The controversy this painting caused was not instigated by the “horror” that its imagery inspired. John the Baptist was Jesus Christ’s mentor and there is awkwardness in the Gospels when describing the baptism of Christ by John. John the Baptist was a major figure in Jesus’ life. The two boys were cousins, according to the author of the third gospel, St. Luke. As a descendant ofAaron, John could claim the title Priest Messiah. As Jesus is descended from both Aaron and David, he could claim the titles of both Priest Messiah and Royal Messiah. These two cousins, therefore, represented the answers to the Jews’ prayers in uniting the spiritual and temporal aspects in the same family. Additionally this situation had occurred during the Maccabean dynasty -Israel’s last monarchy. This would not fit in with the Roman Church’s “plan” of presenting Jesus as the son of God. He could hardly be so if he looked upon another human being as his teacher.

John the Baptist was a prophet who predicted that a kingly figure would come and fulfill the prophecy that the Roman invaders ofJudea would be overthrown. He was considered by the Roman authorities to be so dangerous that he had to be executed. Whether or not this message comes out loud and clear through the painting is debatable. The pose of the children in relation to each other in the second painting is not markedly different to that in the first. The main problem in the composition of the painting relates to the fact that none of the holy characters have haloes in the first painting, and it was for this reason that the monks found it unaccept­able, demanding that another version should be made.

There are other differences between the two paintings, such as the second painting being much bluer in color. Uriel’s hand, which Dan Brown describes as forming a cutting motion beneath Mary’s talon-like hand, no longer points at St. John in the second painting. In the first picture this could have amounted to a prophecy ofJohn’s future beheading.

Leonardo had been commissioned to execute the painting on April 2 5, 148 3. He was given the very tight deadline of completing it by the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. Leonardo, typically, did not meet this deadline, resulting in two lengthy lawsuits. It is possible that Leonardo gave the copy that is now in the Louvre to the King of France, Louis XII, in gratitude for settling the legal problems that arose. This would have necessitated a second copy being painted. Ihe monks had stipulated exactly what they wanted in tqe picture:

Item, Our Lady is the center: her mantle shall be of gold brocade and ultramarine blue. Item, her skirt shall be of gold brocade over crimson, in oil, varnished with a fine lacquer.. .Item, God the Father: his gown shall be of gold brocade and ultramarine blue. Item, the angels shall be gilded and their pleated skirts outlined in oil, in the Greek manner. Item, the mountains and rocks shall be worked in oil, in a colorful manner….

Several changes were made to this, however. We now know that the painting was eventually displayed on August 18, 1508, and the final payment for it was made in October of the same year.

The Mona Lisa

This painting, which must be the most easily recognized in the world, was kept in the Salle des Etats (the Room of States) in the Derron Wing of the Louvre, until 2003. It was then moved to a room that is better able to accommodate the huge crowds that wish to see it. It is reported that it took Leonardo ten years just to paint her lips. It is the only one ofhis portraits that is indisputably by him although it is nei­ther signed nor dated. It also has more than one name. The French call the painting La Joconde and the Italians call it La Gioconda, meaning “a light-hearted woman.” It may well have been Leonardo’s favorite picture and that could be the rea­son why he carried it around with him all the time, as Dan Brown says. Another reason could be, however, that it was unfinished.

It was painted in oils on poplar wood and bought original­ly by the King of France for four thousand ducats. It was transferred to the Louvre after the French Revolution. Napoleon took it and used it to decorate his bedroom until his banishment from France, when it was returned to the Louvre. Originally it was much larger. The two panels that it originally had showed two pillars which revealed that Mona Lisa was sitting on a terrace.

Dan Brown’s idea that Mona Lisa is an anagram of “AMON L’ISA,” thus creating a union of the feminine and masculine is intriguing. However, it could equally be an anagram of “sol (and) anima.” This means “sun and soul,” and could refer to one of the major religions in the Rome of Constantine the Great, Sol Invictus (“The Invincible Sun”) from which many of the Christian traditions were taken. There are several candidates for the identity of the Mona Lisa. Dan Brown’s suggestion that it is Leonardo himself in drag could even be true. Computer graphic tests have revealed that there is a close link between the features of the Mona Lisa and a self-portrait of Leonardo. However, the paint­ing is widely believed to have been commissioned as a por­trait of Madonna Lisa, the wife of Francesco di Bartolomeo del Gioconda.

