Monday, November 07, 2005

Another Religious Motif Up For Discussion

While not as prevalent or as interesting, I've noticed several depictions of Mary Magdelen as being covered in hair, almost as if she's wearing a dress made of hair. She looks like Lady Godiva. Can anyone chime in on what this means? Is this part of Catholic legend that Mary's hair grew and grew after Christ's ascension and she stopped wearing clothes? It's not just medieval images. There's a portrait by Titian that shows Mary M. draped in only her hair.

Granted, it's not the Virgin Mary's Magic Milk, but I'm interested in how the Church depicts the few women it deigns to notice. Interested in a healthy, scholarly way.

8 comments:

Iva said...

John,
As you may or may not know, the Church's depiction of Mary Magdelene was for many centuries that of a prostitute or, at best, a lady whose morals were in question. It was not till the last century or so that the picture changed.
I wonder if the emphasis on the hair was from the story in the New Testament about Jesus going to a dinner (according to St. John) at the home of Lazarus, whom Christ raised from the dead. He was the brother of Mary and Martha...the famous "tell my sister to get off her lazy duff and help me" sisters.
Anyway, according to John, Mary bought costly perfume and annointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her HAIR. There is and always has been confusion between this Mary and Mary Magdelene and a prostitute (or a loose woman) who is reported doing the same thing in Matthew and Mark. Maybe that is the reason for the emphasis on her hair...and she is usually depicted as a redhead, you know.
I loved your description of the reflection of the skies on the canals of Venice. My favorite memory is the orchestra playing "I can't give you anything but love, Baby" as I walked into the Plaza for the first time. My heart almost burst with joy!
I love you,
Mom

the hanged man said...

The portrait of Mary M. depicted her as a redhead. If she was a woman of loss morals, then I guess it makes sense that she was a redhead (ha ha).

I think my favorite musical memory of Italy will be the little kid playing the violin for money in the Campo De Fiori (Field of Flowers) square in Rome. He played classical pieces well, but then, as a crowd pleaser, launched into a version of "Volare" which he also belted at the top of his lungs. It was hilarious and a pure pleasure to watch.

the hanged man said...

Sorry - I meant to type "the portrait of Mary M by Titian depicted her as a redhead."

Iva said...

I often wonder if Titian had female relatives who were redheads. Sisters, perhaps?

bill said...

From the unlikely Mary Magdalene faq,

Did Mary Magdalene have long, red hair?

Probably not, but the truth is, we really have no idea what she looked like. She was Jewish, so the odds are overwhelmingly strong that she looked like other Jewish women from Palestine, which means she probably was not a fair-skinned European with red or blonde hair, as she appears in most paintings.

Mary Magdalene probably became associated with long hair through the assumption that she was the woman who performed the anointing on Jesus in the Gospels. That woman was said to have washed Jesus' feet with her tears and to have wiped them dry with her long hair. Wearing her hair loose would have been considered scandalous at the time, so this particular characteristic was to follow Mary Magdalene throughout time. Even today Mary Magdalene is portrayed with long, uncovered hair in the movies (see Monica Bellucci's Mary Magdalene in The Passion of the Christ compared to the Virgin Mary, who kept her hair covered at all times).

The color red is another issue entirely. Red has long been associated with desire, the flesh, and sin, so perhaps it's only natural that Mary Magdalene would have been associated with that color given her shady reputation.

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. [Isaiah 1:18]

the hanged man said...

Bill -
Thanks again for the research. Mary Magdelene has her own faq? What are some of the other questions on it?
john

bill said...

MM FAQ (hyperlinks work):

Who was Mary Magdalene?
Were Jesus and Mary Magdalene married?
Didn't the Gnostics believe Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married?
Did Jesus and Mary Magdalene have children?
Did Mary Magdalene travel to France?
Was Mary Magdalene a prostitute?
Did Mary Magdalene have long, red hair?
What does the name "Magdalene" mean?
Why is Mary Magdalene called "apostola apostolorum"?
Why is Mary Magdalene pictured in caves?
Why is Mary Magdalene pictured with a jar/book/skull?
Was there really a Gospel of Mary Magdalene?
Are The Magdalene Diaries real?
Are Mary Magdalene's bones really in the Louvre?
Is Mary Magdalene really in Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper?
Do we know who Mary Magdalene's parents were?
Do we know when/where Mary Magdalene was born and died?

the hanged man said...

Bill -
As always, thanks for the posting, and thank you for doing all the work to hyperlink questions about Mary M. Much appreciated.