Re-veil and Reveal: Selected Art References in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol

July-August 2010

By Russell Donathan, 32°

Moses purified and re-veiled them [referring to the Occult Science of the Ancient Magi], for that is the meaning of the word reveal. He covered them with a new veil….”
—Albert Pike, 33°, Morals and Dogma, p. 839

Albert Pike tells us that reveal really means re-veil. The veil is the covering, the intention of the artist, but we may interpret the revelation (the reveal) by our perception. There certainly may be a disconnect or at least an inconsistency between intention and perception, between the “re-veil” and the “reveal.”

For instance, in Dan Brown’s previous novel, The DaVinci Code, he put forth the idea that the Holy Grail, which is traditionally the chalice or cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, was actually Mary Magdalene, a vessel for Christ’s holy child. Brown pointed out that in The Last Supper, DaVinci painted the Christ figure and the person to his right (a place of honor, and by tradition, John, the Apostle whom He loved) as mirror images. Looking closely at these two figures, one can see how Christ has a red tunic with a blue sash, and the other figure has a blue tunic with a red sash. They are positioned so that there is a V between, possibly representing vessel. The figure to Jesus’ right has an exceptionally feminine face, and Brown speculates that DaVinci’s intent may have been to represent Jesus with his supposed wife, Mary Magdalene. Brown’s speculation does not make it true or factual, and, it certainly does not require that anyone interpret it as such.

This is an important point to consider as we consider some of the art referenced in Dan Brown’s latest novel, The Lost Symbol.

Apotheosis of Washington

The statue of Washington as Zeus was placed in the Capitol Rotunda from 1841 until 1843, when it was moved due to public outcry. That statue now resides in the Smithsonian complex.

The deification of Washington was not yet finished, though. The Capitol dome, was not completed until 1863, twenty years after the Washington-as-Zeus statue was moved. In 1865, Italian artist Constantino Brumidi painted a massive fresco, “The Apotheosis of Washington,” 180 feet above the floor of the rotunda.

It helps to put the dates in perspective. When the Capitol dome was completed in 1863, the Civil War was raging and the Union was suffering many defeats. The war ended in April 1865, and Lincoln was assassinated just a few days later. Brumidi began his painting at the beginning of 1865, just before the end of the war.

The painting depicts George Washington becoming a god, which is the meaning of apotheosis. There is rich symbolism in this painting. The painting is a circumpunct, that is, a point within a circle. The circumpunct is an ancient symbol and has many meanings, including Ra, the Egyptian God; the Sun; Divine Order; the Eye of God by Early Christians; and Keter or Primary Will, the chief Sephirot from the Kabbalah.

In the center, Washington is flanked by the goddesses Victory and Liberty. Forming a circle around these three are thirteen maidens, each representing one of the thirteen original colonies. Some of them have their backs turned to Washington, representing those colonies which had seceded from the Union. At the top, two of the maidens are holding a banner reading “E Pluribus Unum” (out of many, one).

Composing the outer ring are six scenes. Beginning directly beneath Washington, and moving clockwise, they are War, Science, Marine, Commerce, Mechanics, and Agriculture.

In War, the woman Freedom, with a shield of our national colors and a sword and assisted by a fierce eagle, is fighting and trampling Tyranny and Despotism.

Similar symbolic details are in the other scenes which include the gods and goddesses Minerva, Neptune, Venus, Mercury, Vulcan, Ceres, and Flora as well as American scientists and industrialists. And thus it is, as Washington is ascending toward the heavens, toward Olympus, he is surrounded by his peers, gods, and goddesses.

Kryptos

Kryptos (which is the Greek word for hidden) is a sculpture constructed specifically for the CIA headquarters, and was dedicated there almost 20 years ago, on November 3, 1990. The sculpture is composed of red granite, quartz, copperplate, lodestone, and petrified wood. The copperplate screen is divided into four sections and has approximately 2,000 alphabetic letters cut into it. These characters are an actual text in several codes.

This code became a hobby for many CIA cryptographers. Finally, after eight years, in 1998, CIA analysts were able to break the first three sections of the encoded text. The fourth has yet to be deciphered.

James Sanborn, the artist, once said “They will be able to read what I wrote, but what I wrote is a mystery itself.” Only time will tell if the final message to this multi-layered puzzle is revealed.

