To Langdon's amazement, a rudimentary circle
glowed around the curator's body. Sauniere had apparently laid down
and swung the pen around himself in several long arcs, essentially
inscribing himself inside a circle.
In a flash, the meaning became clear.
"The Vitruvian Man," Langdon gasped.
Sauniere had created a life-sized replica of Leonardo da Vinci's
most famous sketch.
(Chapter Eight, pp. 44-45)
or 'the Vitruvian Man' is a principle described by the Roman architect
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio from the First Century BC. Vitruvius - an
architect, engineer and artist - wrote in his influential De
Architectura that good geometric and architectural proportions
are based on the proportions of the human body.
that if a figure of a correctly proportioned human body were placed
within a square (homo ad quadratum), which in turn was placed
in a circle (homo ad circulum) in such a way that the corners
of the square were just touching the arc of the circle, then the
precise centre of both the circle and the square would be the human
figure's navel (umbilicus ad circulum et ad quadratum).
This idea appealed
greatly to Renaissance artists and they tried to apply it, despite
the fact that it clearly was not true and the results always ended
with weirdly distorted human figures.
around the problem not by distorting the human figure, but by shifting
around Vitruvius' geometry. So his square does not actually fit
within his circle at all and it is not centred on the human figure's
navel, but on its penis.
For a figure
to be a 'Vitruvian Man' it must be a human figure within both a
circle and a square. If Sauniere had arranged his body within a
circle then this does not make this a 'a life-sized replica of Leonardo
da Vinci's most famous sketch', since it is missing the key element
- the square.
was too busy bleeding to death to add this important element.
"Da Vinci had always been an awkward subject
for historians, especially in the Christian tradition. Despite the
visionary's genius, he was a flamboyant homosexual and worshipper
of Nature's divine order, both of which placed him in a state of
perpetual sin against God. Moreover, the artist's eerie eccentricities
projected an admittedly demonic aura: Da Vinci exhumed corpses to
study human anatomy; he kept mysterious journals in illegible reverse
handwriting; he believed he possessed the alchemic power to turn
lead into gold and even cheat God by creating an elixir to postpone
death; and his inventions included horrific, never-before-imagined
weapons of war and torture.'
(Chapter Eight, p. 45)
was actually Leonardo di Ser Piero da Vinci, though he was known
throughout his life as Leonardo or Leonardo Ser Piero. 'Da Vinci'
is simply a reference to the Tuscan village in which he was born.
Referring to him as 'Da Vinci' is a little like referring to Field
Marshal Bernard Montgomery of Alamein as 'Of Alamein'or Joan of
Arc as 'Of Arc'. It is strange that Brown calls him 'Da Vinci' consistently,
despite the fact he apparently studied art in Seville and his wife
is supposedly an art historian.
It is difficult
to see how Leonardo could be 'an awkward subject' for historians,
given the vast numbers of books written on his life and work. Several
of the other assertions in the passage above are also peculiar.
- A Flamboyant Homosexual?
Brown says Leonardo
was 'a flamboyant homosexual'. If he was a homosexual, which is
possible, he was anything but 'flamboyant' about it, since the evidence
for his sexuality is best described as 'scant'. He was anonymously
accused of 'sodomy' in 1476; the allegation being that he had had
sex with a 17 year old boy called Jacopo Salterelli. It seems Salterelli
was something of a hustler and, whether Leonardo had been his lover
or not, the charge was dropped.
Apart from this,
there is no direct evidence that Leonardo was a homosexual, so to
call him a 'flamboyant' gay is ridiculous. Leonardo never married,
loved painting beautiful and rather feminine-looking young men and
had several young male assistants who do not seem to have been terribly
talented as artists (including one, a scamp called Salai, who seems
to have been more talented as thief), so it is likely he was gay.
But a 'flamboyant homosexual' he was not.
- A Nature Worshipper?
Brown says that
Leonardo was a 'worshipper of Nature's divine order' and seems to
think this put him at odds with the Church. Leonardo certainly had
a fascination with nature but to pretend he was a 'Nature worshipper'
in any supernatural or religious sense is taking things well beyond
not a particularly devout Catholic in his lifetime, but he was certainly
a Catholic Christian, like anyone of his age:
certainly no atheist. Like some scientists today, he felt that the
very complexity and efficiency of nature argued some supreme creative
agency behind it.