The reason behind the smile has proven to be just as enig­matic. An Italian doctor has suggested that she was the vic­tim of a disease called “bruxism” which leads to grinding of the teeth while sleeping or at times of stress. Leonardo certainly tried to keep his models as entertained as possible so any stress should have been minimal. He employed six musicians and kept a white Persian cat and a greyhound for company. The style of the smile itself was employed at the time both by Leonardo and other artists, including the master to whom he was apprenticed, Andrea del Verrocchio.

Some people consider the painting to be “boring” but Leonardo was exploring new stylistic territory in the work. One thing that sets the Mona Lisa apart from other portraits of the time is that she is wearing no jewelry. Leonardo also broke the conventions of the time by showing her as too relaxed for a traditionally stiff and formal pose.

The sfumato style of painting (which the character Sophie described as “foggy” in The Da Vinci Code) in which every­thing appears as if it were in a mist is one of the main char­acteristics of Leonardo’s paintings. It was his way of express­ing “nature experienced.” Dan Brown notes that the horizon line of countryside in the painting is uneven and that the left-hand side is lower than the right. According to some, this was Leonarcto’s way of emphasizing the feminine, dark­er half of existence. There is a pool of water shown on the right-hand side of the painting, which is higher than the stream which flows on the left. For all we know, there could be a waterfall behind Mona Lisa’s head, which feeds water from the pool into the stream. Perhaps nothing more should be read into it than that.

The painting was stolen from the Louvre in 19 11 as Dan Brown reports. The thief was an Italian who took it to Italy. It took twenty-four hours before the authorities realized it had been taken, as they assumed that it had been removed by the official museum photographer. It then took a week to search the Louvre, and all that was found was the frame in a stairway. Two years later, the thief, Vincenzo Perugia, offered to sell the painting to the Uffizi Gallery for $100,000, where it was exhibited before being returned to Paris.

In order to steal the picture, Perugia had waited in a small room in the Louvre until it had closed and then walked into the room where the Mona Lisa was exhibited. He removed the picture from the wall, and cut it out of the frame. In order to escape from the museum he had to unscrew the doorknob of a door that was supposed to be locked. Perugia had previously been employed by the Louvre to put the paintings under glass, and he therefore had a good knowl­edge of the layout of the museum.

In 1956 a mentally addled visitor threw acid over the painting and it took several years to restore it. The last time that the painting left the museum was in 197 4, when it was exhibited in Japan. As a mark of their gratitude for this, the Japanese pre­sented the Louvre with the thick triplex glass that now covers the painting in its bullet-proof box. It has now been agreed that the painting will never leave the Louvre again -the risks are just too great. It is kept at a constant temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit at a humidity level of 55 per cent. It has a built-in air conditioner and nine pounds of silica gel ensure there is no change in the air condition. The box is opened once a year to check the painting and service the air conditioning system. Nobody has dared to clean the painting for fear ofdamaging it, and the colors of the paint beneath the dirt may be far more brilliant than we can see now.

The Last Supper

Duke Ludovico commissioned Leonardo to paint The Last Supper on the refectory wall of his family chapel and burial place, the Santa Maria della Grazie in Milan. It measures 3 0 feet by 14 feet, and the work was finished in 149 8 after three years of labor. Breaking with convention, Leonardo seats all the apostles on the same side of the table, in groups of three, making them appear like small focus groups. The characters all appear larger than they are, as the table is too small to accommodate them comfortably. Christ is made the focal point by placing three windows behind him, the largest of which frames the upper part ofhis head and body. He is shown as being in a state of absolute calm while the apostles around him are clearly agitated.

Leonardo had the greatest trouble finding a person with a suitable head to portray Judas. Apparently it took him over a year to find a face of appropriate evil. As a last resort he said that he would use the face of the prior of Santa Maria della
Grazie as a model: “Until now I held off holding him up to ridicule in his own monastery.” He never asked permission to use the faces of people in his paintings and they were not aware that he had done so. Judas is the only figure in the painting that is not leaning in towards Christ, and his hand is hovering over a dish, illustrating Christ’s words in the Gospels : “He that dippeth his hand with me into the dish, he shall betray me.”

