Sunday, March 29, 2009

Is there Hermetic symbolism in the Madonna with the Yarnwinder?

Posted by Lyla Torricelli:

They say that the real test of a novel theory is whether or not it is predictive and can explain and integrate new data. Since we’ve been tipped off on this website to look for Hermetic gestures in the works of Leonardo and others, I wonder if anyone else has noticed something interesting in the Madonna with the Yarnwinder, recently in the news.

On the surface it looks like a typical Italian Renaissance Madonna and Child. But let’s suppose that Leonardo wanted to register some elitist grievances against the abysmal religious establishment of his day. He could do so by encoding certain symbolic features of recognition for the benefit of fellow Johannite Hermetics (part of this hypothesis) in his circle, who also understood the language of this code. We might get something like this:

Baby Jesus, gazing aloft, and clutching an object powerfully suggestive of the staff of St. John the Baptist, appears to be quite slyly showing us the up-pointed index finger of Mercury/Hermes (cf. Gianbologna, Botticelli) perhaps signaling the first part of that famous universal Hermetic motto “As above.” Meanwhile, the Virgin Mary, equipped with a rather broad and sturdy hand for her dainty frame (perhaps suggestive of the Alchemical Androgyne) is showing us a similar downward hand gesture to those we see in Raphael’s School of Athens, and in Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks, possibly signaling the other half of that same Hermetic motto “So Below.”

Oh, and by the way, I hope you didn’t miss the fact that in this version of the painting, a very strong landscape line points right across the neck of the Infant Jesus...a convergence that many a studio art teacher might question as an awkward bit of composition. However, as a symbolic feature, this rather strained design element might also be a well understood reference to St. John the Baptist, whose severed head ended up on a platter as the price of Salome’s famous dance. It’s almost as if someone ordered Leonardo to paint a Madonna and Child, but he said to himself... “I’d really prefer to paint a St. Elizabeth holding her far more engaging infant, St. John the Baptist.”

If I can learn to read this code, so can you. It’s fun, there’s none of that ambiguous sfumato and mirrors stuff conjuring up anything and everything, and as you can see, this unmistakable symbolism clearly attributable to the artist himself pops up all over the place! I think it’s inescapable that with Leonardo da Vinci, we will never run out of truly amazing things to discover including lots more symbols that also point to Hermeticism. Happy hunting!

(If you wish to reproduce this text elsewhere, please mention Divertimento da Vinci or include its title graphic.)

No comments: