Michelangelo or Leonardo?

In March this year I posted an item stating that Michelangelo’s portrayal of God in The Creation of Adam section of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, represented Leonardo da Vinci.

More recently there was much press coverage given to research by the scholar and author Adriano Marinazzo who hypothesised that Michelangelo painted himself as God.

Marinazzo based his judgement primarily on a sketch drawn alongside a sonnet Michelangelo had written to a friend. In an interview with Julie Tucker of the Muscarelle Museum of Art on May 12, this year, Marinazzo explained: 

“In my study, I pointed out the intriguing resemblance between Michelangelo’s self-portrait silhouette and the artist’s depiction of God in “The Creation of Adam.” In Michelangelo’s self-portrait, his right arm is extended toward the ceiling’s surface to give life to the stories of the book of Genesis. The artist holds a brush that approaches the vault’s surface but does not touch it. This gesture recalls Michelangelo’s painting of God’s index, who gives life to Adam without touching him. Plus, in his self-portrait, Michelangelo represented himself with his legs crossed; this is a curious pose for somebody who is painting on a scaffolding. But Michelangelo also painted God with his legs crossed while giving life to Adam. I also pointed out that in his self-portrait, Michelangelo idealises himself. The features of his face, viewed in profile, are gentle and harmonious. But in real life, Michelangelo had rough features, characterised by a flattened nose. I concluded by pointing out that Michelangelo goes towards the surface he is painting, as God goes towards Adam. The profile of the artist is flawless, like that of God.”

Marinazzo added in another report (New York Post) that it was when he turned the sketch on its side he experienced an “epiphany” and “discovered the self-portrait looked almost identical to the God that is seen on the ceiling of the chapel.”

Creation of Adam, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel,

Michelangelo’s sketch is not unfamiliar to me. In an earlier post I compared it to one of the figures in Botticelli’s Primavera painting, presented at surface level as the man generally assumed to represent the mythological Roman god Mercury. Botticelli also applied other identities to the figure, another being the painter Filippino Lippi, one of several Florentine artists commissioned earlier to paint the walls of the Sistine Chapel. In fact, Botticelli had a field day portraying extended arms in the Primavera painting. All the figures are depicted with an arm or arms outstretched.

Primavera, Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi, Florence
Baptism of Christ, Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo da Vinci, Uffizi, Florence

But the link doesn’t stop there. Michelangelo’s sketch, transformed into the figure of God in the Sistine Chapel, can be sourced back to a much earlier painting attributed to Andrea del Verrocchio in which Leonardo da Vinci is said to have contributed some of the finer detail. Notice in this painting the figure of John the Baptist with his extended right hand stretched upwards.

Another work that can be recognised as influencing Botticelli’s stretching figure in Primavera is Leonardo’s painting of The Annunciation. Leonardo is often criticised for his portrayal of the Virgin Mary with an extra-long right arm, but this was intentional. Leonardo was making a point about the figure of John the Baptist in Verrocchio’s painting as well as referring to a water feature in The Annunciation. And so in Primavera, Botticelli continued stressing the same point with his figure of Mercury, his arm extended and pointing to a water feature, just as the figure of John the Baptist, with his arm outstretched baptising Jesus with water.

The Annunciation, Leonardo da Vinci, Uffizi, Florence

Botticelli continued the outstretched arm reference in his Birth of Venus with the Hora of Spring offering cover for the naked Venus.

Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi, Florence

So in actuality, Michelangelo brought the narrative full circle and back to Leonardo to whom his pointing man relates to. Adriano Marinazzo accessed a page in the story but not the complete narrative. Decades after Michelangelo completed painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, another artist, Giorgio Vasari, provided more clues about the man with the extended arm in his painting of the Battle of Marciano on one of the long walls in the Palazzo Vecchio’s Hall of Five Hundred. The fresco covers an earlier battle scene, The Battle of Anghiari painted by Leonardo da Vinci in which he depicted another version of a man with an extended arm.

