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This is an index of the chapters in the novel which contain substantial claims about history. Those chapters which contain only action scenes or plot elements have been ommited.

Each chapter is sub-divided into topic headings analysing the claims made in that section of the novel and their associated subjects.


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CHAPTER EIGHT

The Vitruvian Man

Leonardo the Awkward

Leonardo - A Flamboyant Homosexual?

Leonardo - A Nature Worshipper?

Science as Heresy?

Leonardo the Alchemist?

Leonardo's War Machines?

Leonardo Bites the Hand that Feeds Him?

The Vitruvian Man

To Langdon's amazement, a rudimentary circle glowed around the curator's body. Sauniere had apparently laid down and swung the pen around himself in several long arcs, essentially inscribing himself inside a circle.

In a flash, the meaning became clear.

"The Vitruvian Man," Langdon gasped. Sauniere had created a life-sized replica of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous sketch.
(Chapter Eight, pp. 44-45)

Homo Vitruvianus or 'the Vitruvian Man' is a principle described by the Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio from the First Century BC. Vitruvius - an architect, engineer and artist - wrote in his influential De Architectura that good geometric and architectural proportions are based on the proportions of the human body.

Vitruvius wrote that if a figure of a correctly proportioned human body were placed within a square (homo ad quadratum), which in turn was placed in a circle (homo ad circulum) in such a way that the corners of the square were just touching the arc of the circle, then the precise centre of both the circle and the square would be the human figure's navel (umbilicus ad circulum et ad quadratum).

This idea appealed greatly to Renaissance artists and they tried to apply it, despite the fact that it clearly was not true and the results always ended with weirdly distorted human figures.

Leonardo got around the problem not by distorting the human figure, but by shifting around Vitruvius' geometry. So his square does not actually fit within his circle at all and it is not centred on the human figure's navel, but on its penis.

For a figure to be a 'Vitruvian Man' it must be a human figure within both a circle and a square. If Sauniere had arranged his body within a circle then this does not make this a 'a life-sized replica of Leonardo da Vinci's most famous sketch', since it is missing the key element - the square.

Perhaps Sauniere was too busy bleeding to death to add this important element.

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Leonardo the Awkward

"Da Vinci had always been an awkward subject for historians, especially in the Christian tradition. Despite the visionary's genius, he was a flamboyant homosexual and worshipper of Nature's divine order, both of which placed him in a state of perpetual sin against God. Moreover, the artist's eerie eccentricities projected an admittedly demonic aura: Da Vinci exhumed corpses to study human anatomy; he kept mysterious journals in illegible reverse handwriting; he believed he possessed the alchemic power to turn lead into gold and even cheat God by creating an elixir to postpone death; and his inventions included horrific, never-before-imagined weapons of war and torture.'
(Chapter Eight, p. 45)

Leonardo's name was actually Leonardo di Ser Piero da Vinci, though he was known throughout his life as Leonardo or Leonardo Ser Piero. 'Da Vinci' is simply a reference to the Tuscan village in which he was born. Referring to him as 'Da Vinci' is a little like referring to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery of Alamein as 'Of Alamein'or Joan of Arc as 'Of Arc'. It is strange that Brown calls him 'Da Vinci' consistently, despite the fact he apparently studied art in Seville and his wife is supposedly an art historian.

It is difficult to see how Leonardo could be 'an awkward subject' for historians, given the vast numbers of books written on his life and work. Several of the other assertions in the passage above are also peculiar.

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Leonardo - A Flamboyant Homosexual?

Brown says Leonardo was 'a flamboyant homosexual'. If he was a homosexual, which is possible, he was anything but 'flamboyant' about it, since the evidence for his sexuality is best described as 'scant'. He was anonymously accused of 'sodomy' in 1476; the allegation being that he had had sex with a 17 year old boy called Jacopo Salterelli. It seems Salterelli was something of a hustler and, whether Leonardo had been his lover or not, the charge was dropped.

Apart from this, there is no direct evidence that Leonardo was a homosexual, so to call him a 'flamboyant' gay is ridiculous. Leonardo never married, loved painting beautiful and rather feminine-looking young men and had several young male assistants who do not seem to have been terribly talented as artists (including one, a scamp called Salai, who seems to have been more talented as thief), so it is likely he was gay. But a 'flamboyant homosexual' he was not.

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Leonardo - A Nature Worshipper?

Brown says that Leonardo was a 'worshipper of Nature's divine order' and seems to think this put him at odds with the Church. Leonardo certainly had a fascination with nature but to pretend he was a 'Nature worshipper' in any supernatural or religious sense is taking things well beyond the evidence.

