Giotto, Noli Me Tangere (‘Do not touch me’ )
Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene on Easter morning. She has at first mistaken him for a gardener, but when she realizes her mistake she reaches toward Jesus. Do not touch me, he says, for I am not yet ascended to my father.
She is portrayed in two distinct ways: before her conversion she is richly attired, jewelled and gloved, a figure of Profane Love; as a penitent, she wears a simple cloak or is often naked, covered only by her long hair (a very popular theme during the Victorian period). She usually has a crucifix and a skull, and sometimes a whip and a crown of thorns. She reads or meditates or, in Baroque paintings, raises her tear-filled eyes towards a vision of angels in heaven.
An angel on the left sits rather casually on the side of the tomb, but the two above Jesus are closer to disembodied spirits – notice that though they have heads and arms, their legs are simply not there. Angels are not corporeal beings, Giotto reminds us. This heightens the sense that Jesus is inhabiting two worlds. Giotto emphasises the other-worldliness by giving Jesus a human appearance but encasing him in ethereal light and garments.
Mary, however, is decidedly not of another world. Her red, semi-transparent silk garment proclaims her as very much alive.
Hidden Meanings in paintings of Mary Magdalene
- Mary Magdalene was always an important figure in the gospel, but she became even more so after the Counter-Reformation, when the Catholic Church encouraged devotion to the Sacraments, particularly Penance. Mary was seen as the ideal penitent because she supposedly anointed the feet of Jesus. But the woman who did this, whoever she was, was unnamed in the gospel.
- In fact there is no real link between the woman who anointed Jesus, and the woman called Mary Magdalene who was exorcised of seven ‘demons’ – in other words, she was cured of a severe illness.
- Never mind the facts, go with the myth. Mary Magdalene is often shown with a jar of ointment. Her hair is untied, long and flowing, sometimes covering her whole body.