Battle of Marciano, Giorgio Vasari, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

There is another feature attached to the narrative of the man with the extended arm, and that is a wing. The feature appears prominently in  two places in the Baptism of Christ. It also explains why the Archangel Gabriel was given an extended wing in The Annunciation; why Mercury’s left hand-on-hip is wing-shaped; why Michelangelo’s loose sketch shows his left hand on hip; and finally, why God’s left arm is also shaped as a wing covering the woman he created, which begs the question: Who was this particular woman?

Creation of Adam detail, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel
Detail from Virgin of the Rocks, Leonardo da Vinci, Louvre, Paris

Botticelli is the child that bears the left hand of God on his right shoulder. Observe the shape of the hand. It is the same as the right hand of Mary which bears down on the shoulder of the Infant John the Baptist in Leonardo’s painting of the Virgin of the Rocks (Louvre version).

Leonardo continued the narrative even in his painting of The Last Supper. There are several references to wings and long arms, and Sandro Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio, who both figured in Verrocchio’s Baptism of Christ, are depicted at at the table.

The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci, Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan

A patron saint of false accusations

In my last note on The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci, I touched on one of the themes in the painting being pilgrimage, and mentioned two major destinations for pilgrims in Leonardo’s time, Rome and Mecca.

The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci, Uffizi, Florence

Since then I’ve discovered another connection in the painting to add to the theme of pilgrimage.

It’s taken me a few days to try and fathom why Leonardo included this strand, and there is more than one answer as to why he made several references to a particular saint known as St Roch, or St Rocco as he is known in Italy.

Saint Rocco, The Cloisters Collection, Met Museum,

St Rocco was a 14th century saint of noble birth, born in Montpellier, France. By the time he had reached the age of 20, both his parents had died. He then became a Third Order Franciscan and set out as a pilgrim on a journey to Rome. He arrived in Italy during a plague epidemic and spent most of his life travelling through the country preserving people suffering with the pestilence, simply by making the Sign of the Cross over them and on their foreheads.

He contracted the disease himself but was miraculously cured. On his return to Montpellier he was falsely accused of being a spy, arrested by his own uncle and thrown into prison where he spent the remaining five years of his life. In 1485 his body was eventually carried to Venice and is preserved within the high altar of the Church of St Rocco.

St Rocco is a saint invoked against epidemics, and more recently during the worldwide spread of Covid. He is also the patron saint of dogs, pilgrims and, not surprisingly, falsely accused people. It is this latter patronage that Leonardo may have had in mind for referencing St Rocco in his painting, which he produced shortly after he was anonymously accused of sodomy in 1476 and called before the Florentine court of justice for his perceived crime. 

So in this painting of The Annunciation we have Leonardo making his personal Annunciation that he was falsely accused, and even outing the two men responsible for the anonymous declaration made to the authorities, Domenico Ghirlandaio aided by Sandro Botticelli.

More on the references made to St Rocco in The Annunciation painting at another time.

A call to pilgrimage

The Annunciation was one of Leonardo da Vinci’s first paintings. It is generally dated between 1472 and 1476. My preference is for the latter end of the range, 1476, because Leonardo embedded references to the charge of sodomy that was made against him that same year. 

The Annunciation (1476) by Leonardo da Vinci, Uffizi, Florence

References to the year of 1475 – declared as a Holy Year by Pope Sixtus IV – are also embedded in the painting. Holy years are also known as Jubilee years.

The Jubilee Year, according to Christianity, is a time of joy, the year of remission or universal pardon. The celebration of the Jubilee Year is quoted in several verses of the bible like in Leviticus 25:10 which says: ‘and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of thy land: for it is the year of jubilee.’ The Jubilee Year was celebrated every fifty years and during this year, families were expected to find their absent family members, the Hebrew slaves were to be set free, debts were to be settled and illegally owned land had to be returned to its owners.

“According to Roman Catholic Church’s history, the first Jubilee Year in the Roman Catholic Church was instituted by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300. During the celebration of the first Jubilee Year, Pope Boniface VIII passed his message of the need for people to confess their sins by fulfilling certain conditions. The first condition was to be repentant and confess their sins, and the second condition was to visit either St Peter or St Paul in Rome and pass through the “Holy Doors”, within the specified time of the celebration.”

