|Fra Bartolomeo, Noli Me Tangere|
Italian, c. 1506
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Jesus is carrying a hoe
“Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there,
one at the head and one at the feet where the Body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken my Lord,
and I don’t know where they laid him.”
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there,
but did not know it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he had told her.”
|Noli Me Tangere|
German, c. 1300-1350
Mendig, Niedermendig, Catholic Parish Church of Saint Cyriacus
Jesus is shown carrying a shovel.
The dramatic encounter of Mary Magdalene and Jesus on Easter morning, as told in the Gospel of St. John, is known as the iconographic subject called the "Noli me tangere", from Christ's admonition "Stop holding on to me!" to her. In 2011 I reviewed some of the images associated with this iconography. This year I decided to update that essay (and many others) with some new images. Over the last several years the amount of material available for art research on the internet has expanded incredibly and many more images are now available for studying these subjects.
In the course of looking at newly available images of the Noli me tangere type I was struck by something that had not been so obvious six years ago. There is an iconographical offshoot of the subject that focuses on just one portion of a sentence in the Gospel narrative and weaves a story out of it. This is the subject of the Risen Jesus depicted in the Noli me tangere image as a gardener.
|Master of the Flemish Boethius. Noli Me Tangere|
from Vita Jesu Christi by Ludolphe de Saxe
French, c. 1480
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 181, fol. 155
This Jesus carries a shovel and wears a farmer's hat.
In the Gospel, John explains Mary's initial inability to recognize the Risen Jesus by saying that "She thought it was the gardener" (John 20:15). This is, of course, in keeping with the Gospel reports of others who failed to recognize Him after the Resurrection. In some way He was the same, but different and, in a certain sense, He seems to have veiled Himself from them in order for Him to recognize them first. Thus it is with Mary to whom He speaks and with the disciples at Emmaus with whom He breaks bread and with the larger group of disciples on the shore of the Lake of Galilee when He invites them to breakfast.
Artists sought to remind their audience of this non-recognition part of the story by equipping the Risen Jesus with gardening equipment: spades, hoes, etc. and, in a few cases, a gardener's hat. This strand seems to begin in the fourteenth century, so far as I have found to this point. It ends in the eighteenth century, again so far as I have found to date. And the artists who have produced works with Jesus the Gardener are among some of the most illustrious in the history of art.
|Fra Angelico, Noli Me Tangere|
Florence, Convento di San Marco
Fra Angelico and his assistants show Jesus carrying a hoe over His left shoulder.
|Perugino, Noli Me Tangere|
Chicago, Art Institute
Here again Jesus carries a hoe.
|Jacob Crenelisz van Oostsanen, Noli Me Tangere|
In this picture Jesus holds a shovel.
|Correggio, Noli Me Tangere|
Italian, c. 1525
Madrid, Museo del Prado
In this beautiful Correggio painting, a cultivator, shovel and gardener's straw hat lie on the ground next to Jesus.
|Titian, Noli Me Tangere|
Italian, c. 1514
London, National Gallery
That is a garden hoe, and not a cross, that Jesus is holding in His left hand.
|Franciabigio, Noli Me Tangere|
Florence, Museo del Cenacolo di San Salvi
Once more Jesus carries a hoe over His shoulder.
|Jacopo Pontormo, Noli Me Tangere|
Pontormo's Jesus has the head of the hoe looped over His left arm.
|Bronzino, Noli Me Tangere|
Italian, c. 1560
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Jesus is holding a shovel in His right hand as Mary approaches.
|Lelio Orsi, Noli Me Tangere|
Italian, c. 1575
Hartford (CT), Wadsworth Athenaeum
In this dancelike encounter with Mary Magdalene, Jesus again holds a hoe in His right hand.
|Francesco Albani, Noli Me Tangere|
Italian, c. 1620-1625
Paris, Musée du Louvre
Instead of the Resurrection banner, Jesus is carrying a shovel in this image.
|Giovanni Battista Caracciolo, Noli Me Tangere|
Italian, c. 1620
Prato, Museo Civico
In this dramatically Caravaggesque picture Jesus carries what is probably a shovel (we can see only the shaft) and wears a
very wide brimmed gardener's hat.
|Alonso Cano, Noli Me Tangere|
Spanish, c. 1640
Budapest, Szépmûvészeti Múzeu
Cano's Jesus holds a shovel.
|Carle van Loo, Noli Me Tangere|
French, c. 1740
The Jesus in Van Loo's image also holds a shovel.
© M. Duffy, 2017