BIBLE PICTURES   © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008






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Noli me tangere; Alonzo CANO; circa 1640; oil on canvas; Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

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The Apparitions of Christ to Mary Magdalene



The scene is in the open air, in a garden with trees and birds. Mary Magdalene is on her knees beside a vase of spices; she has just been to the tomb and has not understood why it was empty. And suddenly, she sees a man who seems to be a gardener but, when he pronounces her name, she recognizes Jesus.


Jesus is risen and she holds out her hand to touch him but he blesses her and tells her not to touch him, or not to hold him back: “noli me tangere” in Latin, which is often the title given to the work of art.



Christ should always wear some clothes to maintain the confusion or, at least, carry some tools such as a spade… This is frequent but he also appears naked in his shroud or with a luminous body and bearing the standard of the cross.


Mary Magdalene stretches out her arm to touch Jesus; in general he makes a gesture to keep her away and sometimes he blesses her by touching her forehead.


As this scene immediately follows that of the empty tomb, both representations are sometimes side by side or mixed.


It should not be confused with





The Morning of the Resurrection; Edward Burne-Jones; 1886; oil on wood; Tate Gallery, London.

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Before the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene sees one or several angels but she can also see Jesus. The representations are hardly different but, very often, Mary Magdalene is not alone and the tomb is always shown.

(See Christ’s Resurrection)



Doubting Thomas; Luca SIGNORELLI; fresco; Basilica di Santa Maria, Loreto, Italy.

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Christ’s apparition to Thomas is the matching piece to that to Mary Magdalene but, this time, it is Jesus himself who asks Thomas to touch him for his apostle to believe in his resurrection.

(See Apparition to Thomas)



The Risen Christ with his Mother; Rogier van der WEYDEN; circa 1440; oil on wood; Miraflores Altarpiece (right panel); Staatliche Museen, Berlin.

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Christ’s apparition to his mother Mary. This scene which has no biblical foundation is rather rare. Mary manifests less surprise than Mary Magdalene and does not attempt to touch Jesus.





Noli me tangere; Alonzo CANO; circa 1640; oil on canvas; Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Web Gallery of Art


The Apparitions of Christ to Mary Magdalene

The Gospel according to John, chapter 20

On the morning of the Resurrection, Mary was near the empty tomb

  And when she had said this, she turned round, and saw Jesus standing, and did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her : "Woman, why do you weep? whom do you seek?" She, supposing him to be the gardener, said to him: "Sir, if you have borne him hence, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."  Jesus said to her : "Mary !" She turned , and said to him in Hebrew: "Rabbouni !" - that is to say, Master.   Jesus said to her: "Do not touch me; for I have not yet ascended to my Father, but go to my brethren, and say to them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God."  
(John 20:14-17)



The apparition narratives show how Jesus gives himself to be seen to the witnesses he chooses in order to strengthen them in their certainty that he remains with them.

They must recognise the crucified Christ of the Passion in the risen Christ of Easter.




The Apparitions of Christ to Mary Magdalene





Noli me tangere; Alonzo CANO; circa 1640; oil on canvas; Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Web Gallery of Art



Mary Magdalene is alone or with the other Mary’s. She carries a vase of perfume to embalm Jesus. Surprised by his apparition, she seems to perform a real dance


Noli me tangere; Agnolo BRONZINO; 1561; oil on canvas; Louvre Museum, Paris.

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Noli me tangere; Hans HOLBEIN, 1524; oil on wood; Royal Collection, Hampton Court, England.

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Christ has been mistaken for the gardener by Mary Magdalene; painters take advantage of it to equip him as one. It is to be noted that Rubens leaves the three Mary’s together as they were in front of the empty tomb.



Christ comes as a Gardener to three Marys; Jacob JORDAENS; circa 1615; oil on wood; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin.

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Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen (Christ as a Gardener); Albrecht DÜRER; 1510; woodcut; Harvard University Art Museums.

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Christ is risen; which explains his glorious garment and his banner; the gardener has been forgotten.


Noli me tangere; Martin SCHONGAUER; 1470-80; tempera on wood; Musée d’Unterlinden, Colmar, France.

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The Appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene; Alexander IVANOV; 1834-36; oil on canvas; Russian Museum, St Petersburg.

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Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene is the name given to Mary of Magdala who was born in that town on the bank of the Lake of Galilee. This woman has followed Jesus who has delivered her from the “seven demons”. It is Mary Magdalene who is at the foot of the cross and who first notices the resurrection of Jesus. With Mary, the mother of Jesus, she is then the most present woman in the Gospels.

But very soon Christians have purposely confused this woman with the sinner whose name is not revealed and who weeps at the feet of Jesus (See The Sinner at Simon’s House) and with Mary of Bethany, Lazarus’ sister (See The Raising of Lazarus).


By combining these elements, the tradition has made Mary Magdalene a sinner in love with Christ. She has become a celebrated saint; churches bearing her name have multiplied and many girls have borne her patronymic.

Mary Magdalene is the type of the repentant sinner whose erotic beauty and penitence have both been celebrated by artists; this has become a theme of meditation on the vanity of the world.


The Penitent Magdalene;
Georges de LA TOUR; 1638-43;
oil on canvas;
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


In the 19th century, her name was also given to a delicacy made famous by Marcel Proust’s novel, Remembrance of Things Past.

   A madeleine is a small buttery sponge-cake in the shape of a scallop shell, the badge of the pilgrims to St James of Compostela. Until the French Revolution, madeleines were made and sold by nuns in Commercy (Lorraine, France) to support their convent dedicated to Mary Magdalene.



BIBLE PICTURES   © Serge Ceruti and Gérard  Dufour 2008