A Royal Garden

Titian is an amazing painter! I’ve featured him several times before (for instance, this was the latest blog with his art), and several of you have commented how gorgeous his paints are, with its color selection and everything.

But, do you know who Titian kept on his team of painters who he relied on for landscapes?

Lambert Sustris!

And do you know who did an amazing depiction of “Noli Me Tangere” which makes me smile every time I see it?

Lambert Sustris!

So, take a look at this gorgeous painting…

Noli Me Tangere, by Lambert Sustris, c. 1548-60. Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, Lille, France.
Noli Me Tangere, by Lambert Sustris, c. 1548-60. Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, Lille, France.

Basically, the scene depicts Saint Mary Magdalene and Jesus meeting up again for the first time after the Resurrection. St. Mary Magdalene holds her jar of ointment, which she was bringing to anoint Jesus in the tomb. But she couldn’t find His body! Upset, she frantically searched everywhere, until she found Jesus, whom she mistook as the gardener. So she asks Him where they took Jesus, in which Jesus cries, “Mary!” and she finally recognizes Him and tries to touch Him (probably to see if Jesus is a ghost), in which Christ instructs her not to touch Him.

And so, you’ll see Jesus holding a hoe… after all, He was mistaken as a gardener! And St. Mary Magdalene kneels down in astonishment. Also! In the background, you can also see St. Mary Magdalene again… this time underneath an arbor of trees as she runs to share the Good News with the rest of the disciples.

Now, there are a lot of gorgeous things about this picture. But what I find absolutely wonderful is the landscape in the background. This is the sort of gardens that you would see in a palace gardens of some sort of Renaissance Royalty.

And so, I was going to tell you the name of the royalty whom this painting was painted for. After all, this is the sort of painting in which kings and queens would patronize. And so, not only would they have their favorite biblical scene painted out, and thus have some sort of pious legacy, but they would also probably have their gardens painted out in the background, as a kind of memento to their cool gardens, just like we take pictures of our homes. Plus, since there was a coat of arms, this sort of research would be easy to do!

But the truth is weirder than that! You see, in the Renaissance, you had the rise of the merchant class, who in many ways began to have the same sort of power that kings would have in ages passed. You’ve probably heart of the Medici family, in fact… the Italian merchant family that had a huge influence of Italy, Europe, and even the Papacy! They were extremely rich and extremely powerful, though they were not technically from the royal line.

But the family that commissioned this artwork — the Fuggel family — were even richer than the Medici family. In fact, they were arguably the richest family in written history that did not have a kingdom or empire. To demonstrate: Jeff Bezos, who is the richest man in the world right now has an estimated net worth of $115 billion USD.

The Fuggel family? At the height of their influence, they had an estimated $400 billion USD in today’s currency.

They were a family of weavers who rose to fame and fortune in their textile trade, just as the Renaissance began to start up in earnest. As they expanded their textile trade, trading with kings and popes, they bought mines of precious metals and pretty much had a monopoly of copper in Europe during the 16th century. Though not from the royal line, they directly influenced the coronation of kings anyway and helped uphold the power (and finances!) of the Habsburg Royal Family. They consulted directly with a variety of popes, thanks to their involvement in the banking industry, and even invited the direct criticism of Martin Luther, the once-monk who would break from Catholicism and start the Reformation.

So basically? That family was one of the biggest and most influential families that you’ve (probably) never heard of!

And these were the patrons of this particular artwork.

And so those beautiful gardens that you see in the background? That is likely a small snapshot of the beautiful gardens that were owned by the richest family in Europe back in the 16th century.

Yet, even though I intellectually know that this is the reason why the gardens were probably painted the way they are because of the patronage of the Fuggel family, and that the garden in which Jesus and Mary Magdalene once were in were probably not as exquisite, the picture still makes me smile. After all, perhaps the artist thought to himself, “Well! If I am going to paint Jesus as a gardener… I might as well make a magnificent garden in the background!”

And of course, the artist would be right in his assumption. For we know that Jesus Christ was a gardener and made the most beautiful garden that has ever existed.

It was the Garden of Eden.

And, just as God walked along that Garden and visited with Adam and Eve, He visited with Mary Magdalene in another Garden.

And He is still with us today, inviting us to follow Him into Paradise.

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

2 thoughts on “A Royal Garden

  • May 15, 2020 at 1:32 am

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful painting. It lifts the heart and raises the soul.


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