After his death, the Risen Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene. As he spoke her name, she recognised him and reached out, but he replied 'Touch me not [noli me tangere]; for I am not yet ascended to my Father' (John 20:17).
The picture was commissioned in 1769 by All Souls College, Oxford, for the main altar of the chapel. Following its completion in Rome in 1771, it was shown to the Pope, before being put on public display in the Villa Medici. It was the centrepiece of the College chapel until the late 19th century when new Gothic designs for the interior displaced Mengs's Neo-classical painting to the ante-chapel.