Key to the Sacred Pattern

01 April 2007

A Visit with the Shepherds at Arcadia

Early this week, I took Laura and my 6 year old son, Robert, to Atlanta for little man’s first official “vacation”. Our agenda was nothing other than to play tourist and visit some family. I was in the hotel lobby perusing the gaggle of poorly designed flyers, when the words “Louvre Atlanta” caught my eye. I then had a moment of serendipity when I realized this exhibit’s star offering was Poussin’s Les Bergers d’Arcadie (Shepherds at Arcadia). I hate to rat myself out, but I had no idea that the painting was a short 4 hours from my home.

What fascinates me is that the painting has become a modern-day Grail artifact. The mystique that has grown up around this painting has sucked me in as much as the possibility that there are hints about the Grail hidden in plain sight. Being the good Grail Seeker, I had to see the painting for myself, and review what I knew of its history.

I will not take your time and retell what has already been written about the painting or Poussin. Concise histories and fun facts of both can be found at the following site links: Wikipedia, Art Cyclopedia, and New Advent.

The painting took to the underground stream in 1982 with the publishing of Holy Blood, Holy Grail . The book put forth the theory that Poussin was involved with the Prior of Zion and painted Shepherds as a hint to the Priory’s secret knowledge. The authors point out that Shepherds bears an inscription on the tomb that reads “Et in Arcadia Ego”. The authors make a claim that this is an anagram and also point out it was family motto of Pierre Plantard. Another claim was made by Richard Andrews and Paul Schellenberger in their book, the Tomb of God. These gentlemen claimed that the painting was an actual scene around Rennes-le-Château, and geometric relationships in the painting formed a sort of treasure map.

In the last few years, the painting itself has not been in the news. However, there a mirror image sculpture of Shepherds at Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire, England that has. This sculpture has the inscription of :

D•                   M•

The meaning of this inscription has never fully been understood. In 2004, Bletchley Park set an open contest to make sense of the inscription. On 25 Nov 04, the Bletchley Park web site announced the code was: Jesus (As Deity) Defy. The BBC website reported on the announcement here. The article also promised that in the near future many of the methods and solutions would be made public on their site. That has never happened and there is nothing that I can find, on the Bletchley Park web site that refers to Shugborough Hall. I even tried to contact an official at Bletchley in early 2006 for an explanation. My e-mail was never responded to. Sadly enough, the attention to the sculpture had an unintended consequence. On 14 May 04, the BBC reported that vandals smashed ornamental shells at the top of the monument.

Shepherds is being shown at the High Museum of Art as part of a loan from the Louvre until 2 Sept 07. Overall the Louvre Atlanta exhibit had a number of great pieces. I wasn’t impressed with the size or presentation of the works shown at the High. There was no attempt by the staff to connect the pieces to either history or a shared human experience. So if you’re headed to Atlanta thinking you’re going to get the Louvre in miniature, you’ll be disappointed.

However, one thing the High did get right was security. Art theft is a much more prevalent crime than most people realize. So much so the FBI actually has a full time art theft unit. I made the nice security guards quite nervous by viewing the painting much longer than the average tourist. No one has ever told me that I fit the profile of an art thief. (Maybe it’s my striking resemblance to Pierce Brosnan) With this type of security in mind, leave your cameras in the car. There is no photography of any kind in the Louvre exhibit.

I did leave the exhibit with a couple of observations about the painting itself. The first thing that struck me about the Shepherds is a matter of color. The pictures you’ve seen on line and in art books doesn’t quite get the color right. The colors are much more subdued that one would be lead to believe by photographic representations. The other thing that stuck out was the brush strokes. In the upper right hand corner of the painting the brush strokes are more prevalent than in any other place in the painting. I’d lay better odds that there is something “hidden” in the brush strokes than in the geometric layout of the painting’s elements. It would be rather easy to embed a short string of letters or numbers in a dark blue field using simple brush strokes. Then again, I tend to be simple in my musings…

If you find yourself in Atlanta, by all means put the High on your list of places to see. Even with all the petty whining I’ve done, Shepherds at Arcadia is something to behold. The work is a piece of modern day Grail history, and to see it felt like a small victory to this Grail Seeker.


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