Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene (Noli me Tangere), Graham Sutherland (1961)
This is one of two versions by Graham Sutherland of the religious subject Noli Me Tangere which was commissioned by the Dean of Chichester Cathedral, Walter Hussey in 1961. This version, which is now at Pallant House Gallery was given to Hussey by the artist. The second version, which depicts Christ in a gardener’s straw hat, is in the St Mary Magdalene Chapel at Chichester Cathedral, which had been newly restored at the time Sutherland was working.
This painting depicts the biblical story from St John’s gospel, chapter 20, verses 14 to 17. In the story Mary Magdalen finds the tomb of Christ empty but encounters the resurrected Christ and mistakes him for a gardener. When Jesus spoke to Mary Magdalen she recognised him and he asked her not to hold on to him. This request in Latin is Noli me Tangere meaning ‘touch me not’, and is the title of Sutherland’s two paintings.
Sutherland presented Hussey with two paintings from which Hussey selected the one he felt most appropriate for the cathedral setting. However, the installation in the cathedral was not without controversy and in 1963 a woman defaced this painting with a ball point pen. Reviews and public opinion of this contemporary painting were mixed. The critic Eric Newton wrote on its unveiling “that Graham Sutherland is almost the only living artist capable of expressing the full intensity of a Christian theme is now proved. To paint the Son of God momentarily mistaken for a gardener is surely more difficult than to visualise Christ crucified or Christ enthroned.”
You can find out more about the version at Chichester Cathedral in our video series The Legacy of Walter Hussey.