Saint Mary Magdalene in the Desert, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
Saint Mary Magdalene in the Desert
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Pierre Puvis de Chavannes

Saint Mary Magdalene in the Desert, 1869

156.5 x 105.5 cm
Physical Description
Oil on canvas
Inventory Number
Acquired in 1910, property of Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V.
On display, 1st upper level, Modern Art, room 6


About the Work

Viciously carnal or ascetically repentant? The depiction of the rueful sinner Mary Magdalene leaves room for both interpretations. Puvis de Chavannes’s portrayal of the penitent before a sparse landscape almost as an abstract, allegorical figure. Her sensuality is confined to her bare breast, framed by her long hair – a motif that is ruptured by the skull and her fixed gaze. At the time of Impressionism, the artist achieved clear compositions of classical grandeur.


  • Basic information
  • Focus on art history

Work Data

Basic Information

Saint Mary Magdalene in the Desert
Period Produced
Object Type
Physical Description
Oil on canvas
Label at the Time of Manufacture
Signiert unten links (in Braun): Puvis de Chavannes
Work Catalogues
  • Brown Price 2010, Nr. 174

Property and Acquisition

Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Eigentum des Städelschen Museums-Vereins e.V.
Picture Copyright
Public Domain
Acquired in 1910, property of Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V.

Work Content

Motifs and References

Main Motif
Persons Shown
Associated Persons and Institutions
Illustrated Passage
  • Die Legenda aurea des Jacobus de Voragine, übersetzt von Richard Benz, Heidelberg 1984, S. 477


  • 11HH(MARY MAGDALENE)36 the penitent St. Mary Magdalene (often before a cave, possibly at La Sainte-Baume hill): her long hair covers her (naked) body, she reads, meditates or raises her tear-filled eyes towards heaven
  • 31F11 death's head, skull (symbol of Death)
  • 25H112 rocks
  • 25F41 lizards
  • 31AA2311 'contrapposto', 'Standbein und Spielbein' - AA - female human figure
  • 61D(SAINTE BAUME) geographical names of countries, regions, mountains, rivers, etc. (SAINTE BAUME) (SAINTE BAUME)

Research and Discussion


Object History
Paul Durand-Ruel, Paris
Verkauf an den Städelschen Museums-Verin e.V., Frankfurt am Main, 1910.


Since 2001, the Städel Museum has systematically been researching the provenance of all objects that were acquired during the National Socialist period, or that changed owners or could have changed owners during those years. The basis for this research is the “Washington Declaration”, also known as the “Washington Conference Principles”, formulated at the 1998 “Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets” and the subsequent “Joint Declaration”.

The provenance information is based on the sources researched at the time they were published digitally. However, this information can change at any time when new sources are discovered. Provenance research is therefore a continuous process and one that is updated at regular intervals.

Ideally, the provenance information documents an object’s origins from the time it was created until the date when it found its way into the collection. It contains the following details, provided they are known:

  • the type of acquisition and/or the way the object changed hands
  • the owner's name and place of residence
  • the date on which it changed hands

The successive ownership records are separated from each other by a semicolon.

Gaps in the record of a provenance are indicated by the placeholder “…”. Unsupported information is listed in square brackets.

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