Quale Maria? Caravaggio e le due sorelle
Caravaggio’s famous painting commonly known as Conversion of Mary Magdalene is currently interpreted as portraying Martha while admonishing Mary Magdalene in order to obtain her conversion. Though since the Middle Ages the identification of Mary Magdalene with Martha’s sister, Mary of Bethany, was almost universal, the latter’s symbolism as the model of contemplative life, as opposed to Martha as the representative of active life, had not been forgotten – witness Dante’s Convivio. A text of Origen and some lines in the Divine Comedy, as well as the symbolic meaning attached in times close to Caravaggio’s to several objects appearing in the painting suggest that it might possibly portray Martha, the representative of active life, seeking instruction from Mary, as the representative of contemplative life.