The Chthonic Roots of Leonardo da Vinci’s Youthful Iconography

Christopher Tyler

Abstract


An unusual feature that is found in most of Leonardo da Vinci’s depictions of the Virgin Mary is a striking yellow or golden sash around her waist. This feature is not found in prior depictions of this central figure of Christian iconography, and in only a few of the works of his immediate pupils, and is thus largely unique to Leonardo. As such, it calls for an analytic appraisal of its derivation as a symbolic trope in his youthful works. An association with the myth of Persephone is developed on the basis of several features of his ‘Virgin of the Rocks’, in which this yellow sash is a central motif. This mythic identification in turn helps to account for the substantial deviation of this work from the specification of its original commission into an extreme version of the mountainous setting that is common to most of Leonardo’s established works. The roots of this symbolism are considered in relation to the Etruscan resonances of the Florentine milieu in which Leonardo matured.  


Keywords


Leonardo da Vinci; iconography; Greek mythology; Persephone; Narcissus; Hades

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.18533/journal.v9i2.1837

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