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Did Leonardo da Vinci Believe that Mary Magdalene was the Beloved Disciple?
In the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail (1982) by Michael Baigent, et al., Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is said to have belonged to a secret organization called the Priory of Sion. According to Baigent, Leonardo and the other members of this group were in possession of privileged information about an alleged marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. This information was apparently passed down through history in conspiratorial fashion. And, it seems, Leonardo da Vinci was one of the keepers through whom this secret knowledge passed. The methodology in Baigent’s book has been seriously questioned by many scholars. And I do not believe that the legends discussed by Baigent are to be relied upon for accurate historical research. However, there are a few things in Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ that are worth noting here.
The famous Last Supper mural was completed by Leonardo da Vinci in 1498. It captures the very moment described in John 13:24 when Peter asks the Beloved Disciple to ask Jesus for the identity of his betrayer. This incident is described only in the Gospel of John. None of the other New Testament Gospels contain this account.
My interest in this mural focuses on the Beloved Disciple, who is traditionally believed to be St. John the Apostle. In Leonardo's ‘The Last Supper’ the Beloved Disciple is sitting next to Jesus, to his right. Peter is seen whispering in this disciple’s ear as the disciple leans over to Peter in order to hear what Peter has to say.
In my article, I discuss my hypothesis that Mary Magdalene was probably the Beloved Disciple and, therefore, the true author of the Fourth Gospel (the Gospel of John). Leonardo da Vinci may have been in possession of some information to that effect. Many people have observed that if you look closely at this disciple sitting next to Jesus, you’ll notice that this disciple seems to be a woman.
These may be examples of what scholars refer to as “Renaissance clues.” It was a common practice of Renaissance artists to leave hidden messages or clues in their work. This was apparently done to safely express ideas that were considered dangerous or subversive in those days. This may be difficult for us to understand today when “freedom of speech” is taken for granted by most. But, in Leonardo’s day, one could find oneself in much trouble for expressing thoughts that challenged the generally accepted worldview -- especially in matters of religious doctrine. If Leonardo did believe that Mary Magdalene was the Beloved Disciple, for his own safety he needed to be very careful about sharing that only with people he could trust. Otherwise, he might have wound up in serious trouble with Church authorities.
I am not the first to observe this. I pass this along to you because I find it to be very interesting. Whether the disciple appears to be female is, of course, a very subjective call. It is up to each individual to decide whether they see a man or a woman or whether they see an M formed by Jesus and the disciple.
This late 15th century mural proves nothing about the 1st century events described in the New Testament. But, if Leonardo intentionally made the Beloved Disciple seem ambiguously female, and formed the letter M as described, then this may show that Leonardo believed that Mary Magdalene was, indeed, the Beloved Disciple of the Fourth Gospel. And, if he did believe that, he probably did so based on his reliance upon information that he believed to be credible. If this is true, then Leonardo’s clues in ‘The Last Supper’ might corroborate and support the arguments in the article I published online.
There is more evidence like this from Renaissance art. See my discussion of Mary Magdalene in a painting by Perugino.
My e-mail address: RamonKJusino@hotmail.com
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