What about the disembodied hand?

Question: What about the disembodied hand?

"How do you explain the extra hand in The Last Supper? There's an extra hand there, it's not attached to anyone and it's holding a dagger."


Right, yes. This would be the " ... disembodied. Anonymous. ..." hand of page-248 fame in The Da Vinci Code. Freaky thought, isn't it?

Well, here's what I did, taking my cue from the character in the book who said, " ...if you count the arms, you'll see that this hand belongs to ...

no one at all." Never one to resist a challenge (!) like this, I trotted out my print of the Last Supper and counted the arms of the Disciples staged at that end of the table. After counting, recounting, and even resorting to using my fingers, I came up with twelve arms which (in my admittedly non-medically-degreed opinion) I felt was a fairly accurate number of arms for six people to be sporting.

Perhaps a bit of confusion lies in the fact that, in Leonardo's Last Supper, Peter's arm appears to be twisted. His right shoulder and elbow seem to be at odds with the angle of the hand "wielding a dagger." I don't know if this is supposed to be some purposely hidden message from Leonardo, or if he screwed up and tried to hide his mistake with clever use of drapery. For what it's worth, it's not unheard of to make a mistake and they're a little more difficult to gloss over if a painter is working in plaster.

(I say this as someone who paints - and has screwed up perspective more than once - not as an expert Leonardo scholar.)

As for that "dagger" business ... "dagger" is a word that conjures up all sorts of sinister images, which, I'd suppose, was the reason it was chosen for use in this passage of The Da Vinci Code.

"Knife" certainly doesn't carry the same suspenseful weight as "dagger," though I'd like to point out that Leonardo referred to this implement as a "knife" in his notebooks. (And, yes, he used the word knife in conjunction with this particular wielder in this particular painting.)

In keeping with New Testament accounts of the actual Last Supper and events afterward, Peter's holding a knife (at table) is thought to symbolize his attack, several hours later, on a slave in the party that arrested Christ. When the contingent of Pharisees, priests and soldiers caught up with Jesus in the garden at Gethsemane, Peter - reportedly never a cool head to begin with - lost his temper:

  • Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus. John 18:10.

Again, how anyone wants to interpret this is up to them. Whether one takes the Bible literally or fervently believes in The Da Vinci Code is, rightfully, personal prerogative and none of my business. There's also every chance that I'm just not looking at the arm properly any longer, and could use a small thwack on the head to realign my eyesight.