Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Adversus Da Vinci, Pt. 5

The Artwork: What's So Controversial about Leonardo?

Well, in our conclusion to The Da Vinci Code series, I wanted to look at the artwork, particularly The Last Supper and La Gioconda, since they feature so prominently in the book. We'll begin with La Gioconda.

La Gioconda
More commonly, it's known as The Mona Lisa, but this is it's official name. As such, there is no anagram about calling it The Mona Lisa (Amon, L'Isa?! Whatever). In fact, the name "Mona Lisa" wasn't something that Leonardo called his painting, but comes from Giorgio Vasari's biography of Leonardo, published thirty-one years after his death! The painting is a portrait of Lisa, the wife of wealthy Florentine businessman, Francesco del Giocondo. Since "Mona" is a common contraction of "Madonna", the Italian word for "My Lady", the title given to the painting by Vasari literally means "My Lady Lisa" and has nothing to do with Amon or Isis. Neither is it a self-portrait of Leonardo in drag, nor a celebration of androgyny. It is what it is, a beautiful painting.

Brown makes the claim that the horizon on Lisa Gherardini's left side is higher than that on her right, and since left=feminine and right=masculine, therefore this is a subtle way of expressing the glories of woman. Except, on what does Brown base his assumption that the left is the "feminine" and right is "masculine"? And even so, I wonder if he was looking at the same painting that we are. Click on it and blow it up, if you want! Not only is there no definitive horizon line, but the heights of the background are even, if varied. The highest points on each are pretty much the same, and can hardly be construed as containing symbolism!

So much for accurately describing artwork, Brown!

The Last Supper
Because Dan Brown spends so much time on The Last Supper, so will we. In The Da Vinci Code, Brown makes a number of embarrassingly ignorant claims about the painting and its meaning, so lets compare Brown's reality with, well, real reality.

The first thing that Brown claims about the painting is that there is no "Chalice" in the painting. No "Holy Grail." Instead, according to Brown, there are 13 cups of wine at the table, one for each Apostle plus Jesus. So because Da Vinci didn't paint the Grail, according to Brown, it's actually not the cup, but Mary Magdalene, and all that jazz.

Well, I'm a little puzzled here. Which is it, Brown? Are there 13 cups, or no cup? If there are 13 cups, then what's the big deal?! The Grail is right there! Jesus' cup! Just because it's not gold and doesn't have a stem doesn't mean it's not the Holy Grail! You'd think that Brown hadn't seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade! The Grail is right there!

The second thing that Brown claims about this painting is that the person to the left of Christ...well, our left, His right...is a woman, Mary Magdalene. He claims that the two figures make a V in the middle of the painting, as the focal point, thus symbolising feminity again. Further, Brown writes:

Sophie examined the figure to Jesus' immediate right, focusing in. As she studied the person's face and body, a wave of astonishment rose within her. The individual had flowing red hair, delicate folded hands, and the hint of a bosom. It was, without a doubt...female. (p. 243)
Here again, I find myself wondering if Brown and we are looking at the same painting. The alleged V shape between Jesus and "Mary" is not the focal point of the painting. Jesus Himself is.

Further, the figure to Jesus' right does not have "a hint of a bosom", nor red hair, nor can one really describe the figure's hands as "delicate". "Blurry" maybe. Much is made over the fact that this figure has no beard, so therefore it must be female! No one seems to pay any attention to the fact that the third guy on Jesus' left also has no beard! No one cares about him!

The fact is, the person to the right of Jesus is John the Apostle. Traditionally, John was considered the youngest of the Apostles, and so, frequently, was portrayed without a beard. This was the common Renaissance motif for painting young men: womanly faces with men's bodies--and that, contrary to Brown's ideas, is what we have here.

The third thing Brown says is that Judas, John, and Jesus together form a hidden "M". Brown claims it stands either for Mary Magdalene or Matrimonio. He then says this M has been subtly hidden in many different Churches throughout the world, most blatantly, at Our Lady of Paris in London. Well, if there's a Church called "Our Lady" of anything, with a big M on the altar, I wonder what that M would stand for? Surely not Mary, the Mother of Jesus! But again, Brown cleverly avoids mentioning Our Lady in order to make his discussion of the other Mary more convincing. If people kept in mind the importance in Christian iconography of Our Blessed Mother, this hogwash about Mary Magdalene would never have gotten anywhere!

