Madonna and the Winding Yarn

Now that Scotland is enjoying it’s very own Da Vinci mystery, I thought I should have a shot at unravelling the tale for you. This potted version is taken from various newspaper reports I have been reading over the past few days. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Once upon time there was a Duke, and the Duke had a very expensive painting of Jesus, and his Mum (that is to say, the Virgin Mary, not the Duke’s Mum). Anyway, some bad men stole the painting, and this made the Duke very sad (not to mention about £50 Million poorer). Needless to say, the little gnomes who worked for his insurance company were not too pleased about it either.

Because the Duke had never seen The Thomas Crown Affair, or Entrapment or Ocean’s Twelve or any of the other classic art theft movies (like Bean) he doesn’t appear to have invested in even basic security devices like infra-red trip wires or anything. The bad men stole the painting by basically lifting of the wall in the Duke’s nice house (well, enormous Castle really), climbing through his window and waving an axe at a startled gardener.

Anyway, even though the police looked really hard, they couldn’t find the painting anywhere. This made the Duke even sadder, and he died about four years later, still wondering where his lovely painting might now be.

Then some very clever lawyers got involved. One lawyer was contacted by some mysterious people (who were definitely not the bad men who stole the painting, but nonetheless didn’t really want anyone to know exactly who they were). The mysterious people said they had the Duke’s painting (although they didn’t say how they had got it).

So the clever lawyer told the mysterious people that as the painting was stolen, they should give it to the police immediately so that the Duke’s family could have it back.

Sorry, my mistake! Actually, what the lawyer did was to get in touch with some more lawyers who had a think about what would be the best thing to do. The best thing, they decided, was to contact the insurance company gnomes, and ask them if the Duke’s family would be interested in having their painting back? And also … if the family might be willing to pay the mysterious people a reward of, say, £4.25 Million?

The insurance gnomes asked why the mysterious people didn’t just tell the police about the painting. But the clever lawyers were worried that the mysterious people were a little bit volatile and might do something “very silly” with the painting if the police wanted to take it away from them (like, for example, wearing it as a dress).

But insurance gnomes aren’t stupid, so they pretended not to call the police – and actually they did call the police. And the police prentended to be the Duke’s servants while they went to (and covertly filmed) a meeting at the offices of some very respectable and clever lawyers in Glasgow. The clever lawyers wanted to drink some tea and talk about the reward for the mysterious people, but the Duke’s servants (who were really the police in disguise) had come with a warrant, and only wanted to get the Duke’s painting back, and arrest everyone – without waiting for them to finish their tea.

The painting of Jesus and his Mum playing with some wool doesn’t stay at the Duke’s Castle any more. It has gone to live at a big Museum with laser beams and guard dogs (probably) – where it will be nice and safe. And the mysterious people and their clever lawyers have gone to court, where a serious judge and fifteen nervous jurors have to decide whether they should go to jail for a very long time.

Even though, as the clever lawyer’s clever lawyer (Donald Findlay QC) says, there was “Nothing covert, nothing secretive, nothing, on the face of it, underhand about this at all.”

According to Wikipedia, the painting of Jesus and his Mum playing with some wool is called The Madonna of the Yarnwinder (Madonna dei Fusi). It depicts the Virgin Mary with the Christ child, who looks longingly at a yarnwinder which the Virgin could use to measure off yarn. The yarnwinder serves as a symbol both of Mary’s domesticity and the Cross on which Christ was crucified, and may also suggest the Fates, understood in classical mythology as spinners.

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