That one of the conditions of the Jubilee was for people to travel to Rome would be considered a pilgrimage, which is one of the themes to be found in the painting. Pointers to locations in Rome in The Annunciation painting indicate that Leonardo da Vinci was one of thousands who made a pilgrimage to Rome during the Jubilee year of 1475. (source: vatican.com)

Neither would he have been the only painter from Florence to have made the journey to the Eternal City. Domenico Ghirlandaio certainly did. He was employed that year by Pope Sixtus IV to ‘decorate’ the newly built Vatican Library. Vatican sources also mention other painters being employed to paint and decorate Rome in 1475, including Sandro Botticelli and Andrea del Verrochio, but there is no record of Leonardo among the Florentine group.

 “The Annunciation to Mary” from the Chronology of Ancient Nations (1307) by Al-Biruni.

I pointed out in a previous post that The Annunciation painting also contains several pointers to Islam. So it’s not surprising to discover Leonardo embedded references to the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and the Kaaba, the “House of Allah”, where Muslims “cleanse their souls of all worldly sin”. 

More on this in a future post.

Leonardo the bridge builder

This week there was news that an Italian historian had identified the bridge which appears in Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Silvano Vinceti announced at a press conference in Rome that he has no doubt it was the Romito di Laterina bridge in the province of Arezzo and not two other candidates previously considered. The Good News Network reported:

“Using drone photographs and historical orecords of da Vinci’s whereabouts, including those owned by the De Medici family, historian Silvano Vinceti says he feels very sure that the bridge over Mona Lisa’s left shoulder is the Romito di Laterina bridge.

“The most telling clue was the number of arches. Three candidates for the bridge depicted in the Mona Lisa all have different numbers of arches. The Ponte Buriano near Laterina has six arches, while the Ponte Gobbo, in the town of Bobbio near Piacenza, has more than six.

“The bridge in the Mona Lisa, however, has four. Using drone photographs and by measuring the distance between the two banks of the river in Laterina, as well as the size of the single arch that remains from the historic bridge, Vinceti came to a mathematical conclusion that the Romito di Laterina surely had four arches.”

Four remaining arches of a bridge can be seen in Leonardo’s painting of The Annunciation.

Notice the boat passing under the bridge span in Leonardo’s sketch.

Leonardo da Vinci once submitted a design to Sultan Bayezid II, ruler of the Ottoman Empire, for a bridge to span across the Golden Horn. It wasn’t accepted. He also sketched drawings for a self-supporting style of bridge, constructed with interlocking logs. 

Botticelli’s Primavera painting references Leonardo’s bridge designs with the interlocking fingers of the Three Graces and the arched arms of of the outside Graces forming the shape of a keystone. I made mention to the group’s connection to Istanbul and the Golden Horn in another post at this link

The Three Graces from Sandro Botticelli’s Primavera, Uffizi, Florence

The woman with a bald forehead

One unhappy day I was called to see the ‘Benois Madonna’. I found myself confronted by a young woman with a bald forehead and puffed cheeks, a toothless smile, blear eyes, and a furrowed throat. The uncanny, anile apparition plays with a child who looks like a hollow mask fixed on inflated body and limbs. The hands are wretched, the folds purposeless and fussy, the color like whey. And yet I had to acknowledge that this painful affair was the work of Leonardo da Vinci. It was hard, but the effort freed me, and the indignation I felt gave me the resolution to proclaim my freedom. Bernard Berenson (1865-1959)

Clockwise: Ginevra de’ Benci, The Annunciation, Benois Madonna, Madonna of the Carnatio

The four heads shown above were painted by Leonardo da Vinci. All have what can be termed as a ‘high-forehead’. Could the woman in all four paintings be one and the same person at different stages in her life? If so, could she even be the enigmatic woman known as the Mona Lisa or Gioconda?

detail from The Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, Louvre, Paris

Fish tales

Leonardo da Vinci liked his Archangels.

The Angel Gabriel is portrayed in his painting of the Annunciation (Uffizi, Florence)

The Archangel Uriel appears with the Virgin and the infants Jesus and John the Baptist in the Louvre version of the Virgin of the Rocks.

