CHAPTER ONE LEONARDO DA VINCI – HIS LIFE AND ART

DAN BROWN’S CHOICE OF LEONARDO DA VINCI AS THE ARTIST CENTRAL TO HIS BOOK AND ITS TITLE CHARACTER IS BOTH INTERESTING AND SENSIBLE . KNOWLEDGE OF LEONARDO HAS COME DOWN THROUGH THE CEN­TURIES TO PRACTICALLY EVERYONE IN THE WESTERN WORLD. HE IS PROBABLY THE GREATEST EXAMPLE OF UNIVERSALITY THAT THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN. LIKE ALBERT EINSTEIN, LEONARDO DA VINCI IS A HUMAN TRADEMARK INDICATING “GENIUS.”

In his day it was by no means rare for people to dabble in more than one area of knowledge or expertise, but despite this there was not, even at that time, anyone who could match him as painter, sculptor, architect and engineer. Not only that, he explored nature so that he could gain an understanding not just of how things worked, but why. Dan Brown is right to say, therefore, that Leonardo was a “wor­shipper of Nature’s divine order.” While his contemporaries were painting plants from pictures in books, he was copy­ing directly from nature. His choice of plants in his paint­ings was symbolic. As Dan Brown tells us in shocked tones, he did indeed dissect corpses: about 30 in total, averaging roughly two per year while he was studying. It was illegal, but whether he actually exhumed the bodies himself is a different matter. The Church believed that the human body had to be buried intact so that it could be resurrected in the Last Day of Judgment. Nonetheless, Leonardo appears to have had the sanction of the Church in this practice; no doubt many influential people were impressed by the skill shown in his drawings presenting the human body in vari­ous layered forms. In other words, it was forbidden to dis­sect corpses, but nobody could be bothered to take action over Leonardo’s doing so. (This apparent disregard for the law in some cases may ring bells with anyone familiar with the legal system in Italy today.) Leonardo’s detailed draw­ings contributed greatly to the body of medicine from which we benefit today.

His inventions showed considerable vision. Be drew designs for tanks, the parachute, the car and the helicopter which would not be realized for centuries. He even designed a tele­scope 100 years before Galileo. To Leonardo, man’s highest sense organ was sight because of its ability to relay with accu­racy. His philosophy was thus saper vedere -knowing how to see. For Dan Brown to say that Leonardo painted Christian themes as a means of commercial enterprise to fund his lavish lifestyle is, perhaps, unfair on the man. He executed everything that he did with unparalleled skill and came from an affluent back­ground. What is true is that he never painted an interpretation of the Crucifixion. He could also hardly be described as hav­ing created an “enormous output” of Christian art; of the mere seventeen surviving paintings that can definitely be attributed to him, several are unfinished.

He is referred to by art historians simply as “Leonardo.” The name “da Vinci” is not a surname; it only describes where he was from. It is similar to referring to Alexander the Great just as “the Great.” However “da Vinci” is in such common use that there is no ambiguity.

Leonardo was born in 1452, the illegitimate son of Ser Piero, a successful lawyer and landlord in Florence in Italy. His mother was a Florentine peasant who later married a local workman. Leonardo was brought up on his father’s estate in Vinci, near Empoli, where he was treated as a legit­imate son, and it was there that he was educated in reading, writing and arithmetic. He studied Latin, higher mathemat­ics and geometry later on.

When Leonardo was about fifteen years old, his father apprenticed him to Andrea del Verrocchio, from whom he learned painting, sculpture and technical-mechanical arts. It was at this time _that he would have met another Priory of Sion Grand Master, Botticelli, who was also apprenticed to Verrocchio then. It is probable that he started his studies of anatomy at the neighboring studio during this period. He worked independently in Florence until 1481. Many of his works date from this time, including the largely unfinished Adoration of the Magi.

In 1482, he entered the service of Ludovico Sforza, a.k.a. Ludovico il Moro (The Moor), the Duke of Milan, where he was listed in the register of the royal household as pictor et inegarius ducalis (“painter and engineer of the Duke”). Sforza was a close friend of Rene d’ Anjou, yet another Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. Leonardo spent the next seven­teen years there until Ludovico fell from power. In addition to painting, sculpture and designing court festivals, he was a technical adviser in-architecture, fortifications and military matters, even serving as a hydraulic and mechanical engi­neer. It was at this time that he developed his universal genius most fully.

