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Noli me tangere (Touch me not)

Noli me tangere (Touch me not)
Roy de Maistre (1894-1968)



Methodist Collection of Modern Christian Art, No.8

Commentary by Francis Hoyland

At first sight this looks like an abstracted, cubist or futurist painting, and in some important ways it is; however, its spatial arrangement is almost conventional since our position in relation to the focus in the painting is definite: we are low down on the level of Saint Mary Magdalene's hand and about two yards from her.

Both figures are kneeling and the figure of Christ is so large that He towers over Mary. He folds His arms across His chest as He explains that He had not yet risen to His Father.

His vast stature emphasises the transcendence of the risen Christ, but this means that it would be difficult to mistake Him for a gardener! Indeed some of the intimacy and tenderness of St John's account has been sacrificed for grandeur.

I wonder which is the most God-like attribute - maybe it is the tenderness and humility of Jesus that shows us most about His divinity?

The drawing is very direct and every part of the design is emphatically delineated with light or dark contours.

The areas between these lines are not modelled with separate tints, but forcibly filled in, mostly with plain areas of red and blue. The forms are realised by the almost sculptural drawing and by the changing values of the slabs of colour between the lines.

Picasso's influence is apparent in the 'double' view of Our Lord's head - you can see His profile to the left of the main head - in the patterned integration of foreground and background and in the way the drawing tends to simplify the individual forms until they become signs.

There is no mistaking the grandeur of this work and de Maistre's sincerity is communicated to us through the unflinching courage of the execution.

Right angles and abrupt changes of direction dominate the work - for instance the general slant of Mary's body culminating in her outstretched arm is at right angles to the tilt of Our Lord's body and so on.

One way to 'get into' the drawn language of the painting is to start with the black contour about Our Lord's brow and then look at the shapes above and below it.

The drawing really 'catches on' like this over and over again, but the important thing is that our reading of the structure of this painting enables us to share in the reality of the faith of the artist.

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