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ST. MARY OF EGYPT AS DEPICTED BY EMIL NOLDE, THE FAMOUS GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST

July 12, 2019

Emil Nolde

Emil Nolde (1867 – 1956)

Emil Nolde (1867 – 1956) was a German-Danish painter of the Die Brücke (The Bridge) art movement of expressionism which appeared in Dresden, Germany, in 1905. The movement celebrates primitiveness and raw art, and its works are full of vivid colours, expressing intense emotions. Its forms are crude and often ugly with harsh, jagged outlines. It is a work that is probably meant to shock the viewer, and its spirit is aggressive, nihilistic and anarchic. The works of artists of this movement are kept in different museums in the West, but the Brücke Museum in Berlin, which was named after the group, has the most.

One of the famous works of German expressionism by Nolde he painted in 1912: Saint Mary of Egypt. It is oil in canvass, and made in three panels in shape of a triptych. Nolde’s father was a Protestant vicar, and perhaps that is why he was very much interested in religious imagery.

To understand art works on the subject of St. Mary of Egypt (Maria Aegypiacus), one has to make himself familiar with her story. Her story was told by St. Zosimas after his death, and was orally preserved until it was committed to writing by St. Saphronius, Archbishop of Cyprus (d. 638) in the sixth century. St. Mary is celebrated in the Coptic Synaxarium on 6 Parmouda. No other saintly story perhaps has captured the imagination of artists, poets, playwrights and musicians as that of St. Mary of Egypt’s story: a story of a prostitute turned a great saint put in the same ascetic level as that of any of the Fathers of the Desert – a story of triumph of the human soul over sin and the lusts of the body with the help of the Holy Spirit.

The St. Mary of Egypt Triptych’s three panels are:

The first panel depicts St. Mary while she was still in Alexandria, practising prostitution, and was very much in sin, snaring men not as much for money but to satisfy her carnal lusts. See the ugly and menacing faces of those who want to devour her body.

The second panel depicts her at the Church of the Holy Supluchre in Jerusalem, after having been miraculously prevented from entering into it to attend the service of the raising of the Holy Cross: She sees an icon of St. Mary the Theotokos, and prays and weeps as her sins are made manifest to her soul.

The third panel shows her dead in the last visit of St. Zosimas with the lion that helped Zosimas in digging a grave to bury her.

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The first panel depicts St. Mary while she was still in Alexandria, practising prostitution, and was very much in sin, snaring men not as much for money but to satisfy her carnal lusts. See the ugly and menacing faces of those who want to devour her body

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St. Mary at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, after having been miraculously prevented from entering into it to attend the service of the raising of the Holy Cross: She sees an icon of St. Mary the Theotokos, and prays and weeps as her sins are made manifest to her soul

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St. Mary dead in the last visit of St. Zosimas with the lion that helped Zosimas in digging a grave to bury her

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