Titian imagines Christ’s post-resurrection meeting with Mary Magdalene, not beside an empty tomb, but in a lush hilltop garden overlooking the Italian countryside. As the sun rises beyond the frame of the painting, the world wakes to new life: the resurrection dawn heralds the reversal of the Fall and Christ’s triumph over death.
The artist thus renders his landscape as the new Eden. The rising sun gently illuminates the top of a building in the distance, and casts a further glow on the leaves of the tree that surges upward through the middle of the painting. Wild grasses spring to life beneath Christ’s feet, and behind Mary a large bush sends untamed, lively branches in every direction. In the distance, lambs graze in a fertile pasture, and beyond, undulating hills peppered with trees stretch to an infinite sea.
This landscape feels breathtakingly real—and, importantly, Christ and Mary are entirely at one with their evocative surroundings. Note again the gently-sloping tree rising behind the central figures. This is a common iconographic feature in many Noli Me Tangere images, used to divide the canvas: the resurrected Christ on one side, the Magdalene on the other. Yet note how, in this image, the line of Mary’s back seems to continue along the curve of the tree, while the arc of Christ’s body blends harmoniously into the slope of the hill in the distance.
In this way, Titian articulates his figures along two intersecting lines: one extending from Christ’s foot, along his body and through the cityscape in the distance, and another from the bent figure of Mary through the top of the tree. Within this compositional structure, Christ and Mary are not divided at all: rather, each trespasses on the other, signifying a kind of intersection between human aspiration and divine grace.
Benay, Erin E., and Lisa M. Rafanelli. 2017. Faith, Gender, and the Senses in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Art (London: Routledge)
Drury, John. 1999. Painting the Word (New Haven: Yale University Press)
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-boʹni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” 18Mary Magʹdalene went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.