“Those who try to censor knowledge do harm to both knowledge and love, because love is the offspring of knowledge, and the passion of love grows in proportion to the certainty of knowledge.–Leonardo Da Vinci
For those who have been anticipating the next Leonardo Da Vinci masterpiece to be discovered, this metal plate of the Last Supper could be hailed the most mysterious, perplexing, and revealing work by the Master unveiled thus far. The discovery of this metal cut attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci, circa 1480-1520, was kept under wraps for eight years. That is until July 17, 2015 when a short press release was published on business wire (link) and picked up by only a small number of secondary news sources. Coming on the heels of the 2012 discovery in Scotland of the yet be authenticated Da Vinci painting of Madonna and Christ with John the Baptist, the climate for this discovery may be a bit cool because of the fact that particular painting received little support from the art experts for its authenticity. There also are apt to be critics who come forward to challenge this engraving’s authenticity in the coming weeks and months until the more hidden details are explained and the scientific data is accepted. The details I unveil here should prove once and for all that Leonardo Da Vinci hid many elements in his painting and engravings, encoded clues to his secret heretical beliefs, mystical leanings, inner world and wildest thoughts. The most controversial is his unstated assertion that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ Divine Complement and the mother of his children.
I was first made aware of the discovery of this engraving almost two years ago when art-scholar and collector James Constable contacted me asking for my expert interpretation and analysis of the hidden elements and symbols within the engraving, of which there were numerous. James had read my 2012 analysis and interpretation of the unauthenticated Da Vinci painting of the Madonna and Christ with John the Baptist, belonging to Fiona McLaren of Scotland. At this point in time, that painting is only attributed to the Da Vinci School but should be authenticated as produced by Leonardo’s own hand in the coming years. In my paper, “Da Vinci’s Last Testament” (link), I examine and interpret illusionistic images that permeate that particular painting and I make a strong case that the painting was indeed painted by Leonardo himself. James agreed and was convinced I would see what he and a few others had seen hidden in the sublayers of the engraving metal plate and be able to add a great deal to his interpretations.
Evaluation of the Plate
The metal cut may represent the earliest version and possibly only original version that has been preserved of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.”
James Constable tells us, “Metal cuts are a rare form of relief printing that date to the 15th century. They are created by engraving lines that serve as sublayers of the final masterpiece. Through eight years of research, extensive chemical testing at The McCrone Group and additional analysis, the metalcut features unique designs, images and chemicals that are often attributed to Da Vinci.”
He goes on to offer the following list of conclusive findings about the engraving that are indicative of Da Vinci’s works:
1. The symbol of Lodovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, who commissioned Da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” is found on the metal cut;
2. The decorations on the sides and top of the metal cut are mirrored in the architecture of the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church in Milan, home of the “Last Supper” and where Da Vinci served as architect and artist;
3. The inclusion of secondary hatching and advanced engraving techniques, drapery formation and design – that were exclusive to Da Vinci who was left handed – suggest the metal cut was made contemporaneously with the creation of the “Last Supper” painting;
4. Signature Da Vinci monogram symbols are found in the metal cut – including Da Vinci’s personal signature;
5. The metal cut’s 500-year-old casting and refining techniques, along with the presence of alunite, a sulfate mineral mined near Allumiere, Italy where Da Vinci worked, are all present and indicative of Da Vinci’s work.
6. The earliest version of the “Last Supper” depicts Jesus’ right sleeve not resting on the table, as seen in the above metal cut, proving this was made before 1520 in the lifetime of Da Vinci;”
To this list I would add:
7. The masterful experimentation with optics to create illusionistic figures and symbols, adding a hidden dimension to the composition has been recognized in a number of Da Vinci’s paintings.
Sublayers reveal a host of symbols and hidden clues confirming the Beloved Disciple was Mary Magdalene:
At first glance, the composition of the engraving is identical to the painting of the Last Supper at Santa Maria delle Grazie Church in Milan. The twelve disciples seated or standing in groups of three with Christ at the center all mirror the painting that graces the wall of the rectory that took Leonardo three years to complete. The composition is thought to portray the moment in which Jesus says to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” However, the engraving offers many details that the painting doesn’t, including countless optical illusions.
Since the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown popularized the research of authors like Lincoln, Baigent, and Leigh and Picknett and Prince, who presented the theory that it was not the Apostle John but Mary Magdalene seated adjacent to Jesus to form the infamous “V” and “M” symbolizing the Grail, there has been much added to substantiate the theory and even more added to the rebuttal. Because there had been little proof of what was on Leonardo’s mind in his portrayal of the Last Supper, advocates of the traditional Christian view proclaim the theory of encoded clues a stretch of the imagination. But the argument that Leonardo coded the Last Supper with symbolic clues to set forth his heretical beliefs persists. Did Da Vinci really intimate that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ divine complement in the Last Supper? And was he replacing the Apostle John with Mary as the Beloved Disciple?
