Slice of da Vinci

Is art ever neutral? No.

Can art ever be neutered? Yes - if you are Sony Pictures wondering how best to present Leonardo da Vinci.

The publicity campaign for the movie version of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (staring Tom Hanks and released by Sony Pictures) has been rolled out in Canada. Given the millions of copies of the book in print all over the world you would think that the campaign for the Hollywood movie would not need to do much: maybe just a cool image, something striking, something that sums up all the intrigue, mystery and artistry of da Vinci and the Catholic Church.

They’ve done it!

According to a story from the Toronto Star, the poster features da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man with one slight (or sliced) adjustment: they cut off his penis.

This is a perfect representation of our times, from our dominant art form, Hollywood.

If the Vitruvian Man renders the combination of our materialistic/violent nature (the square) and our divine beauty/soul (the circle), then what’s a little more violence to the drawing itself?

If da Vinci was portraying our place in the cosmos, then Hollywood is telling us it’s ok as long as we leave the sex out of it. (Isn’t that ironic? Hollywood getting rid of sex? What’s next? Sylvester Stallone as a revenge-seeking Mohel?)

Sales over beauty, violence over soul.

The main point, though, is the ease with which a decision is made to violate an artist’s work. A few people sitting around a conference table decide: yes, Leonardo is a great artist; yes, it would be great to use one of his signature images for the movie poster; no, it’s too controversial; let’s tame him, make the art better, more universal, more acceptable; let’s cut off his dick!

Today is Shakespeare’s birthday (though, that too, is somewhat controversial - but it’s another story), and all around the world there are productions of his plays. Some of these productions alter the text: change the order, delete scenes, choose a different setting, move the time period.

However, there is a fundamental difference between presenting an interpretation of a text, and a cutting-away of an art work. In the Shakespeare productions, there is a person of responsibility: an acknowledgment of a director saying this is my interpretation of Shakespeare. In Sony’s appropriation, there is no responsibility: the image is presented as though this is how Da Vinci wanted it to be presented.

So, in addition to being silly, it’s just plain dishonest. It’s wrong. We need to say so.

Then again, even Homer Simpson did not want to show too much…or too little.

- Bill Reichblum

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One Response to “Slice of da Vinci”

  1. Brian FitzGibbon
    April 25th, 2006 07:21

    This reminds me of a mysterious phantom figure, who roamed the streets of Florence at night, about twenty years ago, sewing underpants to the countless naked Renaissance statues in the squares. Whether this was out of a sense of prudishness or a fear that they might catch a cold, no-one ever knew. But at least, in this case, he (or was it a she?) had the decency to leave the genitalia intact underneath. I wonder if he was ever caught? Maybe he got a job with Sony Pictures?

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