Georges de la Tour, Magdalene with the Smoking Flame, circa 1640. Oil on canvas, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles.
Even though Georges de la Tour (1593–1652) spent his career in provincial France, he became well acquainted with the work of Caravaggio (1571–1610). The Italian painter’s influence is evident in de la Tour’s skillful use of chiaroscuro, the contrast between light and dark. In Magdalene with the Smoking Flame, the candle creates a circle of light that illuminates a pile of books, the young woman’s face, and her hand resting upon a skull. The rest of the scene is shrouded in darkness, enhancing an overall feeling of contemplation. De la Tour depicts the scene with meticulous realism, concentrating on how the lighte reflects upon different surfaces. Consider how the light softly bathes Mary’s skin but reflects harshly upon the crown of the skull.