Darth Vader Gargoyle

At one point in the story, a character gives this riddle: “A refuge containing ten stones from Mount Sinai, one from heaven itself, and one with the visage of Luke’s dark father.” The answer is the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. There are stones from Mount Sinai in the altar steps, a moon rock in one of the stained glassed windows, and a gargoyle place high on the northwest tower has the face of Darth Vader.

Melancholia I

In 1514, German Renaissance Master Albrecht Dürer completed a relatively small engraving, measuring just 12×10 in., entitled Melancholia I. Many books have been written about possible interpretations of this engraving. It is a perfect example of the concepts of re-veil and reveal.

What follows is a very simple review of some of the more prominent items within the engraving.

The year it was completed is noted in two locations: One, just above Dürer’s mark in the lower right corner, and also in the magic square hanging on the wall. Magic squares can be a variety of sizes; in this case it is a 16-box or 4×4 square, where the numbers in each line across, up & down, diagonal, and each quadrant (corners and centers) equal 34. Dürer was so talented in devising this magic square, that he was able to place 15 and 14 next to each other in the center of the bottom row, referencing the year 1514.

The most prominent item of this engraving is the winged feminine figure, perhaps the personification of Melancholy. Melancholy, as we shall refer to her, seems dejected and is in the midst of tools and implements of geometry, the fifth of the seven liberal arts and sciences. She holds compasses in her hand and is surrounded by a hammer, a plane, nails, and other tools of carpentry and building.

One may ponder the question, “Perhaps she can think but cannot act, for she is too depressed?” There is another, smaller winged figure slightly above and to the left of Melancholy. This could represent her offspring, seemingly an infant, who can possibly act but cannot think?

The engraving is rich with other symbols, but, Dürer may have seen hope even in his melancholy. Away from the chaos, there is a still, shining sea, with a great light shining forth, under a rainbow. Ever complicated, though, Dürer positions the banner with the title of Melancholia I in the mouth of a dragon or some other dangerous creature.

Washington as Zeus

When the idea of an independent Capital City away from New York was formed in 1790, and Pierre L’Enfant was appointed the Chief Architect, it was supposed that this planned city would rival Rome. Looking at the Capitol, one can certainly appreciate the similarity to the Roman Pantheon.

In 1832, Congress commissioned Horatio Greenough to create a statue of George Washington. In 1841, a marble statue entitled Washington Enthroned arrived in D.C. to be placed in the Rotunda of the Capitol. Greenough reportedly modeled this statue after Zeus Olympios, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and as such, it depicts Washington as a god.

Washington is seated in a regal position, looking sternly ahead—not to the side and certainly not behind him. The toga and the bare-chest are consistent with the figures of the ancient gods. His right arm is raised toward heaven and his left arm, holding a sheathed sword, may indicate that he is the conduit between the Divine and the People.

Washington Monument

As stated, The Apotheosis of Washington is in the shape of a circumpunct, possibly a symbol of “god.” When viewing the Washington Monument from above, it is also noted to be a circumpunct. It is the most prominent structure in Washington, D.C.; by law, no other structure within the District may be taller. It was built between 1848 and 1884 and stands at 555 ft. 5 ⅛ in.

The Washington Monument is an obelisk, a tall, narrow, four-sided, tapering monument. This type of architecture is originally from ancient Egypt, where they were placed at the entrances to temples. The obelisk is particularly associated with Ra, the sun god. The sun’s affects on the obelisk, especially at sunrise and sunset, could be quite symbolic. Once again, George Washington has been deified.

Thus we come to the close of our review of these art pieces. As the concepts of “re-veil” and “reveal”—the difference between intention and perception—form the introduction, so shall they form the close. Jesus of Nazareth may or may not have been married to Mary Magdalene, and they as a couple may or may not have had a daughter, Sophie. That is one of the theories of what the Knights Templar have been guarding to this day. Darth Vader probably is not a guardian of the National Cathedral. Albrecht Dürer may have been expressing a complex metaphysical and mystical message, or he may have simply made an engraving. And although various artists may have attempted to deify George Washington through the years, his status as a god remains unanswered. There are very few answers here; mostly questions, questions that one may or may not choose to ponder, but questions that will remain nonetheless.