During this period he completed only seven paintings, including the first version of The Madonna of the Rocks men­tioned by Dan Brown. This was an altarpiece which would be displayed at the church of San Francesco Grande in Milan. The magnificent The Last Supper, which is painted on the wall of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, was also paint­ed at this time.

Leonardo then started to develop his idea of a “science of painting.” He concluded that painters, using their superior ability of sight, were the perfect mediums to transfer knowledge pictorially and he therefore used his art to teach. This is particularly important to an understanding of Leonardo da Vinci’s role in The DaVinci Code. Leonardo did not just paint a pretty picture ofThe Last Supper. It was his way of telling us something of immense importance in a way that has come down the centuries to us and can be under­stood by anyone who has access to his code. When present­ing text and illustrations together, he gave priority to the illustration. The illustration does not express the text; the text serves only to explain the picture.

Between 1490 and 1495, he wrote treatises on painting and architecture and books on the elements of mechanics and human anatomy. He also continued studying in various sci­entific fields. He wrote and sketched detailed accounts of everything he did, which amounts to a total of thousands of pages, many of which survive to this day.

As Leonardo was left-handed, mirror-writing was not too difficult for him. It was not an easy style to read and his spelling mistakes and abbreviations compounded the diffi­culty. Nor were his notes always written in a logical order. He used mirror writing throughout his work, but his corre­spondence to others indicates that he was also at ease with conventional handwriting. Leonardo’s main biographer, Serge Bramley, has examined all of Leonardo’s surviving manuscripts and concluded that he wrote with both hands in both directions.

One of the consequences, if not the reason for his use of mirror writing, was that the ink did not smudge when he wrote with his left hand. He could also, of course, have had the intention of writing secretly as he did not want others to steal his ideas. An additional reason for security could have arisen from his unconventional ideas on Christianity. As Dan Brown points out, during Leonardo’s time left­ handedness was associated with the “left-hand path” and satanic forces. Therefore left-handed people were regarded with suspicion; it was unusual back then to find someone who was as open about it as Leonardo. He wrote with the intention of publication and in the margins of one of his anatomy sketches he asks his followers to ensure that his works are printed.

By the beginning of 1500 Leonardo had left Milan and returned to Florence via Venice, where the governing coun­cil asked his advice on the impending Turkish invasion in Friuli. Leonardo recommended flooding the area. When back in Florence, Leonardo started a cartoon for the paint­ing Virgin and Child with St.Anne, and Madonna with the Yarn-Winder. 1 In 1503 Leonardo left Florence and entered the service of Cesare Borgia, the Duke ofValentinois, who was the natural son of Pope Alexander VI and the most feared person of his time. He was suspected of having murdered his brother, but the crime of which he was undoubtedly guilty was the murder in August 1500 of his brother-in-law Alfonso, Duke of Bisceglie, the second husband of his infamous sister, Lucrezia. Leonardo was fascinated by Borgia, who at 27 years old was only half Leonardo’s age.
1 This painting was stolen from Drumlaring Castle in the South of Scotland in August 2003.

At this time, Leonardo engaged himself in making city plans and topographical maps. His work formed the foundation of modern cartography. In 1503, he returned to Florence and planned a canal that would run from the city to the sea. This was never actually carried out, but there is now an expressway connecting Florence to the sea and it runs on exactly the same route as that which Leonardo proposed.

Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa while he was working on a mural for the Hall of the Five Hundred in Florence between the years 1503 and 1506. He left this painting unfinished when he then returned to Milan at the request of Charles d’ Amboise, the Governor of the King of France in Milan. He spent the next six years in Milan, concentrating on architec­ture and was paid the princely sum of 400 ducats a year. He painted the second version of The Madonna of the Rocks at this time.

When the French were expelled from Milan in 1513, Leonardo moved to Rome. Giuliano de Medici, the brother of Pope Leo X, gave him a suite of rooms in his residence, the Belvedere, which formed part of the Vatican. He was paid, but while others such as Michelangelo were working on various architectural and artistic projects, Leonardo was left with not much to do.

Leonardo was attached to the army of Charles de Montpensier et de Bourbon, the Constable of France, and the Viceroy of Languedoc and Milan, reputed to be the most powerful Lord in France in the early sixteenth century. He took over as Grand Master of the Priory of Sion after Leonardo da Vinci in 1519.

