Les cinq sens et la connaissance de Dieu: Marie-Madeleine et Thomas dans les Ivoires de Salerne

Translated title of the contribution: The five senses and the knowledge of God: Mary-Magdalene and Thomas on the Salerno Ivories

Francesca Dell'Acqua

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Salerno ivories, dated between the late eleventh and the twelfth c., are a good example to study the engagement of the five senses in the conception, production and perception of Medieval Art. One plaque among them depicts in the upper half the episode of the Noli me tangere, in which the resurrected Christ refuses to be touched by Mary Magdalene, and in the lower half the Doubting Thomas, in which Christ invites the disciple to probe his wound. The combination of these episodes stimulates the viewer to investigate a number of questions and paradoxes, that have to do with epistemology, phenomenology, and aesthetics. Besides engaging the viewer in a multisensorial appreciation, the iconography of the selected plaque invites to reflect on the spiritual and intellectual dilemma of believing without seeing according to the divine will, versus the inescapable human desire of seeing and touching in order to believe – a psychological conflict here emblematically embodied by Mary Magdalene and the apostle Thomas. As Christian exegesis made with the means of literature, the Noli me tangere/Doubting Thomas plaque with its visual language can activate at the same time an intellectual reasoning and a spiritual and sensorial engagement with the nature of the incarnated and resurrected God. The conception of the iconography of the plaque will be tentatively connected to the contemporary activities of the Salerno school of medicine, where the medical practice and the study of earlier treatises engaged also local archbishops, among which the former benedictine monk Alphanus (†1085).
Translated title of the contributionThe five senses and the knowledge of God: Mary-Magdalene and Thomas on the Salerno Ivories
Original languageFrench
Pages (from-to)571–598
Number of pages28
JournalCahiers de Civilisation Medievale
Issue number220
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

The volume 55 of this journal, published as "55 (2012)", actually came out in 2014.


  • History, Medieval
  • Theology
  • Church history
  • history of medicine
  • Art history
  • Aesthetics
  • Epistemology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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