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Dan Lund, for the Deseret Morning News
"Touch Me Not" is unveiled at the BYU Museum of Art just before the final lecture in the "Da Vinci Code" series Thursday evening.

PROVO — A major painting by one of the West's most prolific artists returned to public view after a 30-year hiatus on Thursday night at Brigham Young University's Museum of Art.

The piece by Minerva Teichert, "Touch Me Not," depicts the resurrected Christ with Mary Magdalene, both of whom were subjects of a five-week lecture series on the book "The Da Vinci Code," which culminated at the museum after the unveiling.

The painting's return was celebrated by Teichert's family, the museum and art historians.

"She may be the most important artist who has really tackled core Mormon subjects," said Mark Magleby, a professor of art history at BYU.

Marian Wardle, BYU's curator of religious works who happens to be Teichert's granddaughter, is thrilled to add it to major works by Carl Bloch ("Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda") and John Rogers Herbert ("Our Saviour Subject to His Parents at Nazareth") as a linchpin in the museum's development of its religious collection.

The museum obtained the Bloch work, painted in 1883, as a gift in 2001 and purchased the Herbert piece, created in 1860, at a London auction in 2003.

"Touch Me Not" has an almost mysterious aura to it.

"No one in my generation (of the Teichert family) remembers seeing it," Wardle said. Her mother was 8 when her grandmother painted it in Cokeville, Wyo., in 1937, years after she returned to the West from her training in New York City. The painting hung in the Logan LDS Temple until, the family believes, the early 1970s, when the temple was renovated. It then was rolled up and stored in the basement of BYU's fine arts building until the museum was built.

It remained in storage until 2000, when it was sent to Denver for conservation work. It is slated to be hung in the museum for a short engagement this year, then return as part of a collection of religious works in 2006 and again as part of a Teichert exhibition in 2007.

Museum officials couldn't resist debuting the painting at the museum during its wildly popular "Da Vinci Code" lecture series. The series about Dan Brown's best-selling novel drew more than 3,200 people over the four lectures, which generally attacked the book's historical shortcomings but lauded the way it has provoked millions to a closer examination of Christ and Mary Magdalene.

The book has stirred a great deal of debate among Christians, including members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even LDS scholar Truman Madsen discussed the book Thursday during a separate campus lecture at the annual Family Expo.

"The author is ultimately saying, 'Jesus was married, therefore he could not be divine,' " Madsen said. "In fact, we (LDS Church members) find the opposite to be true; if he in fact were married, and a father, it is one of the evidences he was divine."

One museum lecturer, Springville Museum of Art director Vern Swanson, said the Holy Grail is not Mary Magdalene, as Brown declared, but that it is eternal marriage between a man and a woman.

In Teichert's painting, Christ holds out his pierced palms to Mary as if to stop her as she opens her arms to embrace him.

Magleby said Teichert offered "a very singular eye and hand to her works."

"There is an incredible economy of paint in her works," he added. "They are almost painterly sketches of her subjects, as if she doesn't want to overwork it, as some were in the age just prior to her. Her figures and the way she paints them don't allow you to forget it's just paint. It's a minimalist approach that allows you to access the process she's going through."


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com