If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Titian, Noli me Tangere

Titian, Noli me Tangere, c. 1514, oil on canvas, 110.5 x 91.9 cm (The National Gallery, London). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

(piano music playing) Steven: We're in the National Gallery, in London, and we're looking at a relatively early painting by the great Venetian master, Titian. Beth: The title of this painting, translated from the Latin, means "Don't Touch Me" and these are the words that Christ says to Mary Magdalene when she's found that his tomb is empty. Steven: This gets right to the heart of the Christian story. Beth: Of the mystery of the Resurrection. Steven: So, Christ is crucified, Christ is entombed. 3 days later, his tomb is found empty. He's been resurrected. Mary sees the empty tomb, turns to the first person she sees, presumably, somebody that she thinks is a gardener, and says, "What have they done with his body?" He calls her name, and she recognizes this man as Christ. Beth: Then she reaches out to embrace him, to touch him, of course, she's seen him crucified, so this is a miraculous vision for her, and she reaches out to touch him, but he withdraws and says, "Don't touch me," or it's time to let go of me. It's time not to hold on to my physical presence here on Earth. I've risen. I'm not here anymore, in the same way that you knew me before. Steven: Look at how Titian has communicated that idea in his composition. Mary Magdalene's on the ground. She's a diagonal, but she feels, in some ways, bound horizontally to the Earth, and Christ is vertical, he's upright, but there's a gentle sweep to his body, a really, kind of, elegant turn as he almost reaches over her, as you said, pulls away, but also arches over her, in a kind of very protective move. His body is echoed by the tree, which leads our eye even further up and reminds us that he will soon become one with God in heaven. Beth: There is something ethereal there. That incredibly graceful and elegant pose that Titian has rendered Christ in, it's as though we can almost feel her reaching out and, almost like a ghost, her hand passes through his body. His immateriality is somehow implicit in the pose of his body. Steven: Look at the way that the shroud, which is now worn almost like a cape around his neck, is pulled back by his left arm, and creates a kind of void, an area of shadow, this volume of space that is empty, and does create that sense of the non-corporeal. Beth: Yes, almost like a ghostly feeling there. and in that pose of Mary Magdalene, as she is on the ground leaning up and reaching out her hand, you feel her desire to see him again, to embrace him, to hold him, to feel his physical presence. Steven: You see in his face a kind of concern for her. He looks down at her and there really is a kind of empathy for her, and all of this is located in this gorgeous, lush landscape that reminds us that it was quite fashionable, in Venice at this time, to place religious scenes within beautiful, fanciful environments. Beth: So that one could meditate on the biblical moment that was being described, but also to allow one's eye to travel through this really beautiful landscape. Steven: What a landscape it is. Look at the way in which that atmospheric perspective creates that cool, luminous deep space, and I love the way that the sun is setting, and you have the light coming through those clouds. Beth: Apparently, the colors were once more vivid, especially the greens, which have turned to brown because of the paint that Titian used. Steven: That's right. They were the copper oxide that has lost some of its vibrancy. Nevertheless, the painting is loose, it's beautiful, it's full of gesture, and this complex human interaction that takes this biblical, this ancient story, and makes it vivid and accessible to us, even today. (piano music playing)