A trio of connections

This trio of figures from Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper is another match to the two examples posted yesterday

Judas appears to be sitting on Peter’s lap but pushed forward to make way for Peter to be able to lean across to John. The turned head of Judas can be matched to the turned head of Chloris and the Child Jesus. Both also appear to be pushed forward or lowered to the ground. Judas fell to the ground after hanging himself.

The stretched neck of Peter is a match for the stretched heads of Zephyrus and the Virgin Mary. His crooked arm behind the arm of Judas can be matched to Elizabeth’s crooked arm behind the Virgin’s left arm. Peter’s left hand rests on John’s shoulder; Chloris’s left arm rests on Flora’s shoulder.

The right hand of Chloris is shaped to represent a graft onto Flora’s leg; the right hand of Judas is similarly shaped, while his right hand is already grafted to his moneybag, “the root of all kinds of evil”.

John’s head can be linked to those of Flora and St Anne. John’s hand’s rest on the table above his lap while Flora’s hand are also entered on her lap.

The flowers on the ground in Botticelli’s Primavera become the small loves of bread in The Last Supper painting and transform into stones beneath the feet of the Virgin and St Anne.

A conversion narrative

I meant to have added this observation to my previous post, but no matter. It’s another example of Leonardo da Vinci continuing the banter between himself and Sandro Botticelli.

On the left is detail from Botticelli’s Primavera painting; on the right, a later work by Leonardo, The Virgin and Child with St Anne. It’s a mix and match affair. Leonardo was responding to a narrative Botticelli disguised in some of his other paintings that touched on the personal life of the polymath.

In the Primavera detail, the hound in the corner is replaced by the lamb in Leonardo’s response. The figure of Flora is changed into St Anne (notice the elbow’s position and shaping). The wind god Zephyrus becomes the Virgin Mary, while the Christ child, with his head turned, is substituted for Chloris.

UPDATE: April 28, 2023

A correction to my interpretation of the hound being replaced by the lamb… The lamb, as a reference to the Lamb of God (Christ), becomes the figure of Chloris, as is the Christ Child. The hound reference appears elsewhere in Leonardo’s painting, which I will explain in a future post.

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.

A visit to the Barber

Today I was able to visit the Barber Institute to study Sandro Botticelli’s painting of The Virgin and Child with John the Baptist.

I’ve posted on this painting previously at these links:
In the beginning was the Word
Three times a lady

But I have since discovered the painting has a strong link to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mother and Child with St Anne, and I shall be posting more about this.

Today’s visit was rewarding. I was able to recognise a feature I hadn’t picked up on before. As I looked at the painting, I wondered about the thin gold strip between the Baptist and the Virgin. It forms part of the background scene but yet seems out of place. Was it there to link the two figures in any way? And then the answer came to me.

Embedded in the Virgin’s mantle is a Picasso-like facial feature, perhaps pointing to one of her titles, Our Lady of Sorrows. The lower half of the face is veiled. Above that are depicted the nose and the eye. 

The Baptist is shown clothed in a camel skin. So the thin gold strip represents a needle and is Botticelli’s way of pointing to the verse from Matthew’s gospel about the danger of riches, when Jesus said to his disciples, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (20:19).

Rotate the painting 90 degrees and notice the shape of a camel’s head in John the Baptist’s camel-skin garment.

The Virgin represents Our Lady of Mount Carmel from which the Carmelite Order takes its name. The mount was also given the name Camel Nose or Antelope Nose because of its shape. The Virgin is shown barefoot, and so represents the Order of Discalced Carmelites, the reformed section of the Order whose members walk with their feet uncovered.

The Virgin and Child with St Anne

Leonardo da Vinci was a man gifted with an enquiring and inventive mind, and a talent to express his ingenuity in various ways.

He observed nature and life in minute detail, accepting nothing at face value; he seemingly questioned everything; he thirsted for knowledge that would present a wider perspective and understanding of the world around him; he wanted answers; he certainly wasn’t conventional in his approach to painting; he was always willing to experiment, to embed features and narratives that perhaps would prompt questions or stimulate an enquiry from those who viewed his work. What prompted the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa is one example.

Leonardo once said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

Jonathan Swift (1667-1710), the Irish-born poet and satirist wrote: “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”

With these two quotes in mind, consider the picture below, titled The Virgin and Child with St Anne. Said to be “unfinished” it was painted by Leonardo and is dated by art historians between 1501 and 1519. That’s quite a spread, which suggests there probably isn’t any paper trail recording details of its commission, that’s if it was commissioned by any patron. 

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

The Louvre in Paris, where the painting is kept, speculates that “it is likely the painting was commissioned by King Louis XII of France, following the birth of his daughter in 1499, but it was never delivered to him”.

Another claim is: “The painting was commissioned as the high altarpiece for the Church of Santissima Annunziata in Florence and its theme had long preoccupied Leonardo.”

As the title suggests, the figures seen in the painting represent the child Jesus, his mother Mary, and her mother Anne.

But with Leonardo’s exceptional vision, was his intention to invite viewers to participate and share in “seeing what is invisible to others”? Just what are some of the mysteries and messages embedded in this painting?

More on this in future posts, but in the meantime keep in mind that, in my opinion, the painting is a tribute to Sandro Botticelli who died in impoverished circumstances in 1510, the year before the assigned range of dates given to the work. Leonardo died in 1519.