The painting was extremely popular from the start. The King of France was so enthusiastic about it that he wanted the whole wall to be taken down and shipped to France, but the logistical problems were too great and it has therefore remained where it was originally painted.

Sadly, it is now in a bad state of repair. Part of the reason for this is that the chromatic colors which were used were unsuitable for painting onto a wall. It deteriorated quite rapidly, and in 1652, a door was actually cut through the center! The effects of this can still be seen.

The Napoleonic troops took over the refectory as a stable in 1796 and although Napoleon forbade any damage to the painting, the troops threw clay at the apostles. The room was then used to store hay and just to show that things could get even worse, a flood in 1800 caused the painting to be cov­ered in a green mould.

However, robust to the last, the painting went on to survive an allied attack on the church in 1943 which destroyed the refectory roof. The painting was protected by sandbags, but it was badly damaged. An entire restoration with the most painstaking detail was then carried out and completed in 1954. Very little of the original paint exists, and it has been impossible to recreate the original expression on the faces of the apostles, although the outlines of the figures were visible during restoration.

Despite the sustained devastation throughout the centuries, it appears that the person on Christ’s right hand side is a woman. As Dan Brown said in his interview with ABC News’ Primetime Monday host Elizabeth Vargas:

Paintings are symbolic by nature. The idea of the “V” in the paint­ing, the “V” being the symbol, long before Leonardo da Vinci, the symbol of the feminine.The symbol here is essentially the womb, in its very strict, symbolic sense.

In addition to forming this “V” symbol, the mirror images of the Magdalene and Christ can be seen to form the letter “M” for “Magdalene.” This is seen more clearly in the copy of the painting by an unknown sixteenth century artist, kept at the Museo da Vinci at Tongerlo in Belgium. However, Bruce Bucher in his article “Does ‘The Da Vinci Code’ Crack Leonardo?” (New York Times, August 3, 2003) disagrees. He points out that in other contemporary Florentine depictions of the Last Supper, not only was the betrayal emphasized more than the Eucharist and the chalice, but, “St. John was invariably represented as a beautiful young man whose special affinity with Jesus was expressed by sitting at Jesus’ right.”

The Adoration of the Magi

Leonardo was commissioned in 1480 to paint this work for the monastery of San Donato a Scopeto, near Florence. Leonardo was to be paid through a complicated land deal, in which there was a penalty clause that stipulated that he would lose everything if he failed to deliver the painting on time. As ever with commissioned works, Leonardo was unable to fulfill this obligation.
The painting represents the Three Wise Men visiting the newborn Christ and his mother Mary. Among the large crowd of sixty-six people and eleven animals, there is a shepherd boy standing alone on the extreme right of the painting and this figure is thought to be a portrait of the young Leonardo. The ruins in the background represent the decline of Paganism. This symbolism is typical of that time. However, on closer inspection of the painting using infrared light, it was found that there were figures constructing a staircase, representing, according to some, the Renaissance.

As the painting was unfinished, it was possible to see the sketching underneath the ochre paint and therefore to reveal how Leonardo worked. The Adoration had always been considered to be one of Italy’s most important paintings. That is until Maurizio Seracini came along. He is an eminent art diagnostician, who has spent nearly thirty years examin­ing works of art. He was asked by the Uffizi Gallery to assess whether Adoration of the Magi was too fragile to be restored. He then announced to a startled world through New York Times reporter Melinda Henneberger on April 21, 2002, that results of his extensive test revealed “None of the paint we see on the Adoration today was put there by Leonardo. God knows who did, but it was not Leonardo. The guy was not even a very good artist.” Some thought that he was simply trying to cause a sensation. As Dan Brown writes in The Da Vinci Code, Seracini maintains that the grey-green lines were drawn by Leonarda.and was highly indignant that Leonardo could ever have been held responsible for some of the lines painted in brown. He stated that the Madonna’s right foot, for example, has pointed toes and heel, the baby’s little foot looks as if it were carved out of wood, and the child’s hair looked like a “baby toupee.” Seracini felt that Leonardo, with his detailed knowledge of anatomy, had been insulted over the centuries with the belief that this was considered to be his work entirely.