Blimey $400-million! Now that’s what I call painting by numbers. Some experts even say it’s a fake. Who knows? The buyer doesn’t. But he, she or they seemingly don’t care. I suppose if you’ve that much cash to spend nothing on Earth bothers you.
But did you look closely at the face? Not for the artistic beauty or style. No, I mean what he looks like. The face of Jesus. Although he’s the most painted figure in western art, there’s no physical description of Jesus anywhere in the Bible.
So look again. What stands out for me is what he doesn’t look like. He doesn’t look semitic for a start. By all reasonable knowledge of the period he should have a swarthy skin. Perhaps dank hair as a result of all that heat and again because of the era he’d look rather grubby. As someone said he should come across more like Osama bin Laden than a white Hollywood movie star.
And yet the image in the ‘Salvator Mundi’ is the look we westerners have had put in front of us for 500 years. And we take it as Gospel. Arguably by law.
Da Vinci was one of two legendary artists to emerge from the Renaissance period. The other of course was Michelangelo. As one story has it the Pope, Alexander V1 (Rodrigo Borgia) designed an X-factor style competition to determine who was the better artist. Leonardo got the nod and historians claim that the Pope then commissioned new paintings of Jesus to be depicted as a white man who wouldn't look out of place on the streets of Rome. (Vatican City was only founded in 1929.) And he further decreed that these new paintings should resemble the looks of his son Cesare. Yes, the Pope had a family.
Anyway if all that wasn’t strange enough he also ruled that any paintings that portrayed Jesus as a Semitic or black man should be destroyed. On the spot.
So at some time between 1506 and 1513 Leonardo finished his ‘Salvator Mundi’ for Louis XII of France as it happens and it’s now ended up in the Guinness Book of Records as the most expensive artwork of all time.
Conclusion - the eccentric declarations of a powerful man from our past has infiltrated our modern way of thinking unquestioned. If you carry out a vox pop in any country around the world people will swear blind that’s exactly how Jesus looked. No argument. No doubt.
Thought and fact make difficult bedfellows.
Now think of Santa Claus. You’ll see a man with a flowing white beard and wearing a deep red coloured coat. But he didn’t always look this way.
Before 1931 Santa was seen wearing coats of many colours. Some showed a tall hombre looking anything but a big and jolly old man. Others pictured him looking more like an elf.
It was America’s 'Saturday Evening Post' newspaper that turned our heads. That was the first outlet for a Coca-Cola advertising campaign that had Santa playing with toys and surrounded by Christmas wish letters.
We saw him having a break and of course enjoying a Coke. His coat was coloured in the deep red of the Coca-Cola brand and bingo the image was created. And how it has stuck.
Again most people won’t link the standard portrayal with a drinks commercial and some will even give Father Christmas a religious context. Facts are boring compared to fiction.
Now fast forward in time to the 1960’s. In Houston NASA had a problem. A big one. They needed to justify their massive budget to keep in the space race and they persuaded the American TV networks to give them a boost by covering their rocket launches 'live' on the small screen. But the worry was it could turn into a nationwide switch-off resulting in the dollars being ditched. Why? Because visually until the actual lift-off there's nothing much to see to keep TV viewers watching. What to do? They obviously couldn’t afford a failure and dreadful viewing figures.
Now one of the NASA nerds was also a keen film buff. He remembered a 1920’s movie called 'Metropolis'. The picture had futuristic cars and spaceships flying all over the place which thrilled audiences. And in a crucial rocket launch scene the film’s director Fritz Laing came up with the idea of counting backwards to create drama and tension to keep the cinema goers on the edge of their seats. It worked a treat.
NASA adopted the technique used it on air and it worked for them too.There’s no scientific reason for the rocket launch countdown other than to build tension, excitement and expectation. The countdown did the trick. NASA held onto their budget and the rest is history.
Once more ask anyone and they’ll insist there has to be an essential technical reason behind the 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 and so on. But there really isn't.
As William James the American philosopher put it: “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
The moral of all this? If something is said or done often enough, true or not, people will take it as fact.
So in business in particular we must be clear in our thoughts and communications to get our stories and messages out there. In other words don't say or do anything that could lead to a misunderstanding. Just keep it simple.
Working with the media, in all its forms, is the best way to achieve your important PR goals. Your media view should be crystal clear.
And here at Media-Vu we make it easy for you. And what you won't need is a portrait, Xmas legend or sci-fi countdown to succeed.
Thank you 126.96.36.199. Though of course you're not a number. You're a free man!
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