Archangel Raphael accompanies Tobit on his journey in the painting titled Tobias and the Angel, attributed to both Andrea del Verrocchio and Leonardo (National Gallery, London)

It is said that Leonardo, portrayed as Tobias carrying a fish, painted the fine detail in the creature.

When Leonardo later painted The Annunciation, not only did he portray the Archangel Gabriel, but also referenced the Archangel Raphael.

The Raphael reference is a pointer to the fish painted by Leonardo in the Tobias and Angel painting. In The Annunciation painting it is formed by the shape of the hem of Gabriel’s white undergarment.

Laps and lobes

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).

Detail from The Annunciation, Leonardo da Vinci, Uffiz, Florence

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.

The Virgin and Child with John the Baptist, Sandro Botticelli, Barber Institute, Birmingham UK

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.

The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, by Leonardo da Vinci, Louvre, Paris

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.

Matching the Man of Sorrows

Over the Easter holiday weekend I came across this beautiful Man of Sorrows painting by Domenico Ghirlandaio, dated c.1490. It’s housed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and forms part of a collection of artworks willed to the city in 1917 by the corporate lawyer and art collector John G. Johnson.

I wonder if the PMA realises what a unique treasure it has in its possession and on exhibit?

The painting is dated circa 1490. At one time it was considered to have been produced by the Netherlandish painter Hans Membling, and I’m not aware of who or when the work was attributed to Domenico Ghirlandaio,  but it is, in fact a self-portrait of the Florentine painter.

It must have been a late work by Ghirlandaio because he died from the plague at a relatively young age of 45 in January 1494. 

In the following year, 1495, Leonardo da Vinci began work on painting his famous mural of The Last Supper in the refectory attached to the monastery of Santa Marie Delle Grazia, in Milan.

Ghirlandaio’s self portrait was the inspiration and model for the central figure of Jesus in The Last Supper mural.

And I would go as far as to hypothesise that the face of Christ in the Salvatore Mundi painting, auctioned at Christie’s in 2017, is a composite of both Leonardo da Vinci and Domenico Ghirlandaio.

There are other features in Ghirlandaio’s painting that Leonardo referred to in The Last Supper. Both paintings also reference one of Leonardo’s earliest works, The Annunciation.

I shall expand on this in a future post.

What did Leonardo’s mother really look like?

• From La Voce di New York:

The cover of the book, Caterina’s Smile

An Italian scholar and novelist has provided a fresh theory for an old debate over the identity of Leonardo da Vinci’s mother, drawing on a recently unearthed document as evidence that she arrived on the Italian peninsula as a slave from the Caucasus region of Central Asia.

Carlo Vecce, an Italian literature professor at the University of Naples L’Orientale, has revealed his theory in a new novel, “Il Sorriso di Caterina,” or “Caterina’s Smile.” He based his claim on a document discovered in the State Archives in Florence that granted freedom to a girl named Caterina. 

I don’t know who is the model for the book cover, but it’s a beautiful image, and Carlo Vecce has provided a fresh theory as to who was Leonardo’s mother.

But what did Caterina really look like? On this matter I have a theory of my own:

Leonardo may have portrayed his mother as the model for the Virgin Mary in his painting of The Annunciation. Are any clues to Caterina’s identity embedded in the painting itself? Or could the young woman’s identity be someone else who was close to Leonardo? 

In a future post I intend to reveal the iconography that identifies the four men who were were summoned with Leonardo before the Florentine authorities in 1476 to answer an anonymous accusation of sodomy made against them.

The Denunciation?

This is the right hand of God that appears in Fra Filippo Lippi’s painting of The Annunciation (London version) sending forth the Holy Spirit to overshadow the Virgin Mary so she may conceive and bear a son to be named Jesus.

In Leonardo da Vinci’s version of The Annunciation, the hand of God is also indicated, but visibly absent, and for a specific reason.

It was the finger of God that inscribed the two tablets of stone setting out his Law – The Decalogue, or Ten Commandments – for the people to live by, an event disguised by Leonardo as the window above the Virgin’s head.

The window frame can also be visualised in another way: The two tablets as representing the Old and New Testaments, and the scroll with its wing-shaped edge, as a roll cloud. The ledge above can be understood as another cloud formation, a ledge cloud. Both clouds can sometimes hint at a coming thunderstorm in their wake.

