In Search for a Book Title: Rizal’s and Correggio's Noli me Tángere. Part 2.
Antonio Allegri, known as Correggio
Noli me Tángere, 1534. Panel transferred to canvas, 130 by 103 cm.
Prado Museum, Cat. No. 111
(To find Correggio at Prado Museum, you must go to the ground floor and look for the 16th century Italian Renaissance painters.)
Correggio’s Noli me Tángere’s canvas is deeply poetic. His risen Christ imbues a deep sad tone, painful irony, and wavering color tones, with a soft simmering beauty of the flesh. Rizal must have been able to trace the effect of Correggio’s poetry: the interplay between the ardent Mary Magdalene, all rich and spreading drapery and the austere Christ, who withdraws from her with infinite courtesy. With outstretched arms, Christ almost dances in the freedom of resurrection while Mary is recumbent with the heaviness of earthly involvement. A tree tells us that newness of life had only just begun and a great world stretches away toward the hills, remote, witnessing, and leaving Mary Magdalene to her own choices. There is a touch of loneliness in the picture. But fundamentally, the mood of the picture has an earthly vigor.
In his novel, Rizal was beginning to express Correggio’s romantic and mannerist style in his writing (mannerist: meaning greater depth in spiritual insight) in terms of dignity and realism. Correggio shows superb skill in showing the truth about the situation with all the attendant weaknesses. And yet he produced a picture that is supremely beautiful.
Noli me Tángere…now Rizal must have been sufficiently challenged and motivated. His brain must have worked on overdrive. He probably would have gone back again and again to the Correggio at the Prado. Rizal must have talked to himself thus:
“The use of symbolism and nature is evident in the Correggio’s Noli me Tángere. The rich brocade cloth of the Magdalene dazzles and shimmers in the light, the red almost bleached out, like the plumage of a bird. The other figure in the panel creates an undercurrent of violence and pain, with open outstretched hands, the image of Christ arises almost simultaneously, the look of expectancy, unafraid, unprotected”.
At this moment in time, in Rizal’s mind, as in an epiphany, Correggio’s Noli me Tángere and his novel no longer were parallel forms. These had merged as one.
Is this Too Hard to Believe?
Up to this point, my research on searching for how Rizal got the idea for a book title had all been conjectures. I knew that a Titian and a Correggio painting with the title Noli me Tángere existed. Titian’s Noli is kept at the National Gallery in London, while the Correggio one remains on permanent exhibit at the Prado.
My own curiosity aroused, I had to see the Correggio painting for myself. I packed a Carry-On and booked a flight to Madrid. At the Philippine Embassy in Madrid, Jaime Marco gave me a tour of the places where Rizal lived. Jaime wrote a monograph “Rizal’s Madrid. ” At the Prado I asked permission to take a photo of Noli me Tángere painting.
Incredible as it may seem, many of us Filipinos who had read the novel were never cognizant of, nor had even been made aware of this painting that left an imprint on Rizal’s creative genius. Of the many historians, writers, authors, and scholars writing about Rizal, none had made this connection, and if they did, this fact was never brought explicitly to our attention. In discussing my conjecture with an imminent Philippine historian and author, she confessed that she had been to the Prado many times, but was never aware of this Correggio painting.
It is fitting that Filipinos should plan to have this painting included in their repertoire of Rizaliana teaching materials. In addition it ought to be an important itinerary in Rizal’s Madrid: Walking and Cultural Tour, promoted by the Philippine embassy in Madrid.
The Smoking Gun
My conjectures at this point were inconclusive. I needed a confirmation, a citation, to assure me that my proposition about the Rizal-Correggio connection has some merit.
Then out of the stack of texts, correspondences, documents, and writings, I came upon an Austrian book in German written by Harry Sichrovsky, the foreign editor of Austria’s Radio and TV service specializing on China, Korea, and South Asia. The book is entitled Der Revolutionär von Leitmeritz: Ferdinand Blumentritt und der Philippinische Freiheitskampf (1983).
Buried amidst the voluminous Rizal-Blumentritt correspondence, I found the “smoking gun.” In one seemingly unprepossessing sentence, at the bottom of a long expository paragraph explaining Rizal’s Noli me Tángere in the context of the word spoken by Christ to Mary Magdalene, Professor Sichrovsky wrote as if in afterthought:
“Rizal had seen in the Prado Museum in Madrid the famous painting of Correggio, which depicts the scene.” English translation, 1987, p 38. (Highlight and Underscoring mine.)
There it was staring right in my face—inconspicuous, nothing less, nothing more—no extraneous explanations, no sleuthing suspense, and no genuine illumination to any reader either. It was an overlooked artifact, except where my persistent questioning mind was concerned.
Philippine scholars had never connected the dots because it was an unlikely source. They were looking at rationalizations in written sources when looking at an art museum where our hero frequented would have given them a really important and significant clue.
The Final Answer
Rizal himself answers the final question. For those who seek original sources, there is a letter dated March 5, 1887 at the Ayer Collection of Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois. Written in French, Rizal explains why he chose to name his novel Noli me Tángere. It is a rationalization. Rizal was in Berlin at that time and studying with a French teacher, Madame Lucie Cerdolle. Marcel Colin, a French Rizal scholar translated this letter for me. He wrote on the margin “Rizal’s French wasn’t perfect, but he could manage very well in our language.” (Correspondence, 5-23.87).
Rizal held the mirror to the Filipino people of their own situation. There was an incredible phobic feeling for the title “Do not touch me”. No one would speak of the human vanity, vice and hypocrisy during the colonial period as Rizal did. He was the voice of the people.
Guadalupe Fores-Guanzon (1973) explained this kind of feeling in her introduction to the English translation of the La Solidaridad.
There was an upsurge of nationalist feeling among the Filipinos, many of whom awoke to the realization that Spain’s colonial administration in the Philippines could no longer be suffered in silence, for in many respects, it was arbitrary, unjust, graft-ridden, and largely dominated by the friars (p vii).
According to Leonard Casper (1966), a literary critic, Rizal’s burden was to startle into imagery the Philippine presence beyond all question of human worth (p 18).
As Yabes (1963) pointed out, Rizal was always the realist, who in the Noli kept truth and its consequences ever present in his mind.