Petrus van Schendel
(Terheijden 1806 – Brussels 1870)
The Penitent Magdalene
Signed and dated 1836 lower left
Oil on panel, 36.3 x 30.6 cm
Private collection, the Netherlands
Petrus van Schendel was one of the most important artists of the Dutch Romantic School. He was born into a family of merchant farmers in the village of Terheyden, near Breda. Schendel’s drawing skills became apparent when he was still a child. In 1822 he left for Antwerp, where he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts. He is best known for his exceptional talent for nocturnal scenes lit by lamps or candles, such as this painting of The Penitent Magdalene on her knees in prayer.
With its extreme contrasts of candlelight and shadow, this painting exemplifies Van Schendels work at its most accomplished and characteristic. The quiet atmosphere of this painting perfectly fits the subject shown with a skull, an emblem of mortality, and an oil lamp that probably stands for her spiritual enlightenment as it casts a golden glow.