Leonardo Da Vinci`s “Virgin of the Rock”
LeonardoDa Vinci’s “Virgin of the Rock”
Theoriginal commission for Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Virgin of the Rock”did not include the figure of St. John the Baptist. However, lookingat the finished artwork, one would not overlook the fact the figureof St. John the Baptist in the painting is an important element ofthe work, that’s why it is interesting to study the reasons behindthe inclusion of the figure of St. John in this masterpiece.
LeonardoDa Vinci’s “original commission for his famous Madonna of theRocks came from an organization known as the Confraternity of theImmaculate Conception, which needed a painting for the centerpiece ofan altar triptych in their church of San Francesco Grand in Milan”[ CITATION Mar091 l 1033 ].From this original commission, it can be observed that the work wouldbe primarily serving two main purposes: to reflect the people’sfaith and reverence on Christ and the Mary, the Holy Virgin Motherand to decorate the church. For a brilliant mind as complicated as DaVinci’s, it is not easy to quickly understand why the originalcommission was not complied with and instead, additional figure suchas that of St. John would find itself in the middle of themasterpiece that is expected to stand for a long period of time.Although it is impossible to come up with a single explanation thatwould be considered as the most accurate, Da Vinci is long gone andcannot anymore speak for himself, perhaps it will help one tounderstand the probable reason why St. John had to be in the pictureby looking at the roleSt. John played in the faith of Christian believers.
Fromthe historical context of the Holy Bible, St. John played animportant role in Christianity because of he served to prepare theway for the ministry of Christ by performing baptism. He was evendescribed in the scriptures as a significant person, even “morethan a prophet” (Matthew 11:9). In addition, even the bloodrelationship between Christ and John was highlighted in the holybooks. Looking at the emphasis the bible alluded to the person of St.John, it was significant from the Holy Scriptures that St. John had arole very similar to Mary, that is, in preparing Christ for hisdivine mission on earth. Should the painting have remained true tothe original commission wherein only the Virgin Mother would be inthe picture, it would create an impression that only Mary played arole in the temporal preparations of Christ who would later on begina ministry that would change the course of the world and bring aboutsalvation to mankind. Instead, having St. John in the paintingimplies that mortals played a significant role in Christ’s earlylife and that his divinity was developed with the help of commonpeople who had great callings such as Mary and St. John. The saidinclusion likewise created a balance between two groups of beings inthe picture. Mary and St. Joseph represented the mortal, imperfecthuman while Christ and the Angel Uriel represented the divine. Theequality in number might be an important aspect that Da Vinci wantedto emphasize, specially that the “Virgin on the Rocks” suggeststhe message of humility because the revered characters portrayed wereactually sitting on the dirt ground, with all the rock formation setas background instead of floating in the air in a surreal manner.Also, the equality in the number of gender representation had beenpossible by adding the character of St. John as there became two malefigures and two female figures. In other paintings, Mary and Christare often portrayed to be floating in the air and wearing halo. Inthis particular masterpiece, humility and humanity was highlightedinstead because all the characters, divine or not are sitting on thesame ground, engaging in a common affair.
Theinclusion of St. John in the painting adds to the narrative of thepainting by telling the story of how Christ as a child was shaped bymortal, imperfect people as symbolized by the two people closest tohim, namely, Mary and St. John. The painting, because of the presenceof St. John can be seen to symbolize equality. As earlier pointedout, the inclusion of St. John in the painting effectively balancedthe characters and the personalities in the portrait. Therelationship between Mary and the angel as well as that of St. Johnas an infant and the baby Christ is unmistakable. The contrastbetween the two pairs showed the two types of personalities which arethe divine and the mortal, both depending on and protecting eachother. The Virgin mother protects her divine child while the angelprotects the mortal infant St. John. From the said symbolism, thepainting became more and profound, befitting the works of a truegenius as great as Da Vinci.
Allgood, M. (2009). What Da Vinci Really Didn`t Want You to Know: The Jesus Conspiracy. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse.
HolyBible, The Gospel According to St. Matthew.