When Moses responded to God’s call from within a cloud on Mount Sinai he spent 40 days and nights on the mountain in the cloud and was eventually given the two stone tablets. After descending from Sinai he witnessed the people he had led out of Egypt dancing and worshiping a calf made of gold. In anger, Moses smashed the tablets on the ground. The thunderstorm had broken and descended from the cloud. The dark area alongside the tablets in the window, and the unfurling shadow under the ledge represent the storm.

So the window is a cloud motif, and its connection to a storm and darkness points to an episode in Leonardo’s early life when, in April 1476, he was denounced to the Florentine authorities with four other men, accused of sodomy. 

The letter of denunciation had been deposited in one of the city’s post boxes known as tambouri (drums). These holes in the wall or “holes of truth” were designed for the purpose of reporting misdemeanours and crimes. 

The charges against Leonardo and the other men were eventually dropped, principally because the accuser had not signed the letter and remained anonymous.

Along with Leonardo, four other men were named: Bartolomeo di Pasquino, a goldsmith; Lionardo Tornabuoni, from a noble family connected to the Medici; a tailor named Baccino; and a young man said to be a male prostitute, Jacopo Saltarelli.

Two months later another anonymous accusation against Leonardo was posted in a tamburo, and again, the charge was dropped for the same reason as previous.

Now Leonardo’s window takes on a new identity. It becomes a “hole of truth”, a tamburo, The two tablets represent the two denunciations, unsigned; the scroll, the written accusation. Hence the reason for the absent visible hand of God in the painting.

That the last charge was not made until June 1476 is helpful in dating Leonardo’s Annunciation painting. It could not have been started until, at the earliest later, in the same year.

Having shone the light on the accusations, Leonardo proceeded to identify in his painting those who were charged with sodomy – and also the two men he considered were responsible for writing and placing the accusation in the tamburo  – two notable artists, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Sandro Botticelli.

Not knowing at the time of the charges who his accuser was, Leonardo implied an alternative meaning to the cloud motif – an anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in the 14th century known as “The Cloud of Unknowing”. It’s placed in the window and paired with an earlier work from the late fourth century penned by Augustine of Hippo and generally referred to as “Confessions”. Augustine also wrote on a similar theme of unknowing as in The Cloud.

A final link to Leonardo’s cloud can be recognised in the artist’s biography written by Charles Nicholl: Leonardo da Vinci, The Flights of the Mind.

When introducing Leonardo’s father Piero, an established notary in Florence, Nicholl describes Piero’s notarial insignia as “a kind of trademark – not unlike a printer’s device – can be seen on a contract dated November 1458. It is hand drawn, and shows a cloud with a letter P in it…”

The window scroll is the reference to notary, while Leonardo has utilised the left side and bottom edges of the window frame to represent the letter L and the first letter of his full name which was Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci (Leonardo, son of ser Piero da Vinci).

It is here that Leonardo laid the ground to reference the Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit (the Spirit being the winged edge of the scroll) to make a connection to Sandro Botticelli and another painting by Fra Filippo Lippi, The Vision of St Augustine. Botticelli served as an apprentice under Fra Filippo.

Like his father, a notary, Leonardo recorded in notebooks many of his observations and discoveries, a type of biography or confession of his life. The two stones in the window are also a reference to his early notebooks.

While Leonardo may never have made any handwritten record of his dark times being brought before the courts accused of sodomy, or if he did, they are are either lost or still to be discovered, his painting of The Annunciation paradoxically records his Denunciation, and is a visible record to his accusers and one which both Botticelli and Ghirlandaio parodied in later paintings of their own. 

Botticelli, in particular, went on to further suggest that Leonardo may have fallen from grace again a few years later before he left Florence and moved to Milan, but in different circumstances,

When stones speak

This is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s earliest paintings, The Annunciation. It shows the angel Gabriel arriving before the Virgin Mary with a message from God that she will conceive by the Holy Spirit and bear a son to be named Jesus.

The Annunciation, Leonardo da Vinci, Uffiz, Florence

What isn’t commonly known about this painting is that Leonardo embedded references to the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Not only that, he also made comparisons with Mary and Gabriel to two figures from Greek mythology, Athena Parthenos and her servant Nike.

