So what can be said of this image? For starters, it’s turned upside down from how it would be seen in normal circumstances. Is it human? Is it an animal?
In fact, it represents both – Jesus as the long-eared sacrificial Lamb of God.
Viewed normally, it’s the lap of the Virgin Mary in Leonardo da Vinci’s early painting of The Annunciation. But in this position it takes on a new form, as a winged bird with its fanned tail on the ground It represents Mary being conceived by the Holy Spirit (a dove) and covered by the power of the Most High with its shadow (Luke 1:35).
Leonardo embedded other interpretations in the folds of the blue gown which I shall explain at another time. For now I want to return to the long ears or lobes of the lamb and point to a similar feature on the face of the sarcophagus or altar. Note the ear-like lobes linked by a garland.
The sarcophagus lobes and garland point to a later painting by Sandro Botticelli, known as The Virgin and Child with John the Baptist.
In this picture the Infant Jesus and the Baptist are depicted embracing.Their hands touch each other’s ear lobe, while their arms form the link representing the garland featured in The Annunciation. Observe also the shadowed lobes in the Child’s halo.
Leonardo was aware of this Botticelli painting – there are three versions – and some years later parodied it with a version of his own when he painted The Virgin and Child with St Anne.
In this scene we see the Child Jesus grasping the ears of the Lamb of God, his mother reaching with both hands, one of which is placed near where the right lung and kidney is located. Both organs have lobes. Notice also the pink petal and lobe shape on the Virgin’s right shoulder. Her outstretched right arm is the link between the two lobe references.
And then there is the lap connection, Mary seated on the lap of her mother. The reference to the Holy Spirit covering the the Virgin is also there. Her blue gown is shaped as a bird, but not as a vulture as once described by the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in an essay he wrote titled, Leonardo da Vinci, A Memory of His Childhood.
Among the many anatomical drawings made by Leonardo is one of a pair of lungs. Botticelli picked up on this and also referred to it in his painting Primavera. There are other references to Leonardo’s drawings of body parts made by Botticelli in his painting of the Virgin and Child with John the Baptist which I intend to present at another time.
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