Wolfgang Beltracchi, 2018
The Expulsion of Demons From Mary Magdalene
Artistic voice: Dieric Bouts the Elder, 1470, Leuven
Tempera and oil on wood, 42 x 34.5 cm

»In innumerable paintings, Mary Magdalene is depicted as a paramour and repentant sinner. What is left out of this picture is that not one of the Gospel authors even remotely suggests that the Magdalena was a well-known local courtesan. This outlandish idea is based primarily on a misinterpretation of New Testament texts. The first is in the Gospel of Luke, which speaks of an unnamed sinner who visits Jesus in a Pharisee’s house, wets his feet with her tears, and then anoints them with oil. A similar scene can be found in the Gospel of John. Here, it is Mary of Bethany, who tends to Jesus’ feet with precious spikenard oil in the presence of her brother Lazarus and her sister Martha. The similarity of the two episodes has contributed to the fact that in Luke’s writings the nameless sinner was soon linked to Mary of Bethany. This early, and entirely unfounded, conclusion was incorporated into the Legenda aurea, written in 1260, the most widely read devotional book of the Middle Ages. It somehow then seemed logical to attribute the remark in the Gospel of Luke that “seven demons had left her” (Luke 8:2) to this supposedly sinful woman. It is thanks to the overactive imaginations of scribes that Mary Magdalene became embroiled in a past that was never actually hers.«

Dr. Josef Imbach, Catholic theologian

Dieric Bouts depicted Mary Magdalene in several paintings, but none of them shows the expulsion of the demons that has burdened Magdalene‘ s role and thus the position of women since early Christianity. In 1431, Joan of Arc was convicted, among other things, of worshipping demons. A few decades later she was rehabilitated, but this did nothing to improve the role of women in the Church. Beltracchi‘s painting furthermore demonstrates, how much visual representation changed from the Middle Ages to modern times: as the demons leave the body, the ciphered representation of the Middle Ages also disappears from the paintings. The human form now stands in a pictorial space with a calculated perspective.