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Monday, April 7, 2014

Furry Magdalene

In the days before literacy, the characters of the Bible had to be immediately recognizable by their particular attributes, and Mary Magdalene's attribute is of course her hair.  She is frequently depicted with an exposed chest, and often accompanied with a skull.  I've always loved, and been fascinated with the notion of Magdalene as being a Biblical Rapunzel, clothed in her hair, as she is often depicted.  Recently, however, I happened upon an image of Mary Magdalene growing hair, not from her head, but directly out of her body.  With some research I learned this was fairly common, and she was sometimes associated with the legends of "wild women", who were covered in fur.

Magdalene sometimes resembles Cousin It 
from the Addams Family, as in this medieval illumination.

Himmelfahrt Der Heiligen

Even some more conventional images of Mary as being simply clothed in her hair begin to matte to her body in an effort to reveal the human form underneath while also showing her famous attribute.  At first  I assumed that this was a slow evolution from Rapunzel to werewolf, but as it happens it is the earlier medieval images that first depicted her covered in fur, usually minus the face and neck, hands, feet, and breasts.  

Tilman Riemenschneider

It is likely that the later renaissance  images of Magdalene with long head hair matted to the body are a knowing wink to the antiquated images of furry magdalene, such as this 16th century painting by Rizzoli.  At any rate, they are great fun to look at.  I have done my best to accredit the artists when I could find their names.

Jacopo del Sallaiao


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