Interestingly, the engraving reveals details in the form of optic illusionistic images (hidden faces and objects) that were intended as symbolic clues revealing the real identity of the disciple who complements Jesus’ attire, position and posture. If we examine the close up photo of the sublayer of the engraving and hone in on who is traditionally thought to be an effeminate looking Apostle John, we notice staffs of wheat fanning out on the table in front of him. They emerge out of the folds of the arms of his robe. And if we look at John’s upper chest at the heart, adjusting our eyes a couple of times by blinking, we perceive an optic phenomenon that produces something elusive that at first goes unnoticed. We see an infant’s face and torso nestled there. The hidden baby may explain Apostle Peter’s hand gesture at John’s throat, alluding to something significant present there. And interestingly, his hand gesture also forms a “V”, symbolic for the feminine vessel. Granted, it takes most a few minutes to perceive the optical illusions in the engraving but without a doubt an infant is there as well as the bouquet of wheat staffs. Why would the Apostle John be holding an infant at the Passover meal? He wouldn’t be. And there is nothing to associate John with staffs of wheat. Wheat is most often associated with the feminine as with the mother Goddess Demeter, a goddess of agriculture who in her ancient depictions is often carrying a bundle of wheat. The staff of wheat would signify a woman’s fertility and maternal nurturing qualities. As the staff of life, wheat bundles are a longstanding symbol of fertility, bounty and nurturing associated with the feminine principle.
The conclusion? As suggested by Dan Brown and a number of other authors on the topic, it is not John placed at the table to complement Jesus as the “Beloved Disciple”, after all—It is Mary Magdalene and her child.
Interestingly, another child, a toddler, emerges to the left of Mary Magdalene interfacing with the figure of the Apostle Peter. Again this figure is also concealed through the use of optics. From where I sit, it appears that Mary is leaning towards this child, which explains the expression of maternal affection on her face that until now was assumed to be directed towards Peter. As I present in my book, Jesus Mary Joseph (link) Jesus and Mary Magdalene did have two children, a girl Sara and a boy, Josephe.
The Key and the Pathway of the Heart.
Another symbol hidden in the field of the composition is a key held in the hand of Matthew. It is held up in front of Philip’s heart while Philip clutches his chest with both hands, a gesture conveying compassion, sincerity, love, appreciation and reverence. Philip’s emotional appeal contrasts the demeanor of the other disciples who appear to be grappling with Jesus’ announcement of an impending betrayal by one of the disciples. This portrayal could signify Philip’s importance to Da Vinci as the disciple who possessed superior knowledge or a more enlightened view. If the key represents wisdom or knowledge, the meaning most often assigned to the symbol, then Matthew is also a wise man pointing to the wisdom of the heart, gnosis cardias, a tenet of Valentinian Gnosticism.
There is reason to believe that Leonardo was a proponent of Valentinian Gnosticism and chose for himself a path of self-knowledge versus the faith driven doctrine of the Church of Rome. He like Caravaggio belonged to an unorthodox group of Christians who venerated Mary Magdalene above the Virgin and who also viewed John the Baptist as the legitimate Lamb of God. This underground stream of Gnostic Christianity considered the Apostles Phillip and John, not Peter, the patriarchs of their Church. Therefore, the key of authority traditionally assigned to Saint Peter by the Orthodox faith, in Da Vinci’s mind belonged to Philip.
The Valentinian Gnostics studied and adhered to the more mystical teachings of Jesus, and held a gospel attributed to Philip, the Gospel of Phillip, in high esteem. In his painting Salvator Mundi, Leonardo portrays Jesus as a mystic holding a crystal ball instead the corpus crucifix, the traditional symbol associated with the Savior of the World motif. This suggests Leonardo did not believe in the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ, but rather that Jesus was merely a wisdom teacher. In that painting, the bodice of Jesus’ gown features the letter X (oblique cross) an insignia of the Gnostic Church during the Middle Ages. And his paintings John the Baptist and Virgin on the Rocks both convey the debate over who was the prophesied Messiah (Lamb of God), Jesus or John the Baptist. The belief that John the Baptist was the authentic Lamb of God was held by Mandean Gnostics who venerated John the Baptist above Jesus and suggested Jesus had stolen John’s teachings.
