Neglected portrait could be new ‘Da Vinci Code’ painting

The Madonna and Child that a grateful patient gave to the writer Fiona McLaren's father, who was a doctor
The Madonna and Child that a grateful patient gave to the writer Fiona McLaren's father, who was a doctor
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IT HUNG on the wall of a Perthshire doctor’s home for more than 30 years and was even splashed with paint by the owner while decorating.

But a new book this month will claim the portrait of a ­Madonna and Child is a 500-year-old masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci that also contains clues to a hidden ­heresy.

Dan Brown, author of the book 'The Da Vinci Code'

Dan Brown, author of the book 'The Da Vinci Code'

For years, Fiona McLaren ­ignored the old painting, which was a gift to her father from a grateful patient, but ­after embarking on a painstaking analysis of the portrait, she now believes it to be a final, unfinished painting by the Italian Old Master.

Her book, Da Vinci’s Last Commission: The Most Sensational Detective Story In The History Of Art, is being published to coincide with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which starts next week. According to McLaren, the painting also contains clues indicating that Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code was actually based on historical truth not just the inventive fiction that Jesus Christ had a love affair with Mary Magdalene and their relationship produced children.

She argues that the painting was commissioned by King Francis I of France and is not a painting of the Madonna and Child but of Mary Magdalene cradling either Jesus as an ­infant or Jesus’s own child.

As in Brown’s best-selling novel, McLaren claims that the truth of Jesus’s relationship with Mary Magdalene has been concealed by the Catholic Church, which feared the descendants of Jesus would have a greater claim on ruling the Church than the Pope as the successor of St Peter. In Brown’s book, the Holy Grail is revealed not as an artefact but as the secret that Jesus had ­established a bloodline that had survived to the present day. McLaren says her assertion that the painter of the Mona Lisa also worked on her painting is backed by a former head of the Christie’s auction house in Scotland. She also says that a document attached to the back of the painting and its frame is part of a Papal Bull, a form of letter issued by Popes over the centuries.

A spokesman for Mainstream, the book’s publisher, said McLaren, a former marketing executive and shop owner, would not be available for comment as the book is subject to a serialisaton deal with a newspaper.

However, on her Facebook page, McLaren says: “It [the book] centres around the beguiling 16th-century portrait of a Madonna and Child, which has a mysterious Papal Bull attached to the back. It was the starting gun to my quest to discover what she, and other artefacts which ­travelled with her, were conspiring to tell.”

The painting, she adds, is “one commissioned by King Francis I of France of his court painter; Leonardo da Vinci. What was the commission; to embody their shared philosophical belief in the sacred union and bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. Can it be taken seriously? Undoubtedly so as you will see by its investigation but also as subscribed to by a rare Papal Bull being attached to the back of it, one issued by Pope Paul V in the early 17th century. This attachment would imply that this painting was once owned by Pope Paul V.”

Brian Kannard, the editor of the Grail Seekers website, who also runs a publishing firm, Grave Distractions, agreed the story was intriguing. “If it is not a fake then it has got to be something from the period, so if it depicts Mary Magdalene with Jesus’s child that would definitely be of interest.

“There are a number of traditions that believe that Mary Magdalene, after the crucifixion, transferred to the south of France and had a daughter and there are villages in France that venerate her in that way even today. With Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code there is huge interest out there in this sort of thing.”

But Professor Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor of Art History at Oxford University, who previously made a BBC documentary on the conspiracy theories surrounding Da Vinci, said: “Da Vinci is in a league of his own for just the sheer ­lunacy that he attracts. There are two aspects. The first is what is the picture and who is it by? It sounds like a ­Madonna and Child and there are an enormous number [of such paintings] from his [Da Vinci’s] orbit and following so one assumes it is like that.

“The second is, did Leonardo or anybody else secrete codes in paintings waiting for some smart ass to come along 500 years later and unravel it as some remarkable piece of heresy? What would he be ­doing it for? There are allegories in paintings and there are symbols in paintings of this era, but there are no codes. He is not sending coded messages to some post-Dan Brown sleuth 500 years later.”

McLaren says that once the book has been published – it will be discussed at the Book Festival on August 16 – the painting will be sold. Experts said a genuine Da Vinci could sell for up to £150 million.

“The culmination of it all will be the sale of the painting, which I firmly believe was the Last Commission from King Francis I of France of Leonardo Da Vinci, a commission to communicate their shared belief in the Magdalene story,” McLaren says. “When the painting is sold, and I aim to only sell it to a museum so that the portrait of Mary Magdalene and her son can be seen by ­everyone, I hope to set up a Foundation which will concentrate on helping ­children in care.”