About Mary Magdalene, I should have been more careful

I fear this post might expose me to a world of passionate argument that I am neither equipped nor inclined to enter. But here goes. I apologize to any readers of this week’s issue of Maclean’s who were offended by my use of the phrase “New Testament prostitute” to describe the subject of Titian’s painting “St. Mary Magdalene in Penitence.”

I mention the painting, which is really something to see, in an article headlined “Raphael crushes Michelangelo.” It’s about the National Gallery of Canada’s terrific new show From Raphael to Carracci: The Art of Papal Rome. The gallery’s curator, David Franklin, aptly described Titian’s “Mary Magdalene” to me as “kind of a pin-up really.”

That’s not surprising, given that Titian was painting in the mid-16th century, by which time the legend of Mary Magdalene as a woman of easy virtue redeemed by her devotion to Jesus was well established. I gather that this familiar version of her tale was formally endorsed by the Vatican in 591 and not revoked until 1969.

So I should have indicated in my story that Titian was painting a Mary Magdalene for his time, and I should not have left the suggestion that the New Testament itself portrays her in that way. To letter writers, like the one who takes me to task for “perpetuating a falsehood against the safe target of Christianity,” I assure you that wasn’t my intention.

By the way, this exhibition, while varied and rich enough to attract anyone who likes Renaissance art, is stuffed with paintings and drawings that will be particular interest to those who know the Bible, Christian lore, and Roman Catholic history.

If you’re engaged enough to be miffed by the way I referred to Mary Magdalene, you’ll likely be entranced.

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