An interesting similarity exists between The Last Supper and Da Vinci’s portrait of John the Baptist that sheds light on Leonardo’s spiritual beliefs and his problem with the Orthodox view that Jesus was God incarnate. In the Last Supper, Thomas, the doubter of John’s Gospel, holds up his finger to proclaim: “One God in Heaven” while Philip points to his heart, to mention gnosis cardias, the knowledge of the heart. In the portrait John the Baptist, Da Vinci combines both gestures by depicting John the Baptist holding up his finger to point to God in heaven while the other hand rests at his own heart. Leonardo is communicating the exact same message in both paintings, “Love for One God” or “One God whose mystery is contained in the heart.” Like the biblical Thomas who in the Gospel of John is portrayed as doubting Jesus’ resurrection and reappearance to the disciples (John 20: 24-29), Da Vinci doubted the Christology of Jesus as the resurrected savior.
Up until now, Da Vinci’s Last Supper was thought to strictly adhere to the Gospel narratives depicting the events of the Passover meal prior to Jesus arrest including the announcement of the impending betrayal and the covenant Jesus made to his disciples through the Last Supper sacrament. …”And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. ”But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”… Matthew 26: 27-29
The absence of the grail cup or wine glasses in his painting of the Last Supper has spawned numerous theories. The most popular theory, one introduced to the mainstream by Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, is that the “V” created by the positions of Jesus and Mary Magdalene was meant to replace an actual grail cup because in Da Vinci’s mind Mary Magdalene represented the vessel and the carrier of the bloodline, Sangrael.
But the engraving reveals that no fruit of the vine was poured out at all, only tea. Morphing out of and adjacent to Philip emerges another figure, adding to the number of participants present at the Passover Feast or Last Supper. This person appears to be serving tea because a teapot or similar vessel has been brought to the table on his arm. By introducing this element, Leonardo is making a mockery of the events at the Last Supper as well as the Eucharist ritual, which was and still is the most celebrated sacrament of the Church. The only thing I can conclude is that Leonardo was taking great liberties to expound on his disdain for Christianity, knowing full well that no one could see the hidden elements of the engraving and therefore his heretical beliefs could remain his own without any danger of being hauled before a tribunal. So why not say all that he was thinking about the Christian faith and Jesus Christ.
The Man with the Knife, Bear and Demon Dog
One of most puzzling and obvious illusionistic figures hidden within the composition emerges on the table between Judas and Andrew. As nonsensical as it sounds, at first glance, he looks like a Chinaman wielding the infamous knife, the curved tip fisherman’s knife, belonging to Peter. The knife seems directed at Andrew whose arms and hands go up in a defensive posture. The inclusion of the knife in the Last Supper was previously thought to reference the arrest scene from the narratives in all four Gospels in which Peter cut off the right ear of a high priest’s servant (John 18: 10-12). The hand with the knife has been a major topic of discussion amongst those interpreting the Last Supper because it appears not to belong to any of the disciples (disembodied hand). However, some point out Peter’s twisted arm posture suggests it is in his hand. But does the presence of this mystery man suggest Leonardo had something else in mind entirely? And who is this mysterious stranger who looks like he is about to betray Andrew? Because of the close proximity to Judas, the mystery man may have represented the archetype of the betrayer, symbolically present to represent Judas betrayal of Jesus and his brotherhood. Andrew in this case as the “first chosen” disciple would have represented the bonds of discipleship and brotherhood that were betrayed that night.
If you continue to look in the vicinity of the mystery man you notice another illusionistic figure appears resting against his back and facing in the opposite direction adjacent to Judas. It is a docile bear dressed in similar attire as the mystery man and, therefore, it could be assumed that its identity is tied to this stranger. The Christian symbolic meaning for the bear has its origins in the prophesies of Daniel. In Chapter 7 of the Book of Daniel, Daniel describes a vision and revelation connected to the four kingdoms that will precede the “end-time” and the “Kingdom of God”. The second kingdom is that of Medes and Persia and is represented by the bear who holds human ribs between its teeth: “And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh.” Because the bear in the composition appears docile it could Judas’ animal nature that at any given moment could turn from docile bear to beast.
Interestingly, the figure of the Chinaman also appears as an optical illusion in the mural of the Last Supper in Milan. A novice youtube producer uncovered this fourteenth figure wielding the knife in the mural painting and published a video (link) on the topic in 2008. This strong piece of evidence directly links the metal cut to the mural of the Last Supper and to Da Vinci’s own hands.
