Scala/Art Resource, New York, NY

Clothed in her own hair, Mary Magdalene did penance in the Egyptian desert according to a ninth-century legend. This polychromed and gilded wooden statue, The Penitent Magdalene, created about 1455 by the famous Italian sculptor Donatello (Donato di Niccolo Bardi, 1386–1466?), testifies to the influence of this legend. The story resulted from the conflation of the traditional interpretation of Mary as a repentant prostitute with an earlier legend about another repentant prostitute known as Mary of Egypt. Both forms of the legend, however, portray a Mary unlike the Mary Magdalene of the Gospels.