Da Vinci's Code

Professor Christopher Witcombe, Art History


CONTENTS & SCHEDULE RESOURCES

Requirements

The Course

    The course examines the authenticity, truth, plausibility, and validity of the claims made in the novel The Da Vinci Code in the context of Renaissance art and culture

Meeting Place and Time

    Pannell 015: Fall, 2004, Thursdays 1:15-3:45

Required Texts and Reading

    Susan Haskins
    Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor, 1993
    OR
    Susan Haskins
    Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor, 1995 REPRINT

    Serge Bramly
    Leonardo Da Vinci: The Artist and the Man, 1995

    Rudolph Wittkower
    Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, 1998

    Further Required Readings are indicated on this website by the yellow arrow

Student Responsibilities

    Three papers (6-8 pages, plus illustrations and bibliography) or websites; one from each of the following general areas:
    1. Mary Magdalen
      Due Thursday, October 7
      some suggested topics
      1. Mary Magdalen in the Gnostic Gospels
      2. Examine the treatment of Mary Magdalen in the 1960 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and / or the 1988 film by Martin Scorsese of The Last Temptation of Christ.
      3. Jesus and Women in the Canonical Gospels
      4. The custom of anointing with oil in Biblical times
      5. Examine how and the extent to which Dan Brown utilized Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln's 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail in Chapters 55, 56, and 58 in The Da Vinci Code
      6. Hair (especially Mary Magdalen's)
      7. Argue the case for and against Gregory I's assertion in Homily 33 that Mary Magdalen is "Luke's female sinner, the woman John calls Mary, and that Mary from whom Mark says seven demons were cast out."

    2. Leonardo da Vinci and Renaissance Art
      Due Thursday, November 4
      some suggested topics
      1. Re-read the section in Serge Bramly (pages 276-281, 294-297) concerning Leonardo's Last Supper. Review the various questions raised about the painting and comment on the validity of the observations made by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code.
      2. Re-read the section in Serge Bramly (pages 183-190) concerning Leonardo's Virgin of the Rocks. Review the various questions raised about the painting and comment on the validity of the observations made by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code.
      3. Re-read the section in Serge Bramly (pages 361-367) concerning the Mona Lisa. Review the various questions raised about the portrait and comment on the validity of the observations made by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code.
      4. Re-read the section in Serge Bramly (pages 317-321) concerning Leonardo's Virgin and Child with St. Anne. Review the various questions raised about the painting and comment on the validity of the observations made by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code.
      5. Select three or four examples of Sandro Botticelli's Allegoric Paintings and examine the artist's representation of women as personifications of particular human (or especially female) qualities, conduct, actions, or experience.
      6. Research what is known about the Sibyls and consider the possible meaning of their place and role in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling fresco.
      7. Examine Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting of the Fall and Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, its source in Genesis, Books 1-3, and its significance for women.
      8. Review what is known about Agnolo Bronzino's painting Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time and consider its possible meaning(s).

    3. Numbers and Numerology, Sacred Geometry and Proportion, Secrets and Secrecy in the Renaissance
      Due Thursday, December 9
      some suggested topics
      1. In the light of Professor Wassell's lectures, examine Dan Brown's discussion of PHI (1.618).
      2. Discuss the Fibonacci sequence and its relation to the Golden Section.
      3. Using Rudolf Wittkower's Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, examine the claim made on page 29 concerning "the mathematical interpretation of all matter," and the notion that architecture is "a mathematical science which worked in spatial units."
      4. "Renaissance artists," wrote Rudolf Wittkower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism (page 27), "firmly adhered to the Pythagorean concept 'All is Number' and, guided by Plato and the Neo-Platonists and supported by a long chain of theologians from Augustine onwards, they were convinced of the mathematical and harmonic structure of the universe and all creation." Discuss.
      5. Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans.
      6. Late in his career the 15th-century Florentine Neoplatonist Marsilio Ficino wrote a treatise called the "Fatal Number"(De Numero Fatali) in which he focused on the difficult mathematical passage that occurs toward the beginning of Book VIII of Plato's Republic, where Socrates refers to this mysterious or "fatal" number in order to explain why ideal republics may be apt to deteriorate into tyrannies. In some way, the "fatal" number plays a role in determining the future prosperity of a republic. Plato has Socrates discuss the necessity of improving inborn or hereditary qualities in the human race. He argued that the State should regulate parenthood in order to ensure a continuance of harmony and balance in civic development. Examine Ficino's argument using Michael J. B. Allen's book Nuptial Arithmetic: Marsilio Ficino's Commentary on the Fatal Number in Book VIII of Plato's Republic (Berkeley: University of California, 1994).
      7. Secret Societies
      8. Investigate the existence (or non-existence) of the Priory of Sion.
      9. Numerology
      10. Using H. Diane Russell's catalogue, Eva/Ave: Women in Renaissance and Baroque Prints (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1990), discuss "The Power of Women."
      11. Judith and the Threat of Women.
      12. Read Anne Llewellyn Barstow, Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts (1994) and discuss women and witchcraft in 16th-century Europe.
      13. Review the contents of Heinrich Krämer and Jacob Sprenger's Malleus Maleficarum (1486) using the excerpts translated by Montague Summers [London, 1928] (1972).
      14. Using books, newspapers, magazines, and online articles, reviews, essays, comments, and blogs, examine the public response to the Da Vinci Code in America.

Grading

    Each paper = 30%
    Class participation = 10%
Office and Hours
    Pannell 04: Thursdays 12:00-1:00. Others times by appointment

CONTENTS & SCHEDULE RESOURCES