The Magdalene with the Smoking Flame (Terff)
The contents of this picture - an intense flame, a face in profile, a skull shown frontally, two thick books, and a scourge - have been integrated into a circle or loop, a closed circuit of sorts. All of Magdalene's thoughts are committed to this space, which emerges from the darkness thanks to the light of the flame and to La Tour's talent.
The composition clearly has been organized around the flame. Nonetheless, the doubts and hesitations that may still inhabit Magdalene can perhaps be seen in the discrete arm-leg diagonal that makes her recede. Yet, along this diagonal, the arm leads her thoughts without detour from one head to another. The detour is delineated by the other arm, and it is the play of these two lines of development, as in that of the two hands with respect to the two heads, that we realize the prodigious technique at La Tour's command for staging such delicate themes.
Magdalene has given up luxury, vanity, seduction. There remain a modest oil lamp, a scourge to reiterate the sufferings of Christ, the Holy Books ... and the skull which is turned in our direction, as if to question us.