Noli Me Tangere by 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

Close Close
Zoom in Zoom in
Zoom out Zoom out
Reset image Reset image

The Lover’s Gaze

Commentary by
Read by Chloë Reddaway

Titian’s Noli Me Tangere offers a strikingly erotic interpretation of the encounter between Christ and Mary Magdalene on the morning of the resurrection. On a secluded hilltop far from the sleepy Venetian town in the distance, Christ and Mary meet in intimacy as though they are lover and beloved.

Drawing upon an established iconographic tradition (Baert 2007), Titian depicts Christ with a spade in his hand; this alludes to John 20:15, where Mary mistakes him for a gardener. Aside from two fading marks of his passion on his feet, his resurrected body is exquisite—the Renaissance ideal of male beauty. The white burial cloth draped around Christ’s shoulders and loins provides minimal covering for his perfected physical form. His gaze rests lovingly on the woman at his feet. And even as he withdraws from Mary’s encroaching hand, he subtly inclines himself over her, a gesture both protective and deeply affectionate.

Meanwhile, the Magdalene—clothed in opulent scarlet and white robes—has turned from the empty tomb upon hearing Christ call her name (John 20:16). She kneels before her risen Lord, an image of earthly beauty stooping in humble recognition of the greater, divine beauty of the resurrected Christ. Her left hand rests on the ointment jar, while her right reaches out, longing to touch the miraculous form before her. Her eyes seem to be travelling upward from his torso to meet his gaze, much as the beloved in the Song of Solomon searches for the gaze of her lover (2:14).

Titian’s painting thus presents this moment as an intimate encounter filled with love and desire, at once unconsummated (Mary is forbidden to touch her Lord) and miraculously fulfilled (the beloved has found her lover). Christ ‘touches’ Mary, not with his physical body, but with the revelatory knowledge of his resurrected body.



Baert, Barbara. 2007. ‘The Gaze in the Garden: Body and Embodiment in “Noli Me Tangere”’, Netherlands Yearbook for History of Art, 58: 14–39

Read comparative commentary