Leonardo da Vinci, a Gnostic reading

In my article Leonardo and the mystery of Mary Magdalene I write the following:


Codex Forster II, folio 3 Straight. On the right we can read Cristo; Giovan Conte, quello del Cardinale del Mortaro; Giovannina, viso fantastico, sta a Santa Caterina all'ospedale

"Since, according to Jean Paul Richter, Count Giovanni would be among the faces chosen by Leonardo to portray the physiognomy of Christ (passage 667 of the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci), since the appointment to Giovannina is immediately after (JP Richter, passage 1404), and also refers to her face, this one could represent the only woman in this fresco, who cannot be other than Mary Magdalene, personifying John 'the virginal', as we have seen above. This finding would put an end to the long controversy about this particular".

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Comparison of the face of John / Magdalene (top right) with that of other female characters in Leonardo's work. Note the similarity with the Virgin Mary of the Virgin of the Rocks (bottom left)

We must bear in mind that this codex (Forster II) was written in 1495; that is, when Leonardo began working at the Last Supper of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. That is to say, Giovannina is undoubtedly the Magdalena that supplants John in this fresco.

In other articles of this section I refer to the custom, in Catalonia and Occitania, of representing a pregnant Magdalena, or adopting the role of John the Evangelist. See especially: The Saint John Androgyne and the pregnant Magdalene.

In this article I do not intend to speak on this subject, but rather to deepen a question that has so far been interpreted somewhat superficially: its concept of "androgyny". From my point of view, he assumes the basic notions of the Gnostic doctrine, which Leonardo must have known through his teacher Marsilio Ficino. I intend to demonstrate this assumption with the following written fragment, extracted from my book (yet to be published) Leonardo, ese gran desconocido. I hope it's to your liking.

Gnostic readings of Leonardo's work

Leonardo had to be inspired by various Gnostic books when making his writings or his pictorial works. There are many examples. We have already seen in the Introduction some examples of his severe concept of the human race: "Man is the most evil of animals", "man is a cruel monster", "man is a receptacle of villainy, a cluster of the greater ingratitude and deposit of all vice, "" ignorance is like the rust that corrodes steel", or "the ignorant are sacks of excrement, and worse than beasts." These merciless phrases make you think of his Allegory of the sun mirror (see above) 1: a seated man holds a mirror that reflects the sun's rays. These illuminate the struggle of a group of animals (two lions, a winged dragon, a unicorn, a wolf and a wild boar), located opposite. He perhaps may want to "give them light" (in the literal sense of the word), or keep them away 2.

See in this regard the Book of Thomas: “I truly do not consider these as men, but as beasts. For in the same way that beasts devour each other, men of this class also devour each other.” 3. Do these expressions, such as "men are worse than beasts," or his Allegory of the sun mirror, not make us to think in this Gnostic book? As regards of the Light, as an epitome of this hidden knowledge of Gnostic origin, Leonardo writes: “Blind ignorance deceives us and makes us enjoy the result of its lascivious games. Because he doesn't know the true Light. Because he doesn't know what true Light is. The vain splendor takes us away from the power of being ... Behold! Because of his vain splendor we go to the fire, so that blind ignorance deceives us ... Oh, damned mortals, open your eyes! ” 4.

Compare again with the Book of Thomas: "Whenever the elect abandon the bestiality [see above], then the Light will appear in their presence." Or, "Whoever seeks the truth in true wisdom will win wings to escape the attack of voluptuousness."

In both the Gnostic and canonical gospels, the Light expresses a very powerful idea: that of knowledge, or wisdom of hidden things: “There is nothing hidden but to be discovered, and there is nothing hidden but to come to the light ”(Mark, 4, 22). "There is nothing hidden that does not end up being manifest, and nothing hidden that can be maintained without being revealed" (Gospel of Thomas, 6).

