This tapestry reproduces the famous episode, narrated in the Gospel of John, of the Noli Me Tangere (“Do Not Cling to Me”), a renowned iconographic subject that inspired important painters over the centuries in Italy and Europe. The tapestry depicts a refined Mary Magdalene in a verdant garden holding the ciborium containing the ointments to be used on Christ’s body. Christ is depicted, according to the misunderstanding of Magdalene, as a gardener with spade and hat, caught in the act of alienating her; in the background is a detailed landscape and the open door of the tomb. The episode is elaborately framed by a woven design of imbedded imitation stones and an elegant floral border of extraordinary technical capacity.
Noli me Tangere is part of the series of tapestries illustrating the life of Christ, also known as the Nuova Scuola (New School). According to sixteenth century artist and art historian Giorgio Vasari, these twelve tapestries decorated the Sala Regia and the Sala Ducale in the Vatican Apostolic Palace, large and sumptuous ceremonial spaces where the consistories or the solemn meetings of the pontiff with the Cardinals were held. They depict scenes from the life of Christ with a clear distinction between the scenes of childhood and scenes that follow the Crucifixion.
It is unclear who commissioned this important work. In the first half of the sixteenth century; it might have been Pope Leo X (1513-1521), who could have been the project manager before he died, or more probably Pope Clement VII (1523-1534).
At the head of a large workshop in the Marchè aux Charbons, Van Aelst was the most famous weaver, entrepreneur, and tapestry merchant of his time in Brussels where other manufacturers were active with important commissions. Van Aelst, after having asserted himself in Flanders as a supplier to the Royal Court, gained international renown thanks to his Raphael tapestries exhibited for the first time in Sistine Chapel in 1519. The enormous success of these tapestries later earned him the papal commission of the New School series, today exhibited in the Tapestry Gallery of the Vatican Museums.
Magnificent and refined, the twelve tapestries were woven between 1524 and 1531. These dates were attested by the two Roman weavers Angelo da Cremona and Joanne lengles de Calais, who judged them to be “bene e lialmente facte” (well and faithfully made), and even more intricate and richer in gold and silk than the tapestries of The Acts of the Apostles. A total sum of 20,750 ducats, enormous for the period, was paid for the twelve works. Although Raphael most likely did not draw the cartoons for the tapestries, having died before beginning the commission, his artistic identity appears clear in the conception of the scenes. He most likely provided the study drawings for the larger cartoon. The models and cartoons for the tapestries based on the Master’s ideas and drawings were carried out by his favorite pupils, Giulio Romano and Giovan Francesco Penni, who were also the creators of the frescoes in the Sala di Costantino in the Vatican.
Precious and rare, the work of this school has never been repeated. Therefore, this work can be considered a real unicum that has greatly contributed, through its production in prints and drawings, to the dissemination of the visual language of Raphael throughout Europe.