"As anyone can plainly see, the space between Jesus and John, or Mary, or whoever it really is, forms the letter 'V'. How do you explain this?"
This question frequently comes up. The negative space between these two figures in Leonardo's Last Supper is, indeed, "vee"-shaped. No argument from me. Additionally, if one looks at the negative space and those two figures together, a sort of clunky "M" can be formed. And, yes, "anyone can plainly see" this, if they are inclined to look for it.
How do I explain this? To my mind, it's a matter of perspective. I mean that both literally and figuratively.See, I've always viewed this picture not as mysterious, or mystical, or even particularly religious. To me, it's "merely" one of the greatest examples of one-point perspective on earth. When I look at it - at least up until recently, mind you - I see a composition with five figural pyramids (i.e.: 3-3-1-3-3) that strike a superb balance all the way across the painting. Their placement is such that one's eye is always directed to the Big Guy pyramid in the middle, whose head is right in front of the vanishing point.
This is what I see, because I am also looking with the figurative perspective of an artist who will cease trying to compose better pictures only when dead. (For you non-artists, when another artist does something so incredibly great that you're slack-jawed with envy, you either give up art entirely or try to figure out how s/he did it.) So, when looking at the Last Supper, I see an incredible composition that I might have come up with, myself - if only I was five-bizillion-percent better, as an artist, and somewhere in Leonardo's league. (Or even on Leonardo's farm team.) Hidden letters, no. I am not saying you have to see this, too.
Now, if a body goes looking for a "V" or an "M" (which, let's face it, we've all done after reading The Da Vinci Code), yes! There they are! Mr. Brown's literary perspective in action, and as clear as day. Many people are inclined to agree with this perspective and assign it all sorts of delicious possibilities. This is fine, and, frankly, sounds way more fun than talking about compositional elements.
Was this "V"/"M" simply an offshoot of the composition and Leonardo's incomparable use of perspective, was he hiding a secret code in there, or was the latter cleverly accomplished by use of the first? We can guess and debate from now until our sun expands to red giant stage, but no one can say conclusively what Leonardo was doing. Not for the first time, my strongest desire is that he'd left us some _____ (insert your favorite expletive here) written proof so we could all talk about something else.
Anyway - what's most important in all this is what you think. It would be nice if you'd consider the one-point perspective business, but not expected. If you're convinced that there is hidden code in the Last Supper, my little words about composition aren't going to dissuade you. Nor should they, as you might be proven right about hidden letters. You might even be the person who finds the proof. In that case, remember me when you're mailing out review copies of your book, please.
In sum, I'd respectfully submit that - as with everything else surrounding the Last Supper, post-DVC publication - the hidden letters are a matter of "po·tay·to" and "po·tah·to". Lacking any official word from that big tease Leonardo, we're free to see what we see as individuals. I see pyramids and negative space, but can comfortably co-exist with opinions that see beyond that.
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