St. Mary Magdalene

WAG 1012


St. Mary Magdalene carries the jar of ointment she used to anoint Christ’s feet. This is one of a pair of folding wings from an altarpiece. The other (WAG 1013) shows Saint Catherine. The top of WAG 1012 has been cut off and its top left corner has been made up to form a rectangle. The panels were possibly painted by the workshop of the prolific artist Pieter Coeck van Aalst (1502-1550). He worked first in Antwerp and, from 1546, in Brussels. Much of his work was destroyed in the anti-Catholic riots of the 1560s. William Roscoe thought that this painting was the work of the 15th-century Flemish artist Hugo van der Goes (about 1440-1482). Goes’ most famous painting, the Portinari altarpiece, which is now in the Uffizi Museum in Florence, was commissioned by the Medici’s banker in Bruges. It also showed Mary Magdalene in a similar pose to the figure in Roscoe’s painting. This similarity and the Medici link may have led Roscoe, himself a banker, to attribute the paintings to Goes. In the past the painting has also been attributed either to the workshop of another 16th-century Flemish artist, Bernaert van Orley or to the unidentified South Netherlandish artist known as the Master of the Female Half-lengths. This image shows God crowning Mary as the Queen of Heaven. This event is not described in the Bible but was a popular subject in art. This work was once part of the top of a larger altarpiece. The elaborate decoration on the frame is not fully original. It was probably altered in the 19th century. This is one of the artworks presented by the Liverpool Royal Institution. Liverpool’s economic development grew directly from Britain’s involvement with transatlantic slavery: the kidnapping, enslavement and forced migration of people from West Africa to the Americas and many to the Caribbean. Many members of the Royal Institution made their fortunes directly through the trade or indirectly through the wider economy. This wealth was largely how they were able to bring rare art and treasures, such as this, to the city.