Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Da Vinci Encoder

You probably haven't heard of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, have you? It's this obscure little title that hasn't had a lot of fanfare. Pretty much the same-old, same-old...for a New York Times bestseller. You know. So, I figured I'd bring it to your attention since there's this movie coming out based on the book. In case you haven't heard.

I'm trying to finish reading through it myself at the moment, but since I'm a slow reader, even a book like Brown's, which is an otherwise fast read, I haven't quite made it to the finish line.

I'll admit, I find the hoopla around this book intriguing. Not because the ideas he presents with regards to the alternate view of Jesus new...but because the ideas aren't new at all, and yet everyone seems influenced by an otherwise work of fiction.

I won't even attempt to get into all of the flaws in Brown's presentation. There are numerous other books that do that. No, I'm quite firm in my belief in the four Gospels as we know them.

Instead, I wanted to look at something rather intriguing. That is, the connection that Brown draws from Da Vinci's depiction of The Last Supper, and his supposition that the person to Jesus' right is, in fact, Mary Magdalene and not Jesus' brother, John.

If you take the time to look at the restored version of this painting/fresco/whatever you want to call it, it is pretty convincing. Not that it really matters. So what if Leonardo was misguided in his depiction and managed to pull the wool over the eyes of the Catholic church in the day (something that seems otherwise unlikely)? But what if he did? No big deal. It isn't like Da Vinci is considered an expert on Biblical theology who was inspired by God.

So, it does seem that Da Vinci may have, in fact, drawn a Mary in there instead of John. He may have included a "disembodied hand" instead of the hand of Peter holding a knife. Okay, you might convince me of that.

That is, until I saw this site, which explains the style of the Renaissance era that had a tendency to draw young men as rather feminine. John would have been around age 30, after all. Then you look through some of the other examples from the era of depictions of men...and John in general...and you start to see that Leonardo really wasn't doing anything all that different in making John look like a woman. And when you finally come to another piece done by Leonardo himself...that of John the Baptist...you start to see that John, brother of Jesus, very likely would have been drawn in a way that looked like a woman.

Which brings me back to Brown's book, which seems to ignore such interpretations.

And then, of course, there is "the disembodied hand." I'll admit, from his description in the book, you'd think there is this hand just floating in space. But as soon as I looked at the picture, I didn't see what the big deal was. It quite clearly belonged to Peter, and he held it in a way that did not in any way appear awkward to me. You could argue the symbolism there, and I'm sure that was Leonardo's intent...but it is certainly in no way disembodied.

Which means, as far as I'm concerned, Brown's book does a grand job of "encoding" symbols into Da Vinci's work that likely aren't there. Of course, even if they were there, so what? He was an artist from the 16th century...not an eye witness from the first century. I've seen artwork of Unicorns as well. Draw your own conclusions.

Anyhow, there is little point in this post other than to point out it is interesting how much work can be put into seeing something, and convincing others they see it as well. Ultimately, however, Brown's work is fiction, and should be read as such. Now, of course, if you want to debate the religious implications of the claims the book makes, I'm game...but at this point, I won't bother. As thrillers go, The Da Vinci Code is just that. A thriller. I wouldn't put much stock in the claims, though. The claims are, excuse the pun, quite holey.

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