(D.M. Field, Leonardo da Vinci: Regency House, 2002, p.415)
describes how, as he drew near death:
desired to occupy himself with the truths of the Catholic faith
and the holy Christian religion. Then, having confessed and shown
his penitence with much lamentation, he devoutly took the Sacrament
from his bed, supported by his friends and servants because he could
of the Artists - Leonardo)
This does not
sound like the deathbed of a Nature-worshipping keeper of the secrets
of the Divine Feminine and the human nature of Jesus. In his will
Leonardo left provisions for Masses to be said for his soul and
for that of his housekeeper, Caterina.
to imply that there was something dangerously heretical about exhuming
corpses to study anatomy. In an interview with American ABC's Elizabeth
Vargas, Brown asserts that Leonardo lived in 'an age when science
was synonymous with heresy' and implies that this interest of Leonardo's,
like his 'flamboyant homosexuality' and his 'Nature worship', put
him at odds with the Church.
In fact, the
taboo against dissecting corpses went back far earlier than Christianity
and early medieval Europe had simply inherited it from the Greeks
and Romans. Despite this, medieval surgeons and anatomists had revived
the practice of dissecting corpses and had done so with the full
knowledge and encouragement of Church authorities. Medieval churchmen
at the University of Bologna had made dissection a regular part
of the curriculum, and attendance at dissections was obligatory
for medical students at Montpellier by the late Thirteenth Century.
There is a modern myth, spread by anti-Catholic propagandists, that
the Papal Bull, De Sepulturis, was a ban on dissection and
an attempt by the Church to stifle science. In fact, that Bull addressed
the boiling down of bodies of Crusaders who had died overseas for
burial at home.
time, the dissection of corpses for anatomical study was accepted
and widespread. It was done under license to prevent grave-robbing,
but it would not have put Leonardo at odds with the Church in any
There is nothing
in any of the copious notes and writings that Leonardo has left
us to suggest that he thought he could turn lead into gold or create
alchemical elixirs to extend life. There is nothing, in fact, to
suggest any interest in alchemy at all. On the contrary, he seems
to have little time and scant regard for such superstitions. In
his Notebooks he wrote scathingly of alchemy and similar
interpreters of nature declare that quicksilver is the common seed
of every metal, not remembering that nature varies the seed according
to the variety of the things she desires to produce in the world.
And many have made a trade of delusions and false miracles, deceiving
the stupid multitude.
(Leonardo da Vinci, Notebooks
sound like the words of a practicing alchemist.
of war machines etc were an attempt to secure the patronage of the
governor of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. While they may look radical
and outlandish to modern eyes, they have precedents in other works
of the time, such as Roberto Valtario's De Re Militari, and
in ancient military works, such as the treatise of Vegetius. Even
his parachute and his flying machine have less well-known predecessors.
Bites the Hand that Feeds Him?
Even Da Vinci's enormous output of breathtaking
Christian art only furthered the artist's reputation for spiritual
hypocrisy. Accepting hundreds of lucrative Vatican commissions,
Da Vinci painted Christian themes not as an expression of his own
beliefs but rather as a commercial venture - a means of funding
a lavish lifestyle. Unfortunately, Da Vinci was a prankster who
often amused himself by quietly gnawing at the hand that fed him.
He incorporated in many of his Christian paintings hidden symbolism
that was anything but Christian - tributes to his own beliefs and
a subtle thumbing of his nose at the Church.
(Chapter Eight, pp. 47-48)
Brown presents a cluster of authoritative-sounding statements, but
none of them stand up to scrutiny.
not have an 'enormous output' of art of any kind. If anything, he
is renowned for his relatively small output and for his tendency
to begin projects without completing them and for taking on projects
and never starting them. He was actually notorious for this in his
lifetime, to the great frustration of his patrons.
of lucrative Vatican commissions' Brown refers to seem to exist
entirely in Brown's imagination. In his whole career, there is only
vague evidence of one Papal commission. Leonardo seems to have made
some suggestions to Pope Leo X as to the best way to drain the marshes
around Rome. He was also a guest of the same pope in Rome for a
while, where he was given license to dissect cadavers in a Papal
hospital there (so much for his scientific work being some kind
of threat to the Church), but that is the limit of his direct connections
with the Papacy.
'lavish lifestyle' Brown refers to seems to be more fantasy. What
survives of Leonardo's accounts show that he lived more comfortably
than most struggling artists in a time where painters were seen
as only marginally more exalted than craftsmen, but he did not live
lavishly. Brown seems to be trying to explain away the fact that
the overwhelming majority of Leonardo's works are on Christian religious
themes, which does not fit with his attempt to depict Leonardo as
some wild, pagan, Nature-worshipping heretic.
There is absolutely
no evidence of Leonardo ever being in any trouble or under any suspicion
by the Catholic Church. There is certainly nothing to indicate any
'reputation for spiritual hypocrisy'. Once again, this is all pure
fantasy on Brown's part.
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