the world?
There was elegant music playing in the grand foyer, waiters in starched tuxedos handing out delectable hors d'oeuvres and the glories of the magnificent architecture of the stunning building ( and believe me, it is stunning). But with only one hour, I bypassed the culinary treats entirely and breathlessly gulped down the wonders of the Vermeers and Rembrandts. The Rijksmuseum, in a gesture of stupendous generosity, has opened their collection for anyone to use and photograph- and so my one precious hour was spent practically race through the galleries in search of the Magdalene in order to find images for my upcoming webinar.
This one, by the 16th century artist Jan Van Scorel, depicts Mary as a typical 16th century courtesan: "greensleeves" of sumptuous velvet laced with costly pearls, golden red hair in a tumble of braids and unbound locks , with a look every bit as enigmatic as Leonardo DaVinci's more famous Mona Lisa. In her lap,. she cradles the jar of ointment she brought to anoint Chris'ts body In the background are the hazy outlines of Southern France. a landscape I recognized from my own pilgrimages to La Baume, the caves of the Dordogne, and the peculiar hamlet of Rennes le Chateau.
To learn more about the symbols found in this painting, I invite you to listen in on my upcoming webinar. The first free class- on May 1- will include a discussion of symbols so that you, too, can find yourself on a quest for the Magdalene the next time you go to an art museum.