To Light a Candle is To Cast a Shadow

French Baroque painter, Georges de La Tour (March 13, 1593 – January 30, 1652)  spent most of his working life in the Duchy of Lorraine, which was temporarily absorbed into France between 1641-1648. He was given the title “Painter to the King” (of France) in 1638, and he also worked for the Dukes of Lorraine in 1623–1624, but the local bourgeoisie provided his main market, and he achieved a certain affluence. 

Born at Vic-sur-Seille, France in 1593 he established himself at Lunéville around 1620 where he received many important commissions from the Duke of Lorraine. He also was involved in a Franciscan-led religious revival in Lorraine. Heavily influenced by the art of Caravaggio, La Tour mainly concentrated on religious subjects; many of which were rather sombre with large areas of dark shadows and muted colours subtly illuminated by a candle to create dark, dramatic and essential realistic scenes. La Tour’s art belongs to a school of art known as Tenebrist, from the Latin “Shrouded in Darkness“. 

In the portrait Penitent Magdalene, (Above Upper Right) Mary Magdalene is depicted with a human skill in her lap. (A traditional symbol for someone who is trying to be “dead to the world and all its false pleasures and temptations“). The candle serves a dual purpose lighting up the picture while also symbolizing Christ (Mary’s new master and the light of the world).

La Tour often painted several variations on the same subjects, and his surviving output is relatively small. His son Étienne was his pupil, and distinguishing between their work in versions of La Tour’s compositions is difficult. Georges de La Tour and his family died in 1652 in an epidemic in Lunéville.  La Tour’s work was forgotten until it was rediscovered by Hermann Voss, a German scholar, in 1915.

“Just as a candle cannot burn without fire, men cannot live without a spiritual life”.

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