Noli me tangere

The Noli me tangere in cell 1 of the Convent of San Marco is remarkable among all the frescoes for its love of detail. Was it, perhaps, the work of a hand other than Fra Angelico’s?

It is known that other artists worked on the cycle, and that one of them was Benozzo Gozzuoli, the painter of the jewel-box Chapel of the Magi in the Palazzo Rucellai, the Medici residence in Florence. A comparison of the rendering here of trees and of the flower-strewn meadow with similar details from the palazzo have persuaded some.

But the fascination of the picture lies not in the depiction of the garden – so neatly fenced against the forest outside – but in the figures: Mary, statuesque and monumental,

Noli me tangere

earthbound and reaching out as though to touch the intangible; and Jesus, with the hoe over his shoulder, floating, dancing almost (note the balletic cross-step of those wounded feet).

He is visible to her, and clearly bound to her with bonds of real affection (the forbidding gesture of the outstretched hand is also gentle and consoling). But he is already in another place and world. He is about to ascend to the Father.

Spring is apparent in the verdure which his feet do not touch. It will be to Mary, when he is gone, a sign that resurrection affects and changes the whole created universe.

Mark Stevens