The cover of the month
God, at the risk of No Longer Being Hidden by Pierre-Marie Dumont
It was as an actor in the “golden age of souls” that the genius of the painter Laurent de La Hyre (1606–1656) came to fruition. A paragon of French Classicism’s reaction to the effusiveness of Roman Baroque, he rejected all lyricism and sensuality in favour of a mode of expression both sober and refined, fostered by the poetry of antiquity and spiritual contemplation.
Human love raised to the level of divine love The illustration on the cover of your Magnificat was the artist’s final work, painted in the very year of his death. It was commissioned by the Carthusian Monastery of the Grande Chartreuse (France). This is why the background landscape, far from representing the country around Golgotha, offers a mountainous view suggestive of the alpine region of its destined home. The work is entitled Noli me tangere, “Do not touch me”, the words spoken by the risen Christ on Easter morning to Mary Magdalene when, on recognising him, she threw herself at his feet to embrace him. The scene is composed along a diagonal, rising from the right to the left, with Mary Magdalene’s back, Jesus’ left arm, and the open tomb forming an oblique line. La Hyre here pushes to perfection a symbolic contrast of colours and harmony of forms. Mary Magdalene’s gown of burnt siena evokes her sinful, mortal humanity, dust that shall return to dust. However, her tunic transforms this earthy hue by mixing it with purple, symbolic of the love of God, to create a luminous orange, symbolic of human love, redeemed and raised to the level of divine love—like the water transformed into wine at the wedding at Cana. In an equally striking and beautiful contrast, the risen Christ is clothed in celestial blue. Its blend of lapis lazuli and indigo is an extraordinarily powerful evocation of the “heavens”, that uncreated universe to which he shall rise again, the Kingdom of his Father and our Father. Though not strictly a Jansenist himself, La Hyre was connected to the Port-Royal movement, whose influence had an impact on his theological and spiritual expression. At the time he was painting this Noli me tangere, the battle of Pascal’s Provincial Letters was in full
swing. Pascal had experienced his “night of fire” two years earlier; over the course of his meetings and discussions, he had already developed the theme of the hidden God which was to form the core of his Pensées, according to the revelation of Isaiah: Truly, God is hidden with you, the God of Israel, the saviour (45:15).
A hidden God until the end of time In the spirit of Pascalian mysticism, Laurent de La Hyre’s Christ, not content to keep Mary Magdalene at a distance, raises his hand to her forehead, casting a shadow over her eyes. For, following his Incarnation and Resurrection, God must still remain hidden until the end of time in order to be found and loved by us, not just [as] words or mere talk, but something real and active (1 Jn 3:18). When Christ wished to fulfil his promise to remain truly present among us until the end of time, Pascal tells us, “He chose to remain in the most strange and most obscure secret of all,” that is, in sacramental form. In the same way, he is truly Christian who, with eyes opened by faith, recognises the Spirit of the Word in the Gospels, communes in the Body and Blood of Christ under the species of the Eucharistic bread and wine, and, finally, loves the human person of Christ in each and every one of his brothers and sisters whom Providence places along his earthly pilgrimage as his neighbour. So much so that, at the end of time, Christ Jesus may rightly say to those blessed of his Father, Whatever you did to one of these least brothers of mine, in them you did it to me. Thus, in this valedictory masterpiece, La Hyre set himself the demanding task of showing us that, on the morning of the Resurrection, the triumphant Christ wished to remain the hidden God. Why? In order that, through each one of us, with each one of us, and in each one of us, he might begin to be the God who is all in all.
Noli me tangere (1656), Laurent de La Hyre (1606–1656), Museum of Fine Arts, Grenoble, France. © akg-images / Erich Lessing.