The painting depicts an episode of the Gospel of John, when Christ, just risen from the dead, meets Mary Magdalene, his follower.
The woman does not believe her eyes and that she could be seeing Christ, who died only a few days ago. She wants to touch him, but he tells her not to do it, pronouncing the famous phrase “Noli me tangere”, meaning “do not touch me” or “cease holding on to me”.
Caracciolo used some elements of traditional iconography, such as the farmer’s hat that Jesus is wearing, but he decided to eliminate the usual natural setting and to place the two figures in the foreground, making them emerge from a completely dark background.
The figures occupy almost entirely the large canvas. Christ wears a dark cloak which is tied under his chin and his torso is completely exposed. In front of him you can see Mary Magdalene with her arm resting on a vase with three letters: the initials of the painter, who signed the work in this manner. The woman is reaching out to Christ, who rejects her with a grandiose gesture by extending his left arm towards her, as if he wanted to stop her. His right arm is raised, and the edges of the cloak tied under his chin cast a shadow on his pale torso.
The iconography of the painting is not the only novelty here, as the Neapolitan artist, in fact, chose a very particular compositional cut, a diagonal view of the scene.
The dark background, the razor-sharp lateral light that illuminates the two figures, as well as the perspective cut of the image are strongly influenced by the pictorial innovation introduced by Caravaggio between the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century. Merisi, who stayed in Naples and left there some of his artworks, greatly influenced Neapolitan Caracciolo, who absorbed his style in his own works.
The pale and wide figures also recall some elements that recur in the paintings of Orazio Gentileschi, father of famous Artemisia, who was one of the few Tuscan Caravaggeschi painters, and who introduced a greater elegance compared to Merisi, especially in the representation of the human figure, clothing and furnishing. In fact, the work, that was made when Caracciolo traveled to Rome, reveals how the artist had abandoned Caravaggio’s raw naturalism in the rendering of human figure, which appears here more idealized in perfect and beautiful Christ with his statuesque physique and in Magdalene, who is wrapped in elegant, large and colorful drapery.
Battistello Caracciolo’s work can be dated to the period between 1618 and 1629. The painting was found in Spedale della Misericordia e Dolce in Prato and this, like many other paintings that were preserved in this place, were moved to the Civic Museum of Palazzo Pretorio, following the suppression of churches, convents and religious institutes that took place in the middle of the century, during the unification of Italy. The painting is located in the second floor of the museum, in the room which is dedicated to paintings from the 16th to 18th century, the room of great altarpieces.
Son of Cesare Caracciolo, Giovanni Battista – known as Battistello – was trained in his hometown Naples, under Baroque painter Fabrizio Santafede. When fugitive Michelangelo Merisi, also known as Caravaggio, arrived in the city, he influenced profoundly and definitively the Neapolitan figurative culture and especially Battistello, who was among the first Neapolitan followers of Caravaggio.
Caracciolo was just a few years younger than Merisi and he absorbed his concrete and dramatic naturalism, the gloomy luminosity and the never regular compositional cuts of Caravaggio, with figures that emerge from the dark background, often illuminated by a lateral source of light.
In 1614 Battistello traveled to Rome, where he painted altarpieces which he often signed with the initials B, CA or G and A, B for Battistello and CA for Caracciolo with the B being always smaller than the other letters. These works were still affected by Caravaggio’s influence, but over the time he was also inspired by Mannerism and Baroque which were taking over the figurative culture soon after Caravaggio’s death which took place in July 1610. The great painted frescoes of Neapolitan churches show how Caracciolo had assimilated all these different tendencies. These artworks include the Cherubini of Monte di Pietà (1601), the Scenes of the Life of St. Simon Stock and Carmelite saints at Santa Teresa degli Studi (1617), in addition to the Scenes of the Life of St. Januarius in Naples at the chapel dedicated to the patron saint of the city in the church of San Martino. A few years later, in 1618, Battistello moved to Genoa, then to Florence and Rome. There he became even closer to the Classicism that Annibale Carracci had already introduced between the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century, and this tendency finally won over Caravaggio’s naturalism, opening the way to Baroque.
Once he returned to Naples, Caracciolo dedicated himself especially to the decoration of the churches and religious institutes. He died in his hometown in December 1635.
Prato’s Museo Civico is situated in the Palazzo Pretorio, in Piazza del Comune at the city center.
The first documents of the Palazzo date back to the end of the 13th century, when captain of the Guelfs, Francesco de’ Frescobaldi decided to purchase the building already owned by Pipini, to house the foreign magistrates, the court and the prisons. Between 1334 and 1338 the building was enlarged by Florentine craftsmen and the medieval appearance was changed. During the following centuries and especially in the 18th century a series of improvements were implemented finally until the late 19th century, when the building came under the demolition threat.
In 1912 an important restoration work led to the opening of the Galleria Comunale, which was previously housed in the Palazzo del Comune. The last restoration started in 1998 and it was finished in 2013. In September of the same year the museum reopened with the exhibition “From Donatello to Lippi. Officina pratese”.
The historical origins of the museum are linked to the decision of the grand duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, who wanted to create a collection of paintings for the students of the city’s drawing school (1788).
The collection was enriched thanks to various donations and purchases, until the official inauguration of the first exhibition organized by Giovanni Papini in 1912.
In 1926, thanks to Angiolo Badiani’s initiative, the State museum received their first assemblage of plaster casts by local sculptor Lorenzo Bartolini and in 1954 the museum was reopened with new layout, designed by Giuseppe Marchini.
In the late 1980s’ the gallery was closed for restoration work. During these years of improvements, the museum purchased the Crucifixion by Filippino Lippi and the altarpieces by Santi di Tito and Alessandro Allori were donated to the museum by Angela Riblet.
The museum holds many artworks, ranging from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. Among these there are the polyptych with the Stories of the Cintola by Bernardo Daddi, polyptychs by Giovanni da Milano and Lorenzo Monaco, Filippo Lippi’s Madonna del Ceppo and the Adoration of the Child and Vincenzo Ferrer, Filippino Lippi’s Annunciation with St. Julian, Mattia Preti’s Repudiation of Agar and the Cabins by Ardengo Soffici.
The collection includes also an important assemblage of sculptures of the most important artists of the time, among them Andrea della Robbia and Benedetto Buglioni.