According to The Golden Legend, Mary Magdalene spent her last thirty years as a hermit in a cave in Sainte-Baume, a mountain ridge in southern France. Seven times a day angels carried her aloft to heaven, where she glimpsed her coming reward. The representation of this ecstatic scene emerged during the Counter-Reformation and became common in Baroque art as a way to encourage the veneration of saints in the Catholic Church.

The pronounced foreshortening of the saint’s left foot and the angel figures indicates the painting was originally placed high above the viewer’s eye level, probably over an altar.