Light is an essential element in Leonardo's hidden message: "When the Sun appears and dissipates darkness in the world, you turn off the light that dissipated darkness for you" 5. Leonardo uses the same analogy as Pythagoras, in relation to light and the diffusion of knowledge 6. Both messages seem to share the same origin, associated with Gnosticism and certain Rosicrucian-inspired sects (see Chapter 19) 7. Again, the Gospel of Thomas expresses a very similar idea: "Nobody lights a lamp and places it under the bushel or in another hidden place, but puts it on the lampstand, so that all who enter and leave see its radiance" ( Gospel of Thomas, 33) 8.

The truth (the Light) must be accessible to all; but not everyone is called to meet her. Since "The truth has not come naked to this world, but wrapped in symbols and images" (Gospel of Philip, 67). This is revealed by Leonardo to his peers, as we will have the opportunity to verify in Chapter 19. A well-known example of the "veiled images" that Leonardo uses to make the "secret" known to the "elect" is the famous figure of the Magdalena, adopting the role of John the Evangelist at the Last Supper in Milan. Here Mary Magdalene replaces the "beloved disciple of Jesus" (John the Evangelist), being reconvened (if not threatened) by Peter with an ostentatious gesture; with the other hand he holds a knife disturbingly 9. Leonardo unequivocally represented the presence of a woman in the Cenacle of Milan, adopting the role of John 10.

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John / Magdalene is threatened by Peter at Leonardo's Last Supper

If we look at the most relevant detail of the Cenacle, we will verify that Peter threatens John-Magdalene with the palm of one hand. From my point of view, both details (the threat of Peter and the androgyny of John-Magdalene) appear promptly mentioned in the Gospel of Thomas (paragraph 114): “Simon Peter told them: 'Let Mariham [Magdalene] move away from us !, because women are not worthy of life '. Jesus said: ‘Look, I will take care of making her male, so that she too becomes a living spirit, identical to you men: for every woman who becomes male will enter the kingdom of heaven. 11.

This has to make us aware of two realities: the concept of “androgyny”, which Leonardo expressed many times in his work, could be based on this apocryphal book of the first century after Christ; and on the other hand, Leonardo had access to information (the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, the Book of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, the Pistis Sofia, the Protoevangelium of James, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, etc.) that was not at reach of ordinary people; and that in those moments it could cause him many problems with the Inquisition. This would be a further proof of his manifest "heresy."

But let's focus on the main problem of the aforementioned text (Gospel of Thomas, 114). We must not be fooled by its literal meaning, because it is not an anti-feminin (or misogynist) manifesto. Instead, it alludes to the Gnostic concept of "divine hierogamy" (sacred shrines). Marihan represents here the Sofia (that is, Wisdom), which is sterile if it is not transformed into a male (in Knowledge): “Sofia is sterile, without children; that is why it is called salt… ”(Gospel of Philip, 36); "Let's say - if it's allowed - a secret: the Father of Everything joined the virgin ..." (Gospel of Philip, 82); "When you are able ... to reduce the masculine and the feminine to unity, so that the male ceases to be male and the female female ... then you can enter the Kingdom" (Gospel of Thomas, 22).

Aurelio de Santos Otero writes, in this regard: “This union [divine hierogamy] corresponds to the marriage between Christ and the Holy Spirit, or between the Savior and the lower Sofia, or even that of Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the earthly sphere ” 12.

In this regard, the Gospel of Philip (paragraph 55) says as follows: “Sofia - whom they call est the barren - is the mother of angels; The companion of Christ is Mary Magdalene. The Lord loved Mary more than to all the other disciples, and kissed her repeatedly on the mouth. ” This would explain Peter's animosity towards María Magdalena, and her merger with John, in application of the Gnostic principles outlined above, which are summarized in a single concept (androgyny), which we will have the opportunity to explain elsewhere (Chapter 10).

