Atherosclerosis and its consequences remain the main cause of mortality in industrialized and developing nations. Plaque burden and progression have been shown to be independent predictors for future cardiac events by intravascular ultrasound. Routine prospective imaging is hampered by the invasive nature of intravascular ultrasound. A noninvasive technique would therefore be more suitable for screening of atherosclerosis in large populations. Here we introduce an elastin-specific magnetic resonance contrast agent (ESMA) for noninvasive quantification of plaque burden in a mouse model of atherosclerosis. The strong signal provided by ESMA allows for imaging with high spatial resolution, resulting in accurate assessment of plaque burden. Additionally, plaque characterization by quantifying intraplaque elastin content using signal intensity measurements is possible. Changes in elastin content and the high abundance of elastin during plaque development, in combination with the imaging properties of ESMA, provide potential for noninvasive assessment of plaque burden by molecular magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).