How 'The Da Vinci Code' Doesn't Work

Museums, Medicine and Other Mistakes

Dennis Hurley, creator of the satirical film "The Albino Code," which addresses the way that "The Da Vinci Code" presents people with albinism.
Dennis Hurley, creator of the satirical film "The Albino Code," which addresses the way that "The Da Vinci Code" presents people with albinism.
Image courtesy Dennis Hurley

Rather than escaping through their newfound window of opportunity, Sophie and Langdon follow another clue to the Salle des Etats. The Salle des Etats, also known as the Salle de la Joconde, is the Mona Lisa's home. Before too long, the DCPJ apprehends them there.

In another burst of quick thinking, Sophie removes Leonardo's "Virgin of the Rocks" (called "Madonna of the Rocks" in the novel) from the wall opposite the "Mona Lisa." She uses the painting as a shield and threatens to destroy it by pressing her knee through the canvas. Naturally, the apprehending officer allows her to escape in order to prevent the destruction of the priceless artwork.

A few critics have remarked that the scene in the Salle des Etats is impossible because Leonardo painted "Virgin of the Rocks" on wood, not canvas. However, a royal art restorer called Hacquin transferred the painting to canvas in 1806. The scene is impossible as written for other reasons:

  • "Virgin of the Rocks" hangs in the Grand Gallery, not the Salle des Etats. The painting directly across from the "Mona Lisa" is Caliari's "The Wedding Feast at Cana." This painting is an enormous 32 feet (9.9 meters) wide. To be fair, we have not found a source detailing which painting faced the "Mona Lisa" before the 2001 closure of the Salle des Etats. However, in several older photographs, reflections in the "Mona Lisa"'s protective glass indicate that it wasn't "Virgin of the Rocks."
  • Even if "Virgin of the Rocks" did hang opposite the "Mona Lisa," it's 6.5 feet (1.99 meters) tall, too tall for Sophie to see over as described. The painting's ornate wooden frame is also too heavy for an average person to lift unassisted.
  • Sophie's removal of the painting from the wall does not activate any sort of security system. This contradicts the beginning of the book, in which Saunière removes a painting from the wall to activate a security system that seals off an entire corridor. It also contradicts the Louvre's real security system, which includes proximity and movement detection [ref]. For the record, this security system also uses real security cameras, which staff monitor 24 hours a day [ref].

The farther the story moves away from the Louvre, the more it begins to focus on events in the distant past and artistic interpretation rather than verifiable details. But it does make several other concrete errors, including its depiction of people with albinism. One of "The Da Vinci Code"'s villains is a man named Silas, who is an albino. He has white skin and hair as well as pink eyes with red pupils. Silas is good with a gun and drives a car at night in pursuit of the heroes.

Albinism is a real medical condition in which a person's body cannot produce the proper amount of the pigment melanin. Most people with albinism have very pale skin and hair and light-colored eyes. Very few people with the condition have pink eyes, though. Most have light blue eyes.

Albinism prevents a person's retina and ocular nerves from forming properly. For this reason, doctors use eye examinations to diagnose people with the condition. Most people with albinism don't see well because their retinas don't function properly. Although few are blind, many do not see well enough to drive a car or, as seen in "The Da Vinci Code," to shoot people from a distance. In other words, it's extremely unlikely that Silas could perform the tasks described in the novel. You can learn more about albinism at the National Organization of Albinism and Hypopigmentation.

Other errors aren't as complex as the ones described above:

  • When traveling from the Paris Ritz to the Louvre, Langdon and a DCPJ agent pass the Opera House and cross Place Vendôme. However, the Paris Ritz is on Place Vendôme. In order to pass the Opera House, the officer would have to head in nearly the opposite direction of the Louvre.
  • Langdon says that Saunière, a devotee of the ancient "sacred feminine," was interested in Wiccan relics. However, Wicca is a modern religion, not an ancient one.
  • The pyramid entrance to the Louvre contains 793 panes of glass, not 666 [ref].
  • Tarot decks contain 78 cards, not 22, although a deck does have 22 major arcana cards. Check out How Tarot Cards Work to learn more.
  • The first of the Dead Sea Scrolls was discovered in 1947, not the 1950s.
  • The novel implies that the Louvre has one curator. It really has a staff of 60 curators in eight departments. The "Mona Lisa" has its own curator.
  • Harvard does not have a professor of "symbology," and symbology is not a real academic discipline [ref].
  • There are no metal detectors at Westminster Abbey, and people cannot make charcoal rubbings of the plaques there [ref].

Next, we'll take a look at the novel's treatment of art and history.