Armenians inspire Leonardo Da Vinci in painting his famous “The Last Supper”

Armenians inspire Leonardo Da Vinci in painting his famous “The Last Supper”

PanARMENIAN.Net - After the death of Leonardo Da Vinci, three components which connect Da Vinci with Armenia were found: namely, the unique Armenian Bagaran style church plans, the “Armenian Letters”, and the portraits of three Armenian heads, Melkon Armen Nercissian Khandjian from the U.S. Aquarian Millennium Armenological Institute wrote in his article.

The Armenian church style known as Bagaran plan, is uniquely Armenian architectural concept where four columns are used to support a square upon which it becomes possible to build a dome.

“The scholars who accept the fact that Leonardo travelled through Armenia, propose that he personally saw and copied the basic design church structures and by making certain improvements he formulated the sketches which abound in his notebook. This Bagaran style churches are absent in Cilician Armenia, where most agree he may have visited.

The origianal Bagaran style church or rather chapel, was built in the 7th century, 624-631, on the right shore of Akhurian River in East Armenia during the Bagratunian Kingdom. “Bag-aran” means the “abode of god," the author said.

According to Melkon Armen Nercissian Khandjian, this style of architecture can be seen in Eastern Armenia, notably in the churches of Edjmiyadzin built in 301-304 and renovation of the same in 484. Therefore, the roots of Bagaran style may go to pre-Christian heathenism period.

The Bagaran church style may have spread westward, even to Europe, under the Byzantine Armenian/Macedonian Emperors of the 9th century. The church Germine-de-Pres was built by Armenian architect Odo le Messin for the French monarch Charlemagne. Empress Teophano, of Armenian descent, built Bagaran style two churches in Germany. Her daughter Theophano built a church in same style in Kohn, Germany. Armenian emigrants built Bagaran planned churches in Belgium, Italy and Byzantium. Chapel of San Satiro in Milan, was based on Bagaran plan, and was known to Leonardo.

“In the “Codex Atlanticus”, there are two pages of handwritten, mirror-image, letters later entitled as “Armenian Letters.” Leonardo describes his visit to the Cilician Taurus Mountains and draws sketches of Armenian mountains and valleys,” the article reads.

“Da Vinci historians are puzzled about his interest and detailed descriptions of faraway Armenia. Some have suggested that his ancestors came from Armenia. Others advance the theory that he personally travelled across Armenia. Others propose that he received information about Armenia from fellow travellers and merchants, and especially from descriptions made by his close friend Benedito Dei, a merchant and the ambassador of Italy to the Ottoman Sultan.

Some historians do not agree that Da Vinci travelled through Armenia. They consider his “Letters of Armenia” as information collected for a novel he was going to write. Others insist that he indeed travelled through Armenia, made the sketches of some Armenian churches and mountain sceneries.

Leonardo writes about his massive construction project in Syria for the Mameluke Sultan of Egypt. His correspondence with the lieuteneant of the Sultan is addressed as “Devatgar”––the title of high official at the court. He mentions his visit to the city of Kalindra and the Taurus Mountain range. Leonardo calls these mountains Caucasian Mountains and explains that on his visit to the shores of Caspian Sea, the natives told him that their mountains are also called Caucasus and are the real Caucasian Range.

“His descriptions of the mountains in Asia Minor, Cilician Turus Mountains (high points of Arnos and Artev) to East Armenia as far as Erzerum, the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers, beyond to the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea accompanied with drawings is a strong indication that he knew Armenia very well, “ Mr. Armen Nercissian Khandjian wrote.

In a letter to Sultan Bayazid II, Leonardo, in 1502, proposes to build a bridge across Pera to Constantinople. Again a good indication that he visited the area. Even though those who oppose Leonardo’s visit to Armenia and consider his information on Armenia as notes for his novel on the end of the world, admit that his descriptions are genuine and real depictions of Armenian Highlands. Could all these have come to him from ancient writers, his merchant friend Dei, other travellers or Armenians residing in Milan? Perhaps some, but not all. His knowledge and sketches are vivid and substantial. He must have travelled if not across but at least through “Western Armenia.” Through the years 1481-1487, there are no records in his biography about his whereabouts. These may well be the years he was travelling through Armenia in service of the Mameluke Sultan.