Judas is not the only Passover participant in the Last Supper composition to possess animalistic tendencies. In fact, Jesus himself appears to have been endowed with an animal archetype. There are several layers of illusionistic imagery to the Christ figure at the center of the composition and with an open eye one begins to witness the shapeshifting of Jesus’ image, even with his attire. However, the most fascinating image that emerges is at Jesus’ throat. It appears to be a snarling demonic-faced hound. It is the most outlandish element in the composition and turns this seemingly pious religious masterpiece into a Dante’s Inferno-like underworld of dark and light imagery. In actuality, Leonardo may have inserted this archetype to represent the hellhound, the legendary animal that guarded the gates of Hades and hunted out lost souls. By legend, to see one or to hear its howl meant eminent death. Therefore, the hellhound was probably inserted to be symbolic for Jesus’ precognition of his betrayal and death by crucifixion.
Sublayer photo of Engraving
The Multitude of Confusing symbols, archetypes items and figures
When James Constable mentioned to me how many symbols, animal archetypes, mysterious objects and human figures he had catalogued, all drawn out of the field of the engraving’s composition, I was astonished and perplexed. Some of the illusionistic figures and elements I was able to uncover include: animals such a bear and dove, a spider, snake, toad; historical figures from Da Vinci’s own era; soldiers or fairies emerging from the center of the border frame flowers; and items like a teapot, key, chain and intricately decorated glassware with tiny Romanesque scenes micro-engraved on them. Did all these illusionistic elements hidden with the use of optics have a specific meaning to Leonardo, meant to represent a meaningful dialogue about Christ’s legacy, specifically the Last Supper? Not necessarily. Certainly, elements such as the wheat staffs, infant and toddler all associated with Mary Magdalene did have a very specific and significant meaning that can be tied to Leonardo’s heretical beliefs and a Gnostic tradition that venerated Mary Magdalene. But other figures and objects included on, above, and below the table make for a very confusing sublayer of symbolic imagery. In fact, there are several grotesque or demonic faces included that render the composition absurd and hideously irreverent.
On the other hand, the inclusion of animals may have mentioned Leonardo’s fondness for the animal kingdom and appreciation and reverence for nature. In his fables, modeled after Aesop’s fables, animal archetypes take on human characteristics and attributes to speak about moral dilemmas. The toad resting on Jesus’ forearm in this engraving of Last Supper, for instance, would have had symbolic significance in Da Vinci’s mind. Interestingly, The Miser, one of Leonardo’s fables, is about a toad who eats mouthfuls of earth and never gets his fill. When asked by “aladybird” why he does not eat until full? He answers, “Because one day,” replied the miser, “even the earth might come to an end.”
However, Leonardo probably included the symbol of the toad for its generally accepted meaning: The toad or frog is as a symbol of transformation, transition and resurrection. This symbolism like the hellhound would be fitting in light of Jesus’ eminent death and resurrection. Amongst Da Vinci’s drawings are many drawings of animals, some of which also appear in the engraving’s sublayer. A recently authenticated engraving of Orpheus carved by Italian artist Marcantonio Raimondi in 1505 depicts a Leonardo look-alike as Orpheus in flowing robes serenading a bear with a “lira da braccio.” A dog sits next to him scratching his neck. Leonardo’s love for animals was well known by his contemporaries.
James Constable also points out, “This plate may also contain one of the earliest engraved self-portraits of the artist, Leonardo Da Vinci.”
Was Leonardo merely curious as to how many optical illusions he could cram into one composition? In that case, the engraving would represent a master’s experiment in the application of optic theory. Was he in fact merely doodling and letting his imagination and defiant ego go wild? Perhaps, he was harboring hatred for the Church and its doctrine and sought an artistic way to include his thoughts and Gnostic beliefs in the composition. We must remember that artists were prohibited from exercising freedom of interpretation and expression in their works by decree of the Council of Trent in the 13th century: “No image shall be set up which is suggestive of false doctrine or which may furnish an occasion of dangerous error to the uneducated”. As a result, Leonardo was very careful not to make his more heretical beliefs obvious.
Or then again, had Da Vinci become like John Nash, played by Russell Crowe, in the movie “Beautiful Mind”, who fell off the deep end and was swallowed up by an ocean of subconscious imagery including demons? I do not have a list of all the catalogued elements and illusionistic images, but of the thirty or more that I drew out of the composition, I suspect Leonardo had digressed into some darker self at least temporality until he could gather his senses and return to his normal state of genius. In a state not unlike a manic or psychotic episode, Leonardo perhaps became compelled and even obsessed to create and make sense of the imagery that was flooding his mind, imagery previous embedded in the depths of his subconscious. Whatever this episode was about or what induced it, we will never know. But those on a path of spiritual enlightenment sometimes experience periods of psychological dismemberment before becoming enlightened to the divine. With his paintings Salvator Mundi and Magdalene/Madonna and Christ with John the Baptist, Leonardo seems to have re-embraced Christ later in life.
Copyright reserved Ariadne Green 2015