Noli Me Tangere by Titian

Titian

Noli Me Tangere, c.1514, Oil on canvas, 110.5 x 91.9 cm, The National Gallery, London; Bequeathed by Samuel Rogers, 1856, NG270, © National Gallery, London / Art Resource, NY

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Heaven and Earth Converge in the Meeting of Lines

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Devon Abts

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.

 

References

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)