"It is intersting that Leonardo sketched the profile of three Armenian faces. It is not known what was his interest in them," the artile reads.

"The book by author Dan Brown (2004), and the same named motion picture produced by director Ron Howard (2006), created a never before seen sensation in America and abroad. The novel THE DA VINCI CODE, uncovers the great secret that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, had children from her, the descendants of whom are alive even today. This secret was supposedly known to Da Vinci who in a secret coded message represented her in his painting of “THE LAST SUPPER.”

The author of this article proposes that not only Leonardo Da Vinci was well familliar with Armenian art and architecture, but must have certainly gotten his idea of “The Last Supper” (painted in 1495-1498) from an illuminated Armenian Bible manuscript (dated 1038, of Vanian school). This Armenian manuscript is the first and probably the only painting that shows among the desciples a woman, Mary Magdalene, lovingly leaning her head on the shoulder of Jesus! Da Vinci may certainly have been influenced by this idea of Jesus at the table scene showing a feminine looking desciple sitting on his left.

"Another Armenian manuscript, (dated as late 13th to early 14th century, from Artsakh), shows Jesus (his figure missing in a lost page)) surrounded by eleven apostles (only heads are shown) around a round table, with Mary Magdalene drawn separately but completing the position of the twelfth desciple. In yet another manuscript, “The Ascension” (dated 1287, from Cilicia, and attributed to Toros Roslin), Jesus is shown ascending to heaven, with Mary, his mother, at the base of the scene surrounded by 13, not 12, desciples! At a prominent position is a portrait of a woman with braided hair and a hair band! This is no other than Mary Magdalene!" the scolar wrote.

"All these Armenian illuminated miniature paintins are several centuries earlier than Da Vinci’s “Last Supper.” It is as if the Armenian artists are using a hidden code to give Mary Magdalene a prominent position among the desciples. Perhaps, these must be taken as the oldest and boldest representation of Mary Magdalene as a very close person to Jesus, discretely suggesting their marital status!

These paintings, pages from Armenian Bibles, were produced by Armenian illuminators from Armenian Cilicia, Armenian Van and Armenian Artsakh––encompassing the western extreme, through central to the eastern border of the Armenian Highlands.

Accrding to the scolar, if Leonardo travelled through Armenia and studied Armenian church architecture, then certainly he came across and studied the above mentioned or similar illuminations which may have been the source of his Magdalene as an exalted female apostle of Jesus. There may have been many such manuscripts but due to constant wars and the ravages of Mongol-Turk-Tartar invaders who burned and destroyed Armenian literary and art treasures, these most valuable cultural inheritance were forever lost. During the Armenian Genocide by the Turks, 1985-1923, the Turks destroyed all Bibles and illuminated manuscripts they could lay their genocidal hands on.

In 301 A.D. Armenia became the first nation to accept Christianity as her national religion. The Armenian Alphabet was formed in 406 A.D.. Thereafter, Armenian illuminated bible and manuscript art bloomed. The earliest Armenian illuminated manuscript in existence is the Edjmiyadzin Gospel which consists of two illuminations––one from 6th-7th centuries and the other 898. The second is Queen Mlke’s Gospel of 862 A.D., Vaspurakan. The earliest Armenian “Last Supper” is from the Gospel of 1041. In the Gladzor Gospel, 14th. century, “the Last Supper” shows heads only, with an old, grey haired apostle leaning on Jesus’s left shoulder. John, the beardless young man, sits at the end of the table, second from the last desciple!

It is clear that the Armenian illuminators gave the honor of sitting next to Jesus to John, or an old desciple or Mary Magdalene, reflecting their personal interpretation of the last supper and the influence of the Armenian church at their times," concluded Melkon Armen Nercissian Khandjian.

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