Art Philosophy - Titian - Noli Me Tangere

Noli Me Tangere - Touch me not.

Inspired by a passage from the New Testament (John 20:17) in which Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene soon after his resurrection - the subject of this painting is one which has inspired paintings by numerous other artists throughout history.

But, rather than explore this picture from a biblical / religious perspective - i would like to use this article to allow us to experience it on a much more basic, emotional level.

After all, the beauty of great art is that it transcends all barriers. And can thus speak to us just as profoundly, whether we are religious, atheist, or anything else on the spiritual/scientific spectrum.

So, first - let's look at what is actually happening in this painting.

We have a woman (Mary Magdelene), dressed in billowing white and red, gazing up at an apparition before her.

Her face is a pallet of emotion - and it is no wonder. Because this man she is reaching out to touch, is the same man who, only a few days ago, she witnessed being crucified.

He was dead. Wrapped in a shroud. Buried in a darkened tomb.

And yet . . . here he is in the flesh again. Moving. Breathing. Living.

Now, forget about the miracle for a moment. Let's just imagine how that would feel.

To see a treasured friend, or the one we love, literally "back from the dead".

Would we be Astonished? Overjoyed? Confused? Scared?

Or perhaps, like Mary here . . . we would be all of these things at once.

And, in falling to our knees, we too would would find ourselves reaching out. Hoping that a touch of the man's clothes, would confirm to us the reality of his resurrection.

But, here, we come to the moment of crescendo - which Titian has captured so beautifully.

For you see, at the last moment - with Mary's fingers only inches away from making contact with the man's robes - he has spoken to her.

"Noli Me Tangere"

Do not touch me.

And, with that, we can see her frozen in motion. Drawing her hand back again. Scared that, if she reaches any further, this miracle in front of her might prove to be nothing more than an illusion.

So, in that sense, this is not just a painting of reunion between the dead and the living. It is a portrayal of the uncertainty of miracles; how we each must learn to trust in more than just our material senses.

And, at the same time, it is also a lesson on patience. Centring around the fact that, sometimes, we might not even be ready for the certainty we are seeking.


In the Bible story, Jesus elaborates on his "Do not touch me" - saying "for I am not yet fully ascended . . ."

But, Titian's painting gives us the chance to read an alternative message too.

And here, perhaps the real reason why Jesus is telling Mary "Do not touch me" - is because they are both not fully "ascended".

Let me explain what i mean by this.

When we think of the most profound experiences in this life - it is often the case that they have the power to both help, and harm us.

For example. Love can bring us joy - or heartbreak.

Responsibility can make - or break us.

Wisdom can enlighten. But it can also destroy.

And so, in all these cases, it is important for us to be sure of ourselves first; so that we are actually able to handle the intensity of these experiences.

So, with that is mind, let's look again at this "Do not touch me" .

Could it be that Jesus knows that he is not yet physically - or emotionally - strong enough to cope with the intense joy of this reunion?

Or, is that he is trying to protect Mary? Knowing that the confirmation of this miracle has the potential to transform her life for the better - or for the worse.

Either way, these questions are worth considering.

And, of course, lead us to analysing our own selves too.

Are we able to believe in things, without needing to touch them?

Are we emotionally able to cope with joy?

Are we prepared for our life to change with new experiences, or understanding?

It is worth wondering.

19 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All