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THE DAVINCI CODE

Background
In The Da Vinci Code, the character of Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellen) offers a unique interpretation of this legendary painting, which Leonardo da Vinci started in 1495 and completed in 1498. Commissioned by his patron, the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, The Last Supper is in fact a mural painted directly onto the refectory wall of the Santa Maria delle Grazie monastery in Milan.

The painting, which measures 15 feet by 29 feet, portrays the moment after Jesus informs his apostles that one of them is about to betray him. The natural way the apostles' emotions are depicted, ranging from shock to consternation to the covert lack of expression on the face of Judas, was radically different from anything that had preceded it. The painting is anachronistic, using the kind of table, tablecloth, upright chairs and cutlery that would have been in everyday use by the monks in the 15th century.

Leonardo arranged the apostles in four groups of three, with Christ in the center, set apart from the apostles with empty space around him. The one-point perspective creates a central triangle composed of two triangles on each side. To the right of Jesus is the feminized figure of a young apostle, a central clue to the shocking conclusion of The Da Vinci Code.

Unfortunately, Leonardo chose not to use the conventional method for painting frescoes, which was to apply egg tempura on wet plaster. Instead, he painted directly onto the dry wall. By 1556, the art historian Vasari wrote that the painting had deteriorated so badly that only the vague shapes of the figures remained.

The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous and recognizable portraits ever painted. Leonardo began painting this enigmatic woman with a curiously inviting smile in 1503 and may have continued working on it for years. Three years before his death, when Leonardo went to France to work for the young King François I, he took the portrait with him. The painting was first displayed at Fontainebleau, then at Versailles, and finally in the Louvre, where its unknown subject now smiles through protective glass as rapt throngs wait to see her. The Mona Lisa is arguably the museum's most popular attraction.

For many years the painting was known as La Gioconda, since the portrait's subject was believed to be Elisabetta, third wife of the Florentine merchant Francesco del Giocondo. But the painting remains the subject of speculation. Some even believe Leonardo used himself as a model, others that the woman was a mistress of one of the Medicis.

Actor Jean Reno has been enamoured with the painting for most of his life. "I come back again and again to the Mona Lisa,” he says. "For me, it has what I call a kind of perfume, because when you turn around, the eyes seem to be following you. It's this exchange between the painting and the observer that I refer to as its perfume, its ability to intoxicate. While others say the power of Da Vinci's work is in her smile, for me it is her eyes.”

Adds Howard: "There's just something mesmerizing, engrossing and thought provoking about the Mona Lisa. This is why the painting is a great choice as an iconic reflection of the movie and as a graphic, identifiable image related to the story of The Da Vinci Code — not only was it painted by Da Vinci, but its enigmatic, mysterious quality perfectly mirrors the movie's themes.” Virgin of the Rocks

In 1483, Leonardo was commissioned to paint a work intended to be the center of an altarpiece. There are two paintings of the Virgin of the Rocks—the original on canvas, which hangs in the Louvre, and a later copy painted on wood, which is in the collection of the National Gallery in London—depicting the Virgin Mary sitting with the infants Jesus and John the Baptist, accompanied by the Archangel Uriel.

The painting, sometimes called the Madon

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