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Friday, May 26, 2006

Taking some time off

I will not be posting for a couple of weeks in order to spend vacation time with my family and attend to other projects.

Gary Burger

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Last Supper, Part 4 (of 4)

This post continues a four day series showing how Dan Brown's assertions about Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings The Last Supper and The Virgin of the Rocks are wrong. Each day's post is a small chunk of a complete article at my website at www.NewMediaMinistries.org Endnote references will appear at the end of the series.

Summary and Conclusion

To summarize, it was common for Leonardo and other artists of the period to depict certain men with feminine features. There is at least one other disciple at the table who does not have a beard. It is actually difficult to tell if even Jesus has a beard. If so, it was a small one. Depicting a man without a beard sometimes symbolized the man's innocence. This is because both male and female bodies were often depicted in very different ways in the past then how they are depicted in today's culture. You've probably seen pictures of angels who are supposed to be male, but they have smooth faces and long curly hair. They simply don't fit our stereotypes. They were never intended to. There is symbolism involved in using feminine features to depict innocence and Robert Langdon should know this! I leafed through a book of paintings of The Last Supper done from early Christianity up to our time at Barnes and Noble one evening. One only needs to look at paintings of The Last Supper before the Renaissance period, during and after. The figure of John always looks like a female, but never understood to be Mary Magdalene.3

Dan Brown also misinterprets the compositional patterns of Jesus and the Disciples. He claims that Jesus and the supposed Mary Magdalene form a large V which he explains both symbolizes a chalice or cup and also the shape of a woman's womb. However, Da Vinci only used the large V shape for compositional spacing, balance and emphasis. There are other V shapes among the rest of the disciples, as well. Are we to interpret those as having special significance beyond compositional usage, too? Probably not. The problem with conspiracy theorists is they only use the part of the picture that fits their preconceived view and ignore what does not fit. It is unfortunate for the general public that the biased liberal news media and especially book critics let him get away with his misinterpretation of Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper. They should have protected us from this scam. Instead, they promoted it. Caveat Emptor! "Let the buyer (of news and novels) beware!"

Addendum

After I wrote this article I watched the DVD "The Da Vinci Code Decoded" by The Disinformation Company.4 In it Lynn Picknett describes her interpretation of Da Vinci's painting The Virgin of the Rocks. She looks at the column of rocks behind Mary and sees a phalic symbol. What a hoot! She and Dan Brown and others are obcessed with sex and sexual symbols. I wonder what Sigmond Freud would have to say about that. Anyway, if a red-blooded male like me has to be told what the rocks look like (they don't look phalic to me) and if the real art historians have never caught it and Leonardo never mentioned it in his notes, then I think it is safe to say she is reading into the painting what she wants to see. The rest of the content of the DVD is just ridiculous, and the articles on this web site debunk what they think they have decoded. It affirms to me that The Disinformation Company is guilty of spreading disinformation.

References

1 Secrets of the Code. ed. Daniel Burstein. New York: CDS Books. 2004. 225
2 Janson, H. W. History of Art: A Survey of the Major Visual Arts from the Dawn of History to the Present Day. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. 1974. 348.
3 Editors of Phaidon Press. Last Supper. New York: Phaidon Press. 2000.
See also: Steinberg, Leon. Leonardo's Incessant Last Supper. Zone Books. 2001.
4 "The Da Vinci Code Decoded." The Disinformation Company. 2004.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Last Supper, Part 3 (of 4)

This post continues a four day series showing how Dan Brown's assertions about Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings The Last Supper and The Virgin of the Rocks are wrong. Each day's post is a small chunk of a complete article at my website at www.NewMediaMinistries.org Endnote references will appear at the end of the series.

Second interview: art historian Diane Apostolos-Cappadona of Georgetown University (from Secrets of the Code)

What do you think, specifically, about The Da Vinci Code's supposition that the "John" character is really Mary Magdalene?