In application of the axiom that Truth is veiled by symbols, Gnosticism equates Truth (Aleteia) to Sofia, and Knowledge to Gnosis: "The mother is the truth, while knowledge is the father" (Gospel of Philip, 110). The Hebrew Kabbalists called One to the union between the feminine aspect of God (the Shechina), and the Holy One, his masculine aspect: “If the Holy One, Blessed be, is the King, the Shechina is the Queen, the Princess or the Wife of the King: King and Queen, Husband and Wife, are the 'male' and the 'female'” 13. In this regard the Zohar (III-tb) says the following: “One is called the union of the Male and the Female; and only when the Female is attached to the Male can this word be used. ”

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Comparison of The Holy Supper of Solsona and Leonardo's Last Supper. Note, below, the V that make up Mary Magdalene and Christ

This Gnostic and Kabbalistic principle (Kabbalah is the Hebrew expression of Gnosticism) is reflected, again, by Leonardo, in his Cenacle. As is well known, one of the fundamental symbols of the Florentine genius is the Androgyne, or the Hermaphrodite, the Union in the same individual of the masculine and feminine principles, and therefore the expression of the One (see above). In the Last Supper the first (Christ, the Savior) forms with the second (John-Magdalene) a V-shaped figure, which could represent on the one hand the Grail (the receptacle, the crater) and on the other it could constitute the latin expression of the One (capital V equals Latin U) 14.

This representation exemplifies that without his feminine expression (the Magdalene) the One (Christ) is not complete. Hence both characters (Christ and Magdalene) wear clothes with inverted colors: blue dress and red robe in Her, and red dress, blue robe in Him. From my point of view, the V that conform with their bodies would allude to the Gnostic principle of the Union of male and female, which in turn symbolize knowledge and wisdom (Gnosis and Sofia), which are at the base of Leonardian androgyny; that, of course, we must interpret by transcending their profane connotations, to focus on their most esoteric reading.


1 Département des Arts Graphiques, Musée du Louvre, París, 2247.

2 Look at figure 2.

3 Book of Thomas. Beginnings of III Century.

4 J.P. Richter, note 1182.

5 J.P. Richter, note 687.

6 The exact phrase of Pythagoras is as follows: Ad lucernam faciem in speculo ne contemplator: that is, "do not look in the mirror in the light of the torch." Pitágoras. Sentencias y versos de oro. Biblok, page 131.

7 Gospel of Philip (paragraph 75): “Without light no one can contemplate himself, neither on a surface of water nor in a mirror; but if you don't have water or a mirror - even having light- you won't be able to contemplate yourself either. That is why it is necessary to be baptized with two things: with light and with water. Now, light is the anointing. ”

8 Although it is possible that Leonardo was inspired indirectly by Pythagoras, through his teacher Marsilio Ficino.

9 Look at figure 56.

10 Leonardo writes: “Cristo. Giovan Conte, quello del Cardinale del Mortaro ”; and then “Giovannina, viso fantastico, sta a Santa Caterina all’spedale” (Jean Paul Richter, Notes 667 and 1404). Forster II codex, 3 r (dated 1495). It is evident that this Giovannina cannot be other than Mary Magdalene, who in the Cenacle of Milan usurps the role of John the Evangelist (hence her name: Giovannina).

11 It is significant the fact that in Leonardo's Last Supper it is Thomas who raises his finger to Heaven (esoteric symbol of "superior knowledge", or gnosis), which could indicate that Leonardo used this gnostic book (The Gospel of Tomás) to represent Peter's rejection of Magdalena and the concept of androgyny. In the Acts of Thomas, another apocryphal book, this apostle is called, repeatedly, "twin brother of Christ": "I know that you [Thomas] are the twin brother of Christ" (Third Fact). That is why it is known as Dídimo (both the Aramaic Thomas and the Greek Dídimo mean the same thing: "twin"). Curiously, to the right of Thomas another apostle, James the Elder, has a remarkable resemblance to Christ. Is it casual?

12 Los Evangelios apócrifos. Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos. Página 388. In my book Temas de Historia Oculta II, las doctrinas prohibidas (página 73) I write: “Sofia is one of the superior eons, who in the great Gnostic drama known as Pistis Sophia is tempted by pride, and pledged with matter. His repentance touches the higher powers, which take her out of the abyss and place her at the lower end of the kingdom of Light. In this purgatory she will find Knowledge, her male counterpart; then she can be rescued from her fall ”.

13 Julio Peradejordi. La Cábala. Obelisco, página 44.

14 Others interpret that it is an M, alluding perhaps to Magdalene.