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To Sow the Heart: Touch, Spiritual Anatomy, and Image Theory in Michelangelo’s Noli me tangere *

  • Christian K. Kleinbub (a1)


Long neglected and misunderstood, Michelangelo’s Noli me tangere (ca. 1531–32) features a puzzling figuration of its biblical subject, wherein Christ, rather than withdrawing from Mary Magdalene, touches her left breast with his finger. Following Augustine’s interpretation that Christ at this moment sows the seed of faith in the Magdalene’s heart, this article explains this unprecedented motif as a dissemblant sign for the implantation of faith in the soul, while arguing, on account of the gesture’s resonance with issues of spiritual and sensual touching, that the painting makes an original theoretical statement about the making and viewing of devotional images more generally.



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This article has its roots in my dissertation research, and was consequently developed in presentations for the Courtauld Institute of Art, Ohio State University, the Renaissance Society of America’s annual conference at Montreal in 2011, Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne, and Pennsylvania State University. It has benefited from the suggestions of numerous scholars, including Sara M. Adler, Alexander Nagel, Aimee Ng, Lisa Rafanelli, David Rosand, Maria Ruvoldt, and William Wallace. I also owe a great deal to the advice of my Ohio State colleagues, most especially Amanda Gluibizzi.



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