Initially, my reponse was this is a very interesting interpretation, to say that there was a woman at the table. It fits nicely with feminist theology or the postfeminist era of theology. However that doesn't make it true."

... "There is a tradition of John being seen in our eyes... as soft, feminine, and youthful."

... "However, if you look carfully at the Leonardo painting, you will notice other disciples who do not have beards or who could be construed as possessing feminine features. However from my work in gender studies, I would caution that gender is a cuolturally and socially conditioned concept. What you and I accept today as being masculine or feminine is most likely not what would have been accepted in Florence or Milan during the firgeenth century....If you look carefully at Christian art, in particular at the depictions of male and female bodies, faces, and gestures, then the Last Supper is not such an extraordinary presentation?"

Can you be more specific?

"... No I do not believe that there is a woman in the Last Supper and I do not believe in any way that it's Mary Magdalene. I think that the V that's there-the one Dan Brown defines as a symbol of femininity-is there, first of all, to emphasize the Christ figure and to emphasize the reality of the perspective within that fresco."

What role does artistic form and perspective play in this?

"Perspective is extraordinarily important in Renaissance art generally, and in Leonardo's art in particular. The apostles are all grouped into triangular formations. For example, there is the triangle composed of the so-called Mary Magdalene-John, the gray-bearded figure behind [who is Judas], and the foreground figure [who is Peter]. Dan Brown has omitted any discussion of pyramidal composition in Leonardo's oeuvre, of the four triangular groupings which are important to form the compositional balance for the central triangular figure who is Jesus. Centrally positioned, Jesus is in a pyramidal posture, and it is this pyramidal composition that is one of Leonardo's great gifts to Western art."

Additional problems

There is another problem with Dan Brown's treatment of The Last Supper painting that did not come out in either of these interviews. His reference to The Last Supper being a fresco is another point that shows his lack of knowledge and research about the painting (Chapter 55, p. 235) The painting is not a fresco. A fresco is made by applying watercolor to wet plaster, Da Vinci used a different technique using a mixture of oil, pigment and egg yolk.2 This may seem to be a silly and picky point, but it is just one of many inaccuracies in a book that begins with the claim: "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." In other words, it is part of Brown's pattern of weak research, and making up and distorting facts to support a bad conclusion that he pawns off on an ignorant public who is lapping it up because they, too, seem to want his conclusion to be true.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Last Supper, Part 2 (of 4)

This post continues a four day series showing how Dan Brown's assertions about Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings The Last Supper and The Virgin of the Rocks are wrong. Each day's post is a small chunk of a complete article at my website at www.NewMediaMinistries.org Endnote references will appear at the end of the series.

First interview: art historian Denise Budd of Columbia University (from Secrets of the Code)

Is anything known about Leonardo that would suggest he was a member of the Priory of Sion or similar secret society?

"There's no real evidence at all that Leonardo da Vinci was a member of the Priory of Sion or any other secret organization. The documents that Dan Brown relied upon ... appear to be twentieth-century forgeries."

Besides sometimes writing backwards, did Leonardo use codes or coding?

"There is evidence of codes in some of his writing; one example is the so-called Ligny memorandum, in which he interspersed names and places in scrambled letters. And he may have worked as a spy when he was a military engineer for Cesare Borgia. But the backwards writing is not a particularly difficult code to crack. That was a function of Leonardo's left-handedness.

Leonardo is known for peppering his works with symbolism and, some say, heritical ideas, in his Virgin of the Rocks paintings, for example. Do you agree?

"No, I don't. The Virgin of the Rocks was a religious commission for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception for the church of San Francesco Grande in Milan-not for nuns, as Brown says. ... One of the reasons that Dan Brown argues that the painting is heretical is because he misreads the work, confusing the figure of St. John the Baptist with Christ, and vice versa. The composition shows Mary-with her hand suspended over her son, creating a dominant axis-embracing Chrst's cousin St. John, who kneels in reverence. The Baptist is the first to recognize Christ's divinity, which he does in the womb, so this composition falls completely within the norms of tradition.... During the Renaissance, an artist was not generally given free rein on important commissions. There would have been specific guidelines. And presumably, Leonardo worked within that framework."

