The Penitent Magdalene is a life-sized wooden sculpture created by Donatello in Florence between 1453 and 1455. It is believed to have been commissioned for the Baptistery of Florence and can now be viewed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The sculpture portrays Mary Magdalene as a historical figure with long hair, which aligns with the 15th-century interpretation of her. The Penitent Magdalene shows Mary Magdalene during a period of penance, which has caused her to become emaciated due to fasting, and covering herself with her hair.
Donatello’s sculpture is renowned for its realism, which is said to make a powerful impact on viewers. Standing at 188 centimeters tall, the sculpture was created during a time when artists aimed to create dramatic and emotional depictions of religious figures. The sculptor’s personal viewpoint on mortality may have played a role in the work’s creation, leading him to illustrate Mary Magdalene’s sorrow through her outward appearance.
Overall, The Penitent Magdalene is regarded as one of Donatello’s most emotional works, capturing the period of Mary Magdalene’s penance in a way that shows both her physical and emotional suffering. To this end, the sculpture holds a range of interpretations, with some presenting it as an idealized representation of femininity, while others highlight Mary Magdalene’s religious transformation.