Caravaggio introduced dramatic effects of light and shadow in his paintings and often used ordinary-looking people to illustrate religious stories. Artists from Italy, as well as from other European countries, adopted his style.
In the sixteenth century a new emphasis was placed on Mary Magdalen's role as a converted sinner. Caravaggio depicts Mary's sister Martha, dressed modestly, reproaching her sister for her wayward conduct and enumerating on her fingers the miracles of Christ. This exact moment of the conversion was obviously a tremendous challenge for the painter because the change is spiritual rather than physical. Caravaggio's solution was to manipulate the light that illuminates the Magdalen, giving her an unearthly glow. The mirror, a traditional Image of vanity, now reflects the light of divine revelation.
Artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Italian, 1571 - 1610
  • Martha and Mary Magdalene
Date ca. 1598
Medium oil and tempera on canvas
Dimensions Unframed: 39 3/8 × 52 15/16 inches (100 × 134.5 cm)
Framed: 51 × 64 3/4 × 3 3/4 inches, 100 pounds (129.5 × 164.5 × 9.5 cm, 45.4 kg)
Credit Line Gift of the Kresge Foundation and Mrs. Edsel B. Ford
Accession Number 73.268
Department European Painting
On View European: Medieval and Renaissance W220, Level 2 (see map)
Arezzo, Collection Panzani Family;
1897, legally exported through the dogana in (Milan, Italy);
between 1904 and 1909, acquired by Indalecio Gómez, Argentine Ambassador to Berlin (Paris, France);
by descent, collection Carlos Gómez de Alzaga, grandson of Indalecio (Salta Province and subsequently Buenos Aires, Argentina);
1971, sold at auction (Christie's, 25 June 1971, lot 21, London, England);
purchased by Ambassador Carlos Gómez de Alzaga;
1973-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)

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