Finally, Brown makes the audacious claim that St. Peter was jealous of Mary Magdalene because Jesus intended to found the Church on her, instead of him. Therefore Leonardo portrayed Peter behaving threateningly toward Mary (who is really John), making a hand-across-the-throat gesture at her...er...him. In fact, if you look, St. Peter's hand is actually resting on John's shoulder. All his fingers are out, not just the one. His index finger is a bit longer than the others, since it is pointing to Jesus rather than just following the curve of John's shoulder, but it's hard to construe it as some sort of threatening gesture!

Moreover, Brown discusses an allegedly disembodied dagger, another subtle threat to Mary Magdalene. Brown claims that if you count the arms, it belongs to no one at all! As a matter of fact, the dagger belongs to Peter. He just happens to be holding it at a very awkward angle. Apparently, this knife dealy gave Leonardo some trouble, and he practised it a few times in his sketchbooks. Thanks, Leonardo, for putting the mystery to rest. Too bad Mr. Brown didn't study up!

So why does Peter have a knife? Why is his hand on John's shoulder? What exactly is happening in this picture?

Well, Brown gets one thing right about the painting. The scene portrayed is in fact Jesus' announcement that one of His disciples will betray Him. At this announcement, according to the Gospels, all the disciples are shocked, and ask, "Is it I?" (Mark 14:17-21). Hence, Leonardo's depiction of the disciples in a bit of commotion.

In John's Gospel, at this point, Peter leans over to John and asks him to ask Jesus who He meant, since John was sitting right next to Jesus (John 13:21-27). Jesus' response is that it is the person who took bread at the same time He did, and look again at the painting: Judas (that guy between Peter and John clutching the bag of money) is reaching for a loaf of bread just as Jesus is! So, the only remaining question is, what on earth is Peter doing with a dagger? Well, in Luke's Gospel, chapter 22, verses 35-38, Jesus tells His disciples to be prepared for the crisis of His arrest and crucifixion. He tells them even to sell their cloaks to buy swords if they don't already have one. At this, the disciples pick up two knives and say, "Hey, here are some swords!" Later on, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus is arrested, Peter uses one of those very knives to hack off a guard's ear (John 18:10,11). Since the sword was first grasped at the Last Supper, Leonardo threw it in, just so we'd know that this is Peter.

So there you have it. The two most controversial paintings in The Da Vinci Code really aren't all that controversial at all. In fact, they're pretty straightforward, and just as any good painter should, Leonardo put together a very clear masterpiece full of subtle detail and clear meaning.

The neat thing about The Last Supper, is that it was painted on a wall in the convent of Santa Maria della Grazie, in the dining hall. The light sources in the painting even match up to those that are in the hall, to make those dining there feel as if they were actually at the Last Supper. That it depicts the point where Jesus predicts that one of His disciples would betray Him serves as a reminder that we all must remain faithful to Christ. None of the disciples knew whether they were the person, and all had to ask, "Is it I?" That should be our question, too. Dan Brown would make us all Christ's betrayers. But ironically, he has given many the incentive to explore and research the truth of the Catholic Church and of Jesus Christ! Such an examination can only serve to strengthen our faith, if we really do, as the tagline for The Da Vinci Code movie encourages us, "Seek the Truth."

God bless!

(Category: Miscellaneous.)

5 comments:

Joni said...

I haven't read the book or seen the movie. But I found this very interesting and informative. It seems the author was working overtime to try to find all those hidden meanings. He needs a new hobby! LOL

Gregory said...

Hey Joni! Nice to see you stop by!

I only read the book in order to write this series, because kids from my old youth group kept asking. Brown most certainly needs a new hobby...and, since he's a horrible writer to boot, I'd suggest a new career, too. But since even horrid writing can sell books, I don't see that happening any time soon.

Of course, it makes me wonder, if someone as illiterate as he can be a successful author, what's stopping me? :)

Anonymous said...

