I was surprised to see, on reading this node, that no effort had been made to refute the various assertions of user Dido in re: the famous painting by Leonardo. They are almost uniformly culled from bad pop-alt-history literature — although be it noted in fairness that none of them are drawn from The Da Vinci Code, since Dido's node precedes the novel by two years —; one or two are folk myths; most of them are easily rejected by anyone possessed of a passing familiarity with the image. (Perhaps this is why nobody has previously bothered? I fear I suspect that it is rather a love of mystery that has stayed the collective quill.)
Let's examine the claims in the order in which they were given:
- The »unmistakably feminine figure« that is »explained away« as John is, in fact, John. Not only do Leonardo's notebooks identify him positively, he was also one of only four figures in the painting who was always unmistakably known, viz., Jesus, Peter, Judas, and John. His alleged bodice is not only not »very feminine«, it is virtually identical to those of James the Less (second from left), Andrew (third from left), James the Greater (fifth from right), and, indeed, that of Jesus himself — all these differ only in color.
- I suppose the two figures do conceivably form an M; they could also be said to form a V, or to cut an arrow shape out of the wall in the background. Similarly, I'm sure to some commentators this circumstance suggests anything from a Masonic conspiracy to Jesus being gay, but there's that old apophenia raising its Cydonian head again.
- Both this hand and that in the fifth point belong to Simon Peter. This hand (his left) isn't »cutting across the female figure's neck« (it does not, in fact, even reach the neck), but appears to be grasping John's right shoulder, supporting him as he faints or swoons. Foolish as it is, this mistake is at least somewhat understandable since both hands are badly eroded in the original; Giampietrino's copy (which is the best), located conveniently for me in the Royal Academy in London, and which was painted shortly after the completion of the original, shows both hands clearly, including a finger curving around John's shoulder which has been lost in the original (a restorer has at some point apparently taken the badly damaged finger to be part of John's collar).
- As has already been noted above, this figure is actually James the Less. He's not that identical to Jesus, it's just that both of the figures' faces have been fairly badly eroded by time and human folly. The alleged identical dress differs, besides the robe, in the color of the collar trims and also that of the shirts under their respective tunics. (Incidentally, this point as written by Dido technically describes an impossible figure — one simultaneously on the left of Jesus and the left edge of the painting.)
- The knife is not a dagger at all but a carving knife; if examined closely this is obvious from its shape. I don't know how bad you have to be at knifery to think this is a good shape for a dagger, but I'm guessing pretty bad. Furthermore, it seems obvious from the context of them sitting at table and Simon Peter being (along with Andrew, his brother) the senior among the disciples, thus reasonably responsible for such things as carving the meat. Notably the knife is also directly above a plate of food — somewhat oddly, in the original mural painting this is now a plate of fish, but Giampietrino's copy shows a bird. I don't know if this is to be attributed to the many more or less clumsy and extensive restorations the painting has been through over the centuries, or if Giampietrino changed the contents of the salver to make the knife make even more immediate sense. Admittedly, the rendering of the turn of the wrist in the painting is awkward, and in the copy even moreso; all the same, its connection to Peter's arm is perfectly visible and evident. Moreover, the posture as such is not unnatural; it is very similar to that of putting a hand turned outward on one's hip. The idea that it is »pointed threateningly« at Andrew is risible, since it would mean Simon is threatening to stab his own brother.
- In Raphaël's School of Athens, the identical gesture belongs to Plato; all the same, Raphaël was probably not trying to invoke John the Baptist or imply that that personage and Plato were one and the same. The apostle in Leonardo's painting is Thomas a.k.a. Doubting Thomas, which fact might permit us to hazard the guess that his expression is doubt.
- The figure mentioned here is Judas Thaddeus. He (and Matthew next to him) appear to be going »what the fuck?! Did you hear that shit?!«, in the direction of Simon the Zealot, almost as though they've been told something shocking and incredible. I admit this is hard to explain in the context of the image. Does he look remarkably like Leonardo? I can't say that I think he does. Overlooking the comparatively subtle fact of the facial features as such being all wrong (the saint, for example, has a fairly narrow nose whereas Leonardo's was fleshy and broad), Leonardo in his famous self-portrait has no moustache, little or no hair on the top of his head, and a long, free-flowing beard where Thaddeus' is shorter, forked and cropped inward to rounded points. It seems highly unlikely to me that one of the world's greatest draughtsmen of all time would bungle something like a self-portrait with such fulness.
- This last point is by far the most preposterous, since not less than thirteen clear glass tumblers containing wine are plainly visible on the table — for obvious reasons. Why anyone would claim something this blatantly wrong goes entirely beyond my comprehension.