SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS
Note: All page numbers reference the mass market paperback edition of The Da Vinci Code published March 2006 by Anchor Books.
Summary: After hours in the Louvre Museum in Paris, curator Jacques Saunière is accosted by a large, mysterious albino man who is seeking the location of something he says Saunière and his “brethren” possess that does not belong to them. Saunière tells a carefully rehearsed lie regarding the location. The albino shoots Saunière in the stomach and leaves him to die. Saunière uses his last minutes of life to find some way of communicating the secret knowledge he has, fully realizing that, if he fails, his death will interrupt “an unbroken chain of knowledge” that stretches back for centuries.
Analysis: Appropriately enough for a novel steeped in the legends and lore of the Holy Grail, Brown establishes the novel as a “quest story” in this arresting opening episode. He reveals very few details regarding the specifics of Saunière’s knowledge or his attacker’s mission, but readers gather that the curator is, even when facing death, still on a quest to protect an important secret—and that the albino is on an equally determined quest to learn that secret. The Prologue also introduces the importance of art in the story: Saunière pulls “the nearest painting he could see, a Caravaggio” from the wall in order to sound the Louvre’s alarms (p. 3); and as he dies in the Grand Gallery “the world’s most famous paintings seemed to smile down on him like old friends” (p. 6—the sentence may additionally allude to the famous and enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa, which figures prominently in the novel).
The Louvre is the world’s largest museum (King Philip II built it in the twelfth century as a fortress), and it does indeed house many of the world’s most treasured artistic masterpieces. Italian painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610) was “the most renowned and controversial painter in Rome of his era. Breaking with conventional formulas used in depicting saints, he used ordinary people as models and painted them with unforgiving realism; his inclination against tradition gave new meaning to the interpretation of traditional themes in religious painting” (Britannica Concise Encyclopedia).