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An Update Look on the Noli Me Tangere Tapestry

Patrons visit the restoration lab at the Vatican Museum during their pilgrimage to Rome in early October 2019

Noli Me Tangere Tapestry – Mia Samaniego, Intern

Among the recently adopted restoration projects of the Texas Chapter, Noli Me Tangere (“Do Not Cling to Me”) is a little-known tapestry which depicts the interaction between the Risen Christ and Mary Magdalene narrated in the Gospel of John.

The project is estimated to cost €288,100 (USD $320,00) and to be completed by July 2021. The total cost accounts for the cleaning, chemical evaluation and overall restoration of the Noli Me Tangere to its original glory. Dr. Alessandra Rodolfo is currently leading her team after initial restoration has occurred. Detailed photographs have been taken of the tapestry and close-ups of the thread to study its deteriorating state. After the tapestry’s damaged state was recorded, the tapestry was stretched out and a small vacuum was used to suck out foreign particles in the thread. Currently, Dr. Rodolfo’s team are in the most arduous process of the restoration, which is the removal and correction of previous restorations which caused tension and deformation. To prepare for the tapestry for washing, temporary stitches have been applied to the work to reinforce the thread and prevent deformation when the tapestry is placed in a unique water solution. Following the cleaning, the temporary stitches will be removed and the decaying and unraveling threads will be addressed by the team.

Although this tapestry is undoubtedly a significant work, it has not been much studied over the years. Hence, an important part of the current restoration project is a thorough documentation of the work itself, its history and the process of conservation it is undergoing.

 Noli Me Tangere is one piece in the Nuova Scuola (New School), a series of tapestries which depict the life of Christ, from the Nativity to the Resurrection. These twelve tapestries formerly decorated the Sala Regia and Sala Ducale, rooms in the Vatican Apostolic Palace used for receiving monarchs and other nobility during their state visits. Such a significant work was more than likely commissioned by one of the popes of the first half of the sixteenth century: either Pope Leo X (1513-1521) or Pope Clement VII (1523-1534).

Woven between 1524-1531, the tapestries were purchased for a shocking 20,750 ducats (about 560 years’ worth of wages for an artisan). Raphael probably had little direct involvement in the creation of the Nuova Scuola since he died before the commission was received. However, Raphael’s study drawings serve as the basis for the large cartoon of the Noli Me Tangere, designed by his pupils, Giulio Romano and Giovan Franceso Penni.

Following the success of his additions to the Sistine Chapel in 1519, Pieter Van Aelst received a papal commission to complete the Nuova Scuola series. Van Aelst was the most famous weaver and tapestry merchant in his time. He taught the tapestry workshop in the Marchè aux Charbons in Brussels. Van Aelst gained favor from the Vatican, along with international renown, after his contribution to the Raphael tapestries. He is credited as the official weaver of Noli Me Tangere.

In the tapestry, the Resurrection scene captures the moment of recognition. Mary Magdalene kneels before the Risen Christ, who appears to her in a gardener’s garb. Jesus holds one hand elevated over her, physically expressing “Do Not Cling to Me.” The background includes the open tomb and an elegant garden. An intricate woven design of imbedded imitation stones and an exquisite floral border demonstrate the technical skill of the weaver in the framing of this scene.

Today, the twelve tapestries are displayed in the Tapestry Gallery of the Vatican Museums. 

Restoration Process Includes:

  • Removal of lining
  • Removal of loose deposits with a micro-vacuum
  • Chemical-physical studies designed to recognize the commercial origin of the fibers – define their conservation state and to evaluate the degree of pollution as well as to identify the original pigments
  • Application and attachment of a covering on the front and back to avoid further breakdown of the fabric during washing
  • Washing in demineralized water and non-ionic surfactant
  • Removal of previous interventions that are harmful to the work
  • Restoration intervention for the future conservation of the work
  • Photographic documentation

Other Details:

Inventory Number: 43855

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