(For a close up picture of The Virgin of the Rocks that you can zoom in to examine the details for yourself Click Here.)

What about Dan Brown's thesis about the Last Supper?

"There is no disembodied hand as Dan Brown suggests. The hand with the knife-which is the hand Dan Brown says "threatens Mary Magdalene"-that's Peter's hand. And Peter's not threatening Mary Magdalene nor trying to suppress the feminine side of the church. Peter is holding the knife, which is a premonition of the violent reaction he will have during the arrest of Christ, when he dcuts off the ear of the Roman soldier. So that is a fairly standard iconographic tool."

"Dan Brown uses the absence of a chalice as an introductory point to bring Mary Magdalene into the picture. Yet if you look at the picture, you'll see that Christ's hands are spread out on the table. His right hand is reaching toward a piece of bread, and his left hand is actually, quite clearly, reaching toward a cup of wine. And that's the hand that's pointed down. The institution of the Eucharist is clearly presented in the bread and the wine. Now it's not a chalice per se, like a chalice in your modern church practice, but there's a cup of wine. It's what you would expect to see at the Last Supper."

And what about the idea that the painting depicts Mary Magdalene instead of John the Baptist?

"As far as the Magdalene, clearly there is no dispute. That figure is St. John the Evangelist. St. John is Christ's favorite and he is always shown by Christ's side. The major difference between Leonardo's Last Supper and earlier Florentine examples of the scene is that Leonardo put Judas among the disciples, not on the other side of the table. But the figure of John is always by Christ's side, he is always beardless and he's always beautiful. And in some instances, he is so innocent that while Christ is making the announcement that he will be betrayed, Joyhn actually sleep0s. A perfect example of this 'feminine' characterization of Joh is in Raphael's Crucifixion in the London National Gallery, painted around 1500."

(For a close up picture of The Last Supper that you can zoom in to examine the details for yourself Click Here.)

Tomorrow I will relate the second interview in Secrets of the Code, art historian Diane Apostolos-Cappadona of Georgetown University.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Last Supper, Part 1 (of 4)

This post begins a four day series showing how Dan Brown's assertions about Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings The Last Supper and The Virgin of the Rocks are wrong. Each day's post is a small chunk of a complete article at my website at www.NewMediaMinistries.org Endnote references will appear at the end of the series.

Worthwhile links:

For a close up picture of The Last Supper that you can zoom in to examine the details for yourself Click Here.

For a close up picture of The Virgin of the Rocks that you can zoom in to examine the details for yourself Click Here.


Introduction

Dan Brown asserts that the figure in Leonardo Da Vinci's painting "The Last Supper," traditionally understood to be John the Disciple, is, in fact, Mary Magdalene. The quote is too long to include here but is found in Chapter 58, beginning on p. 243. He asserts that the figure on Jesus' right side is Mary Magdalene and not John the Disciple. He points to the feminine features of the face and hands, as well as body posture. While this conjecture might find fans among radical feminists, it fails to impress art historians, especially those who are experts on the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci and Renaissance art in general. Brown and other conspiracy theorists have seen in the painting only what they want to see and ignore certain facts about Renaissance art, especially traditions involving paintings of the Last Supper.

In this article I will relate the main points of interviews with two female art historians whose answers, in my opinion, put Brown's interpretation in the category of pathetic. The interviews are found in Dan Burstein's book, Secrets of the Code.1 Although I took a couple of Art History classes in college and still enjoy it I will not try to paraphrase their responses. I would rather let them speak for themselves by quoting them at length, especially because they are women. First, I will relate the interview with Denise Budd of Columbia University. Second, I will relate the interview with Diane Apostolos-Cappadona of Georgetown University. The questions are asked by Dan Burstein and the answers appear in quoted text.

Tomorrow I relate the first interview, with art historian Denise Budd of Columbia University