Otto van Veen, also known by his Latinized name as Otto Venius (Vaenius), was during many years the most important history painter of Antwerp at the very end of the 16th century and during the first decade of the 17th century. He had received an excellent education, was trained in Humanist and Neo-Stoic philosophy, had travelled to Rome, worked for a shorter time in the Nordic Mannerist centres of Prague and Munich; he was the perfect “pictor doctus”, a learned painter. All of this he passed onto his pupil, Peter Paul Rubens, who, at his return from an eight-year trip to Italy (and to Spain) in 1608 rapidly, but sadly blew him away with his incomparable genius, with his innovative style.
Mary Magdalene, one of the closest followers of Christ, can easily be identified by her rich clothing and by her ointment jar. At the Feast in the house of Simon the Pharisee Mary Magdalene washed Christ’s feet, she dried them with her hair and she anointed them.
About Otto van Veen
Flemish painter of Dutch origin
Leiden 1556 – 1629 Brussels
Versatile painter of religious and mythological scenes, allegories and portraits.
Also known by his Latinized name “Otto Venius (Vaenius)”.
Pupil of Isaac Claesz. van Swaenenburgh in Leiden, of Domenicus Lampsonius in Liège.
His father, Cornelis, was a doctor of law, legal advisor to the city of Leiden and representative of the County of Holland to the States General. In 1565 he became mayor of Leiden. When the Eighty Years' War broke out, Cornelis remained loyal to the Spanish king and to his Catholic faith. After the capture of Leiden in 1572 by the Protestants, he moved with his family to Antwerp, then to Aachen.
During two years our Otto became a page at the court of the Prince-Bishop of Liège. Here Otto studied painting under Domenicus Lampsonius, from whom he received a thorough Classicist-Humanist education. In 1575 Venius is documented in Rome (where he is thought to have worked with and studied under Federico Zuccari), where he must have stayed for several years. He returned circa 1580/81 to Liège via the centres of Nordic Mannerism, the courts of Prague and Munich. Circa 1583/84 Otto and his father were back in Leiden. Otto must for some time have joined the famous Humanist philosopher Justus Lipsius, who was teaching at the local university.
In 1587 van Veen became court painter of Alexander Farnese, the Governor of the Spanish Netherlands (Flanders), in Brussels. A few years later, circa 1589/90 he settled in Antwerp, where he bought a house in 1593; he remained court painter under the new Governors Albert and Isabella. He joined the local Antwerp Painter’s Guild of Saint Luke; in 1602 he became its Dean. In 1606 he joined the Antwerp Romanist society, whose members all had travelled to Rome.
Venius was the Master of Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640). Rubens had already studied one year under the landscape painter Tobias Verhaecht and some four years under the portrait painter Adam van Noort. But the following four years under Venius were decisive in shaping not only the artist, but also the man and the future diplomate Rubens: Venius gave him insight in the Humanist world, the Neo-Stoic philosophy of Lipsius, Classical poetry and iconography, and he passed him his love for Italy and for Italian culture. Between circa 1595 and circa 1609 Venius was the most important painter of Antwerp, together with Ambrosius Francken and Abraham Janssens: he received the most important commissions of churches and of private patrons. Rubens left for Italy in May 1600, lived in and visited Mantova, Florence, Rome, Venice and Genoa, he also also visited Spain and returned to Antwerp in 1608. He assimilated all the art that he saw and turned it into his own personal style. The return of this champion of Baroque painting to Antwerp must have been dramatic for his fellow history painters: they were simply blown away by his brilliance, by his genius. In a short time van Veen lost his leading position. By 1615, aged 59, he even left Antwerp for Brussels, where he passed away fourteen years later.
About Mary Magdalene
Mary Magdalene is described, both in the canonical New Testament and in the New Testament apocrypha, as a devoted disciple of Jesus. The life of the historical Mary is a subject of ongoing debate, as Catholics have traditionally identified three women as the same Mary : Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the woman sinner.
Mary Magdalene was the sister of Lazarus and of Martha. She lead a sinful life as a prostitute, but finally became one of the closest followers of Christ.
Based on the New Testament Western Catholic painting shows her :
- in the house of Martha with Christ : while Martha is cooking for Christ (representing active life), Mary Magdalene is listening (contemplative life).
- in the house of Simon the Pharisee washing Christ’s feet with her tears, drying them with her hair and anointing them. The ointment jar in our painting refers to this.
- standing weeping at the foot of the cross with Mary and Saint John.
- as the first one who saw Christ after His Resurrection, next to His tomb, at first mistakenly holding him for a gardener (“noli me tangere”).
French tradition says that fourteen years after the Assumption of Christ Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus, her sister Martha and other followers of Christ were set adrift in a vessel by the Jews. They arrived safely in Marseille and converted its pagan population. Thereafter the penitent Mary Magdalene retired into the caves of Sainte Baume amidst a deserted wilderness. She ate nothing except for a Holy Eucharist angels brought her regularly.
Every day during the last years of her penance angels came down and carried her up in their arms to heaven, where she listened to the sounds of unearthly harmony. In our painting we see Mary Magdalene waiting for the angels at the entrance of her cave.
After these years of penitence Mary Magdalene went to live in Rome and in Ephesus. Just before dying there she was miraculously transported to the chapel of Saint Maximin next to Sainte Baume.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because any woman crying a single tear is worth a sacrifice; it is such an excellent painting.