The DaVinci project has been under way since 2005 with hundreds of “Pictures within Pictures.”. We are in the process of building a comprehensive documentary presenting these extraordinary findings.
Leonardo da Vinci, " Pictures Within Pictures "
Outside the box, outside the frame
An intimate and divine truth hidden for centuries at last unveiled in the Mona Lisa, and yes, in other of Leonardo's works including his first recorded drawing, the Landscape of the Arno Valley and his masterpiece, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and the infant St. John the Baptist, “the Last Supper” and others as well.
Anew never before recognized perspective hidden for five hundred years in plain sight, Emerges! Leonardo's message,’ Pictures Within Pictures’
Outside the box, outside the frame
Five hundred years after Leonardo's lifetime, his genius and message come to light in mirrors and optical illusions. His " secret code " has been hidden in plain sight to be deciphered outside the original borders of the painting using a " perpendicular reverse mirror image process." Leonardo, (actually Lionardo ) was a man of formidable intellect, talent, craft and most importantly a man of curiosity who observed " truth " in the world in all its forms...Physical, Philosophical, and Religious. He was hundreds of years ahead of his time, constrained by the religious tenets and politics of his day. As a result he was unable to express reality, as he perceived it, and so devised a means by which to conceal his truths from all those whom he did not want to understand them for fear of persecution. Being a man of science and art as well as one of the most inventive men of all time, he appears to have imbued his art with multiple levels of meaning; at one level beautiful works of art...On a second and un-deciphered level, until Michael Domoretsky discovered the images it in 2005, appears to challenge the dogma of his day and pass on his beliefs, observations and truths using a process that only one who perceived the world outside the accepted realm, a scientist or mathematician might discover.
The more in-dept and familiar one becomes with Leonardo the man, the more these unique finds make sense. Unlike other artist that are painters first, painting what they see or the impression of what they see, Leonardo appears to have been a scientist and inventor first, then artist, using his sharp powers of observation and reason to create both timeless works of art and as yet not fully deciphered messages for those not limited by traditional thinking.
The more carefully his words, deeds, apparent opinions and interest are studied
The more credence can be given to his seeking to preserve his thoughts and observations by unorthodox means.
Leonardo left clues... He was credited with having said; the eye, " Who would believe that so small a space could contain the images of all the universe." Leonardo believed that the perception by the eye; light, dark, shadow, and perspective held the secrets of the world. Hence, when you include Leonardo's life long fascination with mirrors and writing backward it appears likely that he would choose to use constructs and concepts familiar and unique to him to transmit and yet hide from a restrictive and turbulent society, his most treasured messages.
For hundreds of years scholars have continued to study Leonardo's priceless works of art using the most cutting edge technologies available. In recent times millions of dollars have been allocated to perform all types of scientific studies seeking to determine if Leonardo hid anything underneath his finished works...all within the frame of his artworks. The plain and obvious truth is that he did hide things… however Leonardo was forced to work within the limitations and utilized the technologies of his day. His meanings are in plain sight but only for those able to think outside the box and frame. All of the writings and documents relating to Leonardo, point to his being deliberate and patient in everything he did, both in his creations and his art; so it would appear all but inconceivable that in his major and personally treasured works, that every detail would have been a deliberate act of thought, and not an inadvertent inclusion. A minor anomaly in a masterpiece might happen, though unlikely in multiple of masterpieces by such a perfectionist. Clearly recognizable, perfectly formed symmetrical symbols on both sides of his best masterpieces, utilizing mirrors, a technique Leonardo was well know to have used, make it being anything but intentional, all but impossible. You be the judge.
We welcome comments by all interested parties and will post appropriate comments.
All rights reserved, no unauthorized copying or republishing without express written permission by owner.
Copyright; Michael W. Domoretsky / www.lionardofromvinci.com / 2005~2007~
Da Vinci and the Secret of the Mona Lisa, article by: ThothWeb, http://www.thothweb.com/article-4011--0-0.html
The da Vinci Project
Managing Director: Michael W. Domoretsky Director: M. Graham Noll

Sarah Koops said...

Greg!! You even say yourself how horrible of a book this is!! How can people waste so much time talking about a murder mystery that is mediocre at best? This is one of those books that you find on the bookshelf and read because there is nothing else to do. When you finish it you throw it on the floor, think for a few minutes about the story and then take a nap. That should be the end of it. This book is not worthy of any other consideration!!! And yet because of media hype and 'controversy' millions of people who would never have even picked up this book, are rushing out to get it so they can have their say. And to slap the literary community in the face one more time, it is made into a movie, which does the impossible...makes the story even worse. Ack...and now you've dragged ME into it!!! Noooooooooo.........And I KNOW you have better things to do with your time!! :)

Gregory said...

Hey Sarah! Welcome to the blog!

As far as your assessment of DVC goes, I agree 100%. I never would have done this series if it was simply a question of my view of its worth. I did it, however, while I was still Youth Minister at St. Andrew's, where, unfortunately, the teens don't quite have as much literary sense as all that, and too many of them were asking me how much of the book was "true". This 5 part series (plus introduction) was my response to their questions. I reproduced it at this blog because I had put a lot of work into it, and hoped it might help someone else who had too little literary sense as well.

Thanks for stopping by. Oh, and happy belated birthday!
God bless
Gregory