Historians date the panel circa 1442-46, which would put Leonardo between the age of 20 to 24 when he completed the work. This would likely mean he was still serving as an apprentice in Andrea del Verrocchio’s workshop in Florence at the time.

However, for reasons which I shall explain in a future post, I believe the painting to have been produced at a later date than even 1446 and not within the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio.

Some critics hold an opinion that parts of the composition are flawed, notably the length of Virgin’s right arm, and the angel’s wings have been extended at a later date. That may appear to be so, but was intentional on Leonardo’s part as the two items are linked in this way for a reason.

In a similar way it can be said that the width of the painting has been extended beyond a standard 2:1 format. The scene is clearly separated into two parts, the angel Gabriel on the left, the Virgin Mary on the right–both figures placed in their own squared domain. However, it is where the two areas butt to each other, a coming together, that Leonardo embedded a principal biblical message. The ‘extended’ end sections–the tail end of Gabriel’s red garment and the entrance to the building also present religious messages.

The centre line acts in part as a hinge so that the two areas are mirrored is some ways, serving or reflecting each other in parts.

A clue to this process is the column of quoins rising above the Virgin’s right hand. Like the two square sections of the painting the stones butt together, the small square stones representing half the size of the stones above and below. Coming together in this way they reinforce the structure and strength of the building. Placing stone upon stone (covering) is a clue to other narratives of overlap  presented in the painting.

One narrative associated with cornerstones is that they point to a passage from the Old Testament. Those on the left column above Mary’s right hand are shaped and mirrored to represent the letter E and the numeral 33. Those on the the right represent the numeral 2. Together they point to Exodus 33:2 and the words the Lord said to Moses: “I will send an angel in front of you” – the angel in the painting, Gabriel.

The Virgin Mary is shown seated in the corner between the two columns. This placing is a reference to the popular book on Christian meditation by Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ.

One of the quotes attributed to Thomas is: “I have sought everywhere for peace, but I have found it not, save in nooks and in books.” – often adapted to a shorter version: “In a little corner with a little book”. Hence why Mary, an imitation of Christ, is portrayed sat in a corner reading Holy Scripture.

Notice the window above the Virgin’s head. It’s a reference to the Ark of the Covenant which, according to the Book of Exodus, contained two stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. The scroll (the window sill/seal) represents the written aspect. The two tablets are depicted within the window frame. It’s an open window designed to let the light shine on God’s word written in stone. Notice, too, the number of straight lines featured in the composition, a reference to the words of the prophet Isaiah (40:3), repeated by John the Baptist in John’s gospel (1:23), “Make a straight way for the Lord”.

Only sections of the two tablets are shown, cut off by the edge of the picture frame. This is a pointer to the time when Moses, in anger, broke the original tablets by throwing them to the ground at the foot of the mountain. He later went up Mount Sinai again where he was given a replacement set of the the Ten Commandments.

So Leonardo packed much into this section of his painting, but there’s more, a lot more, and in a future post I shall reveal more meanings to the window above the woman’s head and how it is key to uncovering a narrative in the Annunciation painting personal to Leonardo.

An annunciation

In an earlier post I explained that Giorgio Vasari, in his painting of the Battle of Marciano, portrayed Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo as two musketeers standing side by side.

I revealed in another post how Vasari placed references in the scene to Leonardo’s painting, Lady with an Ermine, and also intimated that other works attributed to Leonardo were referenced, namely the Mona Lisa and the Salvatore Mundi.

One painting for sure that Vasari utilised in the battle scene was Leonardo’s Annunciation.

Detail of the Angel Gabriel from The Annunciation, by Leonardo da Vinci, Uffizi, Florence

I was intending to use this post to explain the connections Vasari made to The Annunciation, but having examined Leonardo’s painting in more detail, I shall delay on that and instead reveal some surprising embedded elements not normally recognised with what is said to be the earliest extant painting produced by Leonardo. 

Botticelli had knowledge of the underlying detail. He made reference to it in the Uffizi version of The Adoration of the Magi. So did Vasari in the Battle of Marciano.