I am sure you have noticed that in most paintings Mary Magdalene is shown as having red hair. Have you ever asked yourself why? Is there a deeper meaning or a certain symbolism behind it?

The official portrayal of Mary Magdalene by the church was in the image of a fickle whore, although she was never described in the Bible as such. However, since the Renaissance, mainly ecclesiastical clients, had requested paintings which often showed her naked. This was to hint at her ostensible role as a prostitute.

Many artists of the time knew perfectly well who Mary Magdalene really was. They hid this old lore encrypted in their work, as the traditional church had a very different view of Mary Magdalene.

Therefore, knowing artists took special care to portray Mary Magdalene in their paintings with long red hair, covering her (naked) body. In doing so they could maintain her dignity, and neither her body nor her soul were exposed by her nakedness.

In recent centuries red hair became an important attribute of noble families. They placed great emphasis on artists of the time to expressing this visible sign of their ancestry in paintings.

Of course, Mary Magdalene’s hair colour was no longer known, and yet she used to be portrayed as a woman with red hair. Religious critics see it as an encrypted hint at her aristocratic status. According to the old writings of Jacobus de Voragine (1229-1298) Mary Magdalene’s mother Eucharia was supposed to come from a royal family. Also in an early manuscript she was described as a descendent of the royal house of Israel. (1)

Not only is Mary Magdalene portrayed in old paintings and sculptures with red hair, but also often with extremely long hair. In fine art, this was a symbol that a woman, even if she was naked, was covered with a veil of chastity.

Mary Magdalene’s long red hair expresses metaphorically that nobody managed to steal her dignity, no matter what attempts were made to present her as an insignificant,  suppressed or unworthy woman.

[1]John W. Taylor, The Coming of the Saints, London 1969, Chapter 5, p. 83

 

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