At the age of 65, Leonardo took up the offer of the young King of France, Francis I, to enter his service. He spent the last three years ofhis life living in a small residence at Cloux (later to be called Clos-Luce) near the King’s summer palace on the Loire River. His title was “premier peintre, architecte et mechanicien du Roi” (first painter, architect, and mechanic of the King) . To a great extent he was treated as an honored guest at this time.The only painting that he man­aged to complete was St.John the Baptist, and much of the only other work that he did consisted of sketches of court festi­vals. He drew up a design for the palace of gardens for the King’s mother, but these plans had to be abandoned because of a threat of malaria.

Leonardo da Vinci died on May 2, 1519 at Cloux and was buried at the palace church of Saint-Florentin. However, the church was badly damaged during the French Revolution and was eventually pulled down in the nineteenth century. His grave can no longer be found. His most devoted pupil, Francesco Melzi, inherited his estate.

Leonardo has been described as one of the first Rosicrucians and one biographer, Vasali, has described him as being of an “heretical state of mind.” This heresy is thought to include his belief that Jesus Christ had a twin brother, Thomas. In his painting The Last Supper, there are what appear to be two almost identical Christ figures. The second figure from the left shows a distinct resemblance to Christ, shown seated in the center and it is suspected that this figure may represent Thomas.

Several of Leonardo’s works are discussed by Robert Langdon, Sophie Neveu, Leigh Teabing and other characters in The DaVinci Code.The more important ones are:

The Vitruvian Man

One of the latest appearances of da Vinci’s drawing The Vitruvian Man (and no doubt the most widespread) is on the Italian one euro coin, indicating that the popularity of this symbol is not diminishing. It is also featured on the cover of this book. Leonardo wrote of this drawing himself that:

Vitruvius, the architect, says in his work on architecture that the measurements of the human body are as follows: that is that 4 fin­gers make 1 palm, and 4 palms make 1 foot, 6 palms make 1 cubit; 4 cubits make a man’s height.And 4 cubits make one pace, and 24 palms make a man. The length of a man’s outspread arms is equal to his height. From the roots of his hair to the bottom of his chin is the tenth of a man’s height; from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head is one eighth of his height; from the top of the breast to the roots of the hair will be the seventh part of the whole man. From tne nipples to the top of the head will be the fourth part of man. The greatest width of the shoulders contains in itself the fourth part of man.From the elbow to the tip of the hand will be the fifth part of a man; and from the elbow to the angle of the armpit will be the eighth part of man. The whole hand will be the tenth part of the man. The distance from the bottom of the chin to the nose and from the roots of the hair to the eyebrows is, in each case the same, and like the ear, a third of the face.

The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, Vol. l (of a 2 vol. set in paperback) pp. 182-3, Dover, ISBN 0-486-22572-0.

The Madonna of the Rocks

Dan Brown states that the original commission for the Madonna of the Rocks came from the nuns at the chapel of the Immacolata at the church ofSan Francesco Grande in Milan. It was, in fact, commissioned by monks from that organiza­tion. One of the versions of Madonna of the Rocks is in the Louvre and this is considered to be entirely Leonardo’s work. Experts are not so certain that the other version, at the National Gallery in London, was painted only by him. It has a more “plastic” look to it, which has led to the theory that it was a collaborative effort. This painting not only depicts the Immaculate Conception, but reflects the fact that leg­ ends regarding St. John the Baptist were popular in Florence at that time. The painting is of the infant Jesus meeting John the Baptist for the first time. Both children are trying to escape Herod’s infamous Massacre of the Innocents and John the Baptist is under the protection of Uriel, the angel. In fact, Leonardo had something of a lifetime obsession with John the Baptist. In the original sketches, Uriel is depicted as being very feminine but in the painting itself the angel has a much more androgynous quality.

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.

His theory has been backed up by one of the world’s lead­ing Leonardo scholars, Carlo Pedretti of the University of California at Los Angeles. He has known Seracini for 3 0 years, and says there is no doubt that the results ofhis recent tests are correct. “From what he showed me,” Pedretti says, “it’s clear that Leonardo’s original sketch was gone over by an anonymous painter.”

The Shroud of Turin

One of the most fascinating theories regarding Leonardo involves the Shroud of Turin, which is alleged to be the image of Christ imprinted on the shroud that covered him after his death. It is an odd fact that Leonardo never painted the Crucifixion, which was one of the major artistic themes of the time, and some believe that the Shroud ofTurin was created by him as his own idiosyncratic interpretation of it. The Catholic Church allowed scientists access to the Shroud for extensive investigation for only a single period of five days and five nights in 1978. The cloth itself has been car­bon dated and found to have been made between 1260 and 1390, with 95% certainty. The Church announced this, probably much to their embarrassment, on October 13, 1988. One of the arguments against Leonardo having creat­ed it is that this was a considerable time before Leonardo was born in 1452. However, cloth from that earlier period was widely available in Leonardo’s time, as it had been brought back to Europe during the Crusades. It is possible that Leonardo would have used this material if he wanted to convince others that it was Christ’s shroud. It is impossible to say when the image itself was placed on the cloth, as car­bon dating will not reveal this.

