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The Leonardo Code

My art history professor from college must cringe as much as I do every time I hear the words “The Da Vinci Code.” The hype surrounding this book and now, the movie, is so overworked that I can’t believe I’m going to write about it. But I can be silent no longer. That’s because of something I was told about 20 years ago while sitting in an art history class. During the class, we sat in a dark theater-like tiered room looking at slides of master works, and listened to a very affected art history teacher with a bobbed haircut and gigantic glasses drone on about each piece of art work and its significance to humankind. The class was an elective.I hadn’t thought much about that class until the phenomenon known as “The Da Vinci Code” appeared a few years ago in book form. When I first heard the title, it was like listening to nails on a chalkboard, because that college professor had humiliated a fellow student of mine regarding Leonardo da Vinci’s name. We were studying “The Last Supper” when a student called out from the darkened room, “How old was da Vinci when he painted this?” The professor, her face lit only by a small lamp, snapped her head around and put her hand up to her eyes. “Who said that?” she roared. “I did,” the girl replied meekly. “NEVER,” thundered the professor, “and I repeat NEVER refer to Leonardo as ‘da Vinci.’ His name is Leonardo. ‘Da Vinci’ merely indicates where he was from. He was from Venice – Leonardo of Venice. When you refer to him as ‘da Vinci’ it’s like you’re calling him ‘of Venice.’ That’s like referring to Jesus as ‘of Nazareth.’ It makes no sense. Leonardo is Leonardo.”The student crumpled into a tiny ball and rolled out of the classroom, and I never forgot the professor’s decree – that is, until “The Da Vinci Code” became a huge bestseller, and I wondered why it wasn’t called “The Leonardo Code.” Where was my ornery art history professor when the world needed her to set everybody straight?The author of “The Da Vinci Code,” Dan Brown, is facing all sorts of accusations about his book’s “facts” and its religious implications – to say nothing of Brown’s writing ability and the film’s quality. Still, I’ve never heard anyone else – professor or otherwise – correct anybody about using ‘da Vinci’ when referring to old Leo. But to me Leonardo will always be Leonardo – code or no code. Carrie Click is the editor and general manager of The Citizen Telegram in Rifle (citizentelegram.com). She wonders to this day if her old art history professor was right. Carrie can be reached at 625-3245, ext. 101, cclick@citizentelegram.com.


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