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Video transcript

[Music] we're in the Museum of the Duomo in Florence and we're looking at a Donatello and it's not marble it's not Brahms it's wood and it looks so frail it's a sculpture of Mary Magdalene it's a very difficult sculpture to look at because it's ugly Mary Magdalene is shown as hermit with her hands about to be clasped in prayer and she's old and wrinkled and her body is exposed to us she's got these muscular arms within also and the skin on her chest and neck and her face look more like the skin of an old woman it's difficult to look at I think it's difficult because there's a whole series of contrasts that we're not used to being shown in sculpture so you have a body that clearly was once very beautiful she's got high cheekbones she's tall and graceful but you're right the body has weathered this life has taken its toll and it's almost as if she's wasted away and all that's left is a pure spirituality a kind of pure faith she's clothed only in her very long hair which is one of her attributes when we see a woman by for instance Christ's feet with long red hair we know that's Mary Magdalene and here that hair has grown out in fact even her belt is actually her hair wrapped around her and I think it's so interesting the choice of materials I started out by saying this is wood and and there's something about the organic quality of wood and its frailty its ability to soften to rot it seems somehow appropriate here I say I'm amazed that it's in as good condition as it is here in the fact that it's wood now if you look you can see it's been painted and it's been guilted you can see that long hair had been painted red and gold and there are traces of that that are still left but there's a look on her face which is so in and yet at the same time almost as if she's left this earth already I see this very much as part of Donatello's interest in the specifics of an individual just like we saw with Habakkuk this really intense specificity that's so different than the Gothic and the medieval and deep sympathy for Humanity that comes out of the humanism of the early Renaissance his sympathy is infectious there's however a kind of power here as well her hands are so long and so elegant they almost create a kind of Cathedral as she brings them together she is the church itself in some ways and she's an enormous Lea important figure she sees Christ first when he's resurrected she is the figure that sees him crucified that doesn't run away as so many of his followers did and she's someone who makes a very direct choice to leave a worldly life to leave a life of the sensuality of the world for the spiritual I think about how important that is as a message in Florence in the 15th century when you have a culture that has put an enormous emphasis on material luxury and here's somebody it functions as a conscience to the city you know there's something else that's interesting though this is a late sculpture by Donatello and he's left behind all the proportional accuracy of say Saint Mark this is a figure that's almost gothic again in the length of her body you know there's a willingness here to put front and center the spirituality and the symbolism of the figure as opposed to emphasizing the anatomical accuracy although she still stands in contrapositive yes so there's that attention to the body that's can only come from the early Renaissance it is now to tell her in a sense playing loose with his own rules you