Titian (c. 1490 – 1576)
Noli Me Tangere, c. 1514, © 2006 The National Gallery, London
While I was in Washington recently for the WSJ, I of course dashed over to the National Gallery to see its glorious exhibition Bellini, Giorgione, Titian and the Renaissance of Venetian Painting. But the painting that most fascinated me was nowhere mentioned in today’s NY Times review by Holland Cotter.
Titian’s “Noli Me Tangere” was the artwork that gave spiritual sustenance to the British during the darkest hours of World War II, as recounted by Neil MacGregor, former director of the National Gallery in London (and now of the British Museum), in the 2004 book Whose Muse?
While London was beseiged by bombs, the museum’s trustees decided that one picture a month would hang “as the only Old Master picture in the National Gallery,” MacGregor recounted. This moving Titian, in which Mary Magdalene is admonished by Christ, after his resurrection, not to touch him, was selected by the public as the one it most wanted to see.
Why? MacGregor opines:
We can only guess, but I think what it meant to the war-torn Londoners must have been close to the central poetic truth that Titian was originally trying to express—the reassurance of a love so strong that it can survive death.
The label for the painting in the current Washington show interprets the meaning of the “spiraling pose” by which Christ evades Mary’s touch this way: “She should not cling to his physical self, as he would soon ascend to heaven.”
Those were the days—when art had the power to empower a nation.