Bible moralisée of Naples

Bible moralisée of Naples f. 186r: Noli me tangere (John 20: 15-17)


f. 186r: Noli me tangere (John 20: 15-17)

“This is the story: How Our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to Saint Mary Magdalene and He said, woman touch me not. Thus says Saint John in his Gospel, in the twentieth chapter.”

The composition of the Noli me tangere image in Christian art is always the same: Mary Magdalene kneels before the Lord who gestures with his hand for her to keep her distance. However, by removing all superfluous elements, illuminator B endows the painting of this episode with remarkable monumentality. The horizon high on the page makes the beige rock acting as a backdrop for the scene look very wide. Wall-like, it isolates the encounter between the woman and the Messiah from the rest of the world. The vertical rock then flattens out into an off-white plateau that gently leads the eye towards a sky of burnished gold that illuminates the dark green foliage of the trees from the rear. The artist’s great talent as a colourist is exploited here to the full: a third tone of white mottled with purple shades the silhouette of Jesus completely surrounded by golden rays. His serious face has very delicate features and he carries a gardener’s spade upon his shoulder. The iconography of Christ the gardener is borrowed from St John’s account according to which, when Christ’s body was found to have disappeared, Mary Magdalene stayed weeping by the tomb. When the risen Christ appeared to her, at first she thought he was the gardener and asked him where her Lord was. When she finally recognised him, she reached out to touch him but he ordered her not to retain him because he had not yet ascended to his Father.

Mary Magdalene kneeling at the Lord’s feet illuminates the page with a large, orange triangle with her head apparently just perched on its apex. Her long unbraided hair recalls the sinful woman described in the Gospels in the scene of the meal at Simon’s house (f. 160v). The sensitivity of this painting is clearly that of a disciple of Giotto whose palette was subsequently enhanced with a courtly touch, in the same vein as the Italian masters who settled in Avignon.

Yves Christe
University of Geneva
Marianne Besseyre
Illuminated Manuscripts Research Center, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Fragment of the Bible moralisée of Naples commentary volume

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