The face on the shroud seems to closely resemble that of Leonardo in his self-portrait. As discussed previously, Leonardo also appears to be the model of the Mona Lisa. Similar to Alfred Hitchcock, he seemed to enjoy playing cameo roles in his works. There is no doubt that he had the skills to produce a work such as the Shroud ofTurin and to disguise how it was achieved.

For 500 years the Shroud of Turin belonged to the royal family of Italy, the Savoys. The remaining heir to the family donated it to the Catholic Church in 1983. Also in the palace of the Savoys in Turin is the only known self-portrait of Leonardo. It is likely that the Shroud would have been com­missioned by either the Duke of Savoy or the Pope, or pos­sibly both of them in league. The theory is that they wanted a substitute of the existing Shroud of Lirey made. The Shroud of Lirey was first exhibited in 1389. and was denounced as false by the local bishop of Troyes, who declared it “cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who painted it.” This could obviously not apply to the Shroud of Turin, which to this day we are unable to ascertain how it was created. We do know that Leonardo Leonardo da Vinci -his life and art experimented constantly with new painting techniques. For example an x-ray of his painting John the Baptist reveals no brush stokes and appears to be painted like a mist. No painter has managed to replicate this skill.

In 1976 a photograph of the Shroud was put through a V-8 Image Analyzer, and it was discovered that three-dimension­al information was encoded into it. It revealed a perfect relief of a human form, which would be impossible to cre­ate through painting. In fact, the modification of the fibers that create the image suggests some sort of burning process has taken place. This could have been achieved through a bas-relief made in an oven, and then the image would have been burned onto the cloth. It was common in the Middle Ages for bas-reliefs of the dead to be made and put on the top of graves. Leonardo certainly had the knowledge to do this and had receivtd training in sculpture.

There is also the convincing argument that the Shroud was created using a camera obscura which is a darkened box with either a convex lens or an aperture. The image of an external object is projected onto a screen inside the box. There are drawings of such a camera by Leonardo. He was familiar with the necessary chemicals, such as silver nitrate, that would be necessary to achieve this and he studied optics. This theory also explains why the back side of the body of the shroud appears taller than the front side. It takes only a slight difference in distance between the subject and the camera to make such a difference in size.

This whole issue, together with the fact that generations of pil­grims have worshipped the Shroud as being the image of Christ, not knowing that it was possibly Leonardo’s own image, would have amused him greatly. The Shroud is perhaps the greatest riddle that we have inherited from him.

Leonardo was close to King Francis I -in fact so much so that there is a painting of Leonardo dying in his arms. Francis was a Savoy who married into the Medici family and therefore Leonardo was as well connected as it was possible to be.

Leonardo would be the obvious choice for someone to create such a work as the Shroud of Turin. There was also the advan­tage of Leonardo’s unconventional attitude to religion. He would have had no fears of eternal damnation for the blasphe­my of the act. As a scientist and homosexual, he was already beyond redemption in the eyes of the Catholic Church. He saw no reason why he should not work on Sundays. He never once mentioned God in the 13,000 pages of the notes that he wrote. In particular he despised the flourishing relic trade in which merchants made fortunes selling supposedly holy objects to the gullible. He was charismatic, handsome, amusing and popular. In his repertoire of humor was included what he referred to as “Pope Frightening.” An example of this was when he once told the Pope, probably Leo X, Giovanni de Medici, that he had a dragon in a small box. When he had worked the Pope up to a sufficient level of terror, he opened the box and out jumped a small lizard, painted silver, with wings attached to its back. In short, the hoax of the Shroud ofTurin would have appealed to his deep enjoyment of the sacrilegious.

The nails in the palms on the Shroud are positioned precisely where they should be if it truly represented a person who had been crucified. People were always crucified in this way, since nails driven at other points through the hands (as the Crucifixion of Christ has always been depicted) would not have been able to support a human body upon a cross. Assuming the Shroud is a fake, its creator would have had a precise knowl­edge of the crucifixion process. It is probable that Leonardo crucified some of the corpses that he had at his disposal and there is evidence that he studied the process.