Leonardo was not a particularly devout Catholic in his lifetime, but he was certainly a Catholic Christian, like anyone of his age:

(H)e was certainly no atheist. Like some scientists today, he felt that the very complexity and efficiency of nature argued some supreme creative agency behind it.
(D.M. Field, Leonardo da Vinci: Regency House, 2002, p.415)

Giorgio Vasari describes how, as he drew near death:

(Leonardo) desired to occupy himself with the truths of the Catholic faith and the holy Christian religion. Then, having confessed and shown his penitence with much lamentation, he devoutly took the Sacrament from his bed, supported by his friends and servants because he could not stand.
(Vasari, Lives of the Artists - Leonardo)

This does not sound like the deathbed of a Nature-worshipping keeper of the secrets of the Divine Feminine and the human nature of Jesus. In his will Leonardo left provisions for Masses to be said for his soul and for that of his housekeeper, Caterina.

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Science as Heresy?

Brown seems to imply that there was something dangerously heretical about exhuming corpses to study anatomy. In an interview with American ABC's Elizabeth Vargas, Brown asserts that Leonardo lived in 'an age when science was synonymous with heresy' and implies that this interest of Leonardo's, like his 'flamboyant homosexuality' and his 'Nature worship', put him at odds with the Church.

In fact, the taboo against dissecting corpses went back far earlier than Christianity and early medieval Europe had simply inherited it from the Greeks and Romans. Despite this, medieval surgeons and anatomists had revived the practice of dissecting corpses and had done so with the full knowledge and encouragement of Church authorities. Medieval churchmen at the University of Bologna had made dissection a regular part of the curriculum, and attendance at dissections was obligatory for medical students at Montpellier by the late Thirteenth Century. There is a modern myth, spread by anti-Catholic propagandists, that the Papal Bull, De Sepulturis, was a ban on dissection and an attempt by the Church to stifle science. In fact, that Bull addressed the boiling down of bodies of Crusaders who had died overseas for burial at home.

By Leonardo's time, the dissection of corpses for anatomical study was accepted and widespread. It was done under license to prevent grave-robbing, but it would not have put Leonardo at odds with the Church in any way.

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Leonardo the Alchemist?

There is nothing in any of the copious notes and writings that Leonardo has left us to suggest that he thought he could turn lead into gold or create alchemical elixirs to extend life. There is nothing, in fact, to suggest any interest in alchemy at all. On the contrary, he seems to have little time and scant regard for such superstitions. In his Notebooks he wrote scathingly of alchemy and similar nonsense:

The false interpreters of nature declare that quicksilver is the common seed of every metal, not remembering that nature varies the seed according to the variety of the things she desires to produce in the world. And many have made a trade of delusions and false miracles, deceiving the stupid multitude.
(Leonardo da Vinci, Notebooks )

These hardly sound like the words of a practicing alchemist.

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Leonardo's War Machines?

Leonardo's sketches of war machines etc were an attempt to secure the patronage of the governor of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. While they may look radical and outlandish to modern eyes, they have precedents in other works of the time, such as Roberto Valtario's De Re Militari, and in ancient military works, such as the treatise of Vegetius. Even his parachute and his flying machine have less well-known predecessors.

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Leonardo Bites the Hand that Feeds Him?

Even Da Vinci's enormous output of breathtaking Christian art only furthered the artist's reputation for spiritual hypocrisy. Accepting hundreds of lucrative Vatican commissions, Da Vinci painted Christian themes not as an expression of his own beliefs but rather as a commercial venture - a means of funding a lavish lifestyle. Unfortunately, Da Vinci was a prankster who often amused himself by quietly gnawing at the hand that fed him. He incorporated in many of his Christian paintings hidden symbolism that was anything but Christian - tributes to his own beliefs and a subtle thumbing of his nose at the Church.
(Chapter Eight, pp. 47-48)

Once again, Brown presents a cluster of authoritative-sounding statements, but none of them stand up to scrutiny.

Leonardo did not have an 'enormous output' of art of any kind. If anything, he is renowned for his relatively small output and for his tendency to begin projects without completing them and for taking on projects and never starting them. He was actually notorious for this in his lifetime, to the great frustration of his patrons.

The 'hundreds of lucrative Vatican commissions' Brown refers to seem to exist entirely in Brown's imagination. In his whole career, there is only vague evidence of one Papal commission. Leonardo seems to have made some suggestions to Pope Leo X as to the best way to drain the marshes around Rome. He was also a guest of the same pope in Rome for a while, where he was given license to dissect cadavers in a Papal hospital there (so much for his scientific work being some kind of threat to the Church), but that is the limit of his direct connections with the Papacy.

Similarly, the 'lavish lifestyle' Brown refers to seems to be more fantasy. What survives of Leonardo's accounts show that he lived more comfortably than most struggling artists in a time where painters were seen as only marginally more exalted than craftsmen, but he did not live lavishly. Brown seems to be trying to explain away the fact that the overwhelming majority of Leonardo's works are on Christian religious themes, which does not fit with his attempt to depict Leonardo as some wild, pagan, Nature-worshipping heretic.

There is absolutely no evidence of Leonardo ever being in any trouble or under any suspicion by the Catholic Church. There is certainly nothing to indicate any 'reputation for spiritual hypocrisy'. Once again, this is all pure fantasy on Brown's part.

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History vs The Da Vinci Code is copyright Tim O'Neill 2006. All rights reserved.