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Saturday 19 May 2018

Herman van Swanevelt’s etching, “The Magdalen Repentant”, c.1650

Herman van Swanevelt (aka Herman Swaneveld) (1603–55)

“The Magdalen Repentant” (La Madeleine en penitence) (TIB title) or “Penitent Mary Magdalene in the Wilderness” (Rijksmuseum title), 1643–55, from the series of four plates, “Landscapes with Penitent Saints”, published by André Vanheck with privilege from Louis XIV (King of France).

Etching on laid paper with margins and backed with a support sheet.
Lettered on plate below the image borderline: (left) “Herman van Swanevelt Inventor fecit”; (right) AParis chez Vanheck / cum privilegio Regis”
Size: (sheet) 27.8 x 36.7 cm; (plate); 25.3 x 32.9 cm; (image borderline) 23.6 x 32.5 cm
State iii? (of iv) with the lettered addition of Vanheck as publisher.

TIB 2.107 (312) (Mark Carter Leach & Peter Morse [eds.] 1978, “The Illustrated Bartsch: Netherlandish Artists”, vol. 2, Abaris Books, New York, p. 311); Hollstein Dutch 12-3 (4); Bartsch 312.

See also the description of this print at the Rijksmuseum:
“Mary Magdalene is lying on a rug in front of a cave. Next to her are a skull and a cross, her attributes. Two musical angels kneel on a cloud above her. The left angel plays a harp and the right angel plays a violin. The surrounding landscape is upholstered with many tree parties.”
(Note: the above description is a Google translation. I decided not to alter the last sentence because it is simply marvellous!)
See also the description of this print in its first state offered by the British Museum:
“The penitent Magdalene in a landscape; reclining in front of a cave in the rockface at left; looking at the cross and skull next to her; two angels playing a harp and violin above her; at right a crooked tree in foreground; the sea in background; from a series of four plates.”

Condition: crisp and well-printed impression with small margins (approximately 2cm but smaller at the lower edge) in near faultless condition (i.e. there are no tears, holes, folds, abrasions, stains or foxing). The sheet is backed with a support sheet of archival (millennium quality) washi paper.

I am selling this large and fascinating etching that delicately merges Mary Magdalene in her state of repentance accompanied by the sound of angels playing musical instruments and a sublime image of wildness in the spirit of Italian classical composition, for the total cost of AU$198 (currently US$148.76/EUR126.36/GBP110.45 at the time of posting this etching) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.

If you are interested in purchasing this this wonderful print, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

Although the title of this print underlines what ostensibly is the point of this large and very beautiful etching—an illustration of the repentant Magdalene in the wilderness—to my eyes the “real” subject is the wilderness as a sublime vision and the portrayed Magdalene is only a momentarily curious diversion. Not that the choice to give primacy to the Magdalene as the “real” subject should be a surprise. After all, at the time that Swanevelt composed this image, artists were commercially compelled to make their artworks important by use of subject matter of social or religious significance.

Regarding this composition being a celebration of the beauty of landscape and its natural forces, I wish to point out the broken tree shown in the right foreground. This tree is showcased in blaze of light for a very good reason: this regenerating tree is the often employed visual device used by artists in the 17th century to symbolise continuity in the cycle of life. I would love to connect the symbolism of this tree with the scene of the Magdalene in her state of repentance, but I suspect that I might be going too far with my reading of the composition.

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