A closer examination of a piece of art work may depict an artist’s mind. The way form, and other literary studies are used by the artist indicates his/ her art world. An artist uses his work therefore to communicate some message to people; otherwise called his audience.
A painting tells an audience to the artist a certain social group to which he/ she belong: religious, political education. Before the introduction of cameras, the real world could only be captured using the hand of an artist who devoted himself or herself to his work such that the end piece of work was a masterpiece to be admired.
Today, we can learn of the works of great painters from their collected works in the museums. An artist does not just paint for the sake of having colors and brushes around him/her to do the work. He must present some aspects of that paint with a high degree of professionalism that the work is admired by many.
The choice of a setting of a scene in a painting for instance may relate perfectly to inner expressions that are not available to be described by the use of words. For this reason we are to examine the artists mind by observing works done by him/ like the last Moments of Saint Mary Magdalene.
The painter presents his piece of art work in a religious context. There are two scenes in which there are four characters. The scene to the right of the painting has presented us with three earthlings, in a kind of priesthood dressing. On the left hand side scene, there is representation of four earthlings (human beings) and two winged creatures.
The assumption can be drawn that the two creatures with wings are angels, since angels have traditionally been presented to have wings. As we can also draw from the two scenes in the same frame the fourth figure, which can presumably be Saint Mary Magdalene neither takes the body of neither a human Mary nor an angel. In my opinion, the artist’s target audience was a Christian world. This can be supported by the presence of the two angels.
The scene to the left presents a priest flanked by two people, seemingly his aids. The setting of the first scene in the frame is a place of worship, probably a whole church or a section in a church. The three people aside from the blurred figure of Mary Magdalene seem to be performing a ritual of some kind.
Mary or the being representing her in that scene poses as penitently as if she is accepting a wish from the priest. In her bowing posture, before the priest, she is presented as having a solid upper body while her lower body seems to have many tentacle-like limps.
Her figure is also presented without defined clothing like the other figures presented in the frame. She has one golden color which does not present any distinction to her gender. Piece architecture separates the two scenes in the frame.
Despite the separation of the two scenes by this architectural work there is solid unity between the two scenes .this unity is enhanced by the well balance in the colors used. The figures to the left are represented Mary Magdalene, a man who is depicted as ordinary believer of some religion; perhaps the religion of Mary.
The two angels, like the priest and his aides, are flanking her from her right and left. Something more comes from this left scene. The angels look like they are lifting Mary skywards, with Mary in a prayer posture. There exist some contrasts in the messages depicted from the scenes, both to the right and left.
On the right, Mary is posing before a priest and bowing down. In the left hand scene the man is kneeling but not bowing. In his kneeling stance, his face is fixed at Mary who is firmly gazing upwards. Besides, there is a wall of rocks which seems to camouflage Mary in her colors. In her left hand scene, she depicts ascension.
Experience to the original audience
The experience to the original audience may have been a sense of ascension from the earthly service to some supreme being, in this case God to his service in the heavens. The artist is presenting in fact not only two scenes but in my opinion three.
The third scene, which is not clearly indicated in the panel, is a scene of transition represented by man, that is, the man in the left scene. From this, the artist aroused a feeling to the audience that Mary like them and any other saints that may have come before them have an earthly task in church, working as priests.
Then from the priesthood, there is a connection between mankind and the heavens. This is emphasized by the representation of the kneeling man in the left scene. There has been a widely held idea that, when you are transformed from an earthly mortal body to the heavenly immortal body, you are given a reference to a rock. The rock which is symbolically used in the Christian religion represents everlastingness.
To the audience, this does not just stand out as a normal rock, but a rock which brings permanent transformation. This is justified by the mix in colors of Mary Magdalene and the rocks in the background. Also, the kneeling man has an extended arm towards Mary and the angels. This gives a message to the audience that, the saints not only create a connection between themselves and their supreme being that they worship but also acts as a link between man and the heavens.
This could explain the emergence of churches that still mention the names of same early saints in their prayer. In particular, the prayers they make particularly requests the saint to pray on their behalf to God. In addition the bluish color making the background of the left hand side scene is a clear representation of the deep heavens.
The transformed body of Mary here is gazing directly at it, in deep prayer while being lifted by the angels towards it. To the original audience, this may have represented that for you to reach the promised heavens you must be pure and prayerful.
Narrative context of the image
There is great evidence of the existence narrative context in the image. To begin with, the scenes depict a church setting in which there is a priest(s). The subject facing the priests is someone who has done her last on earth and therefore needs to be released to ascend. The flow of the events is from the right of the Panel to the left.
The scenes and the characters are interconnected through creation of sub-settings within the main setting depicted by special choice of colors and symmetry in the frame. Just like a story being told by a narrator, this artist is telling his story by use of stylistic devices such as symbolism (Braembussche 310).
From a fully transformed human body to another body, the priest releases Mary to the angels to be lifted. This release occurs inside the church building. Outside the church, although not touching, a worshipper gives her his last pleas as if requesting her not to leave him. From that point, another role comes to play; the beings performing this role are the angels.
Mary therefore has played a dual role of linking the heavenly mission to her earthly missions. These events occur as a flow from the church indoors and out to the deep heavens. Like a story, the image creates a narrative context which is very reach in symbolism (Clancy 153-155).
Stylistic group of the artist
This artist came from an impressionist movement. This is seen by his ability to attract the audience through the use of thin paintings of the angels and Mary, his ability to relax the background and the subject’s boundary and his ability to use light at its different tonal values (Kronegger 223).
Formal properties and meaning
Light has been particularly used in this case to bring home a clearer relationship to the subject. An example is the use of low saturation in colors makes Mary’s image get diminished in the background colors of the rocks. With respect to the meaning, the painting depicts Mary as someone ascending to heaven.
The low saturation of colors indicates that she is leaving to where she shall not be seen again in the near future. Also, there is the use of color and space enhances the narrative idea of movement from the earth’s solid architecture to abstract formlessness.
There is evidence to this in the presentation of priests in the church. The flow of color saturation decreases from the real to very low saturation towards the solid rocks, then to lowest color saturations in the background forming a deep space (Carrol 539). This deep space can be said to represent the deep heavens. Transcendence is depicted in the painting is enhanced by the use of ethereal colors of deep space that clearly contrasts the earth’s tones which rule the painting.
In conclusion the painting has been used by the artist to express his religious would of his time. The specific message to the audience during his time must have evoked feelings of fear mixed with hope, in the context of religious fulfillment of human mortal form and transformations to immortality.
Braembussche, Antoon. Thinking art. Brussels. Springer: Brussels, 2009. 3 June 2011.
Carroll, Noel. Art in Three Dimensions. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 3 June 2011
Clancy, John. Impressionism: historical overview and biography. New York: Nova Science Publishers .Inc, 2003. 3 June 2011.
Kronegger, Maria. Literary impressionism. New Haven: United printing Services, 1973. 3 June 2011.