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.