Musician finds hidden hymn in Da Vinci work

Ariel David
Saturday 10 November 2007 01:00 GMT

A new Da Vinci code has been revealed in Italy – but this time it could be for real. An Italian musician and computer technician claims to have uncovered musical notes encoded in Leonardo's The Last Supper.

It raises the possibility that the Renaissance genius might have left behind a sombre composition to accompany the scene depicted in the 15th-century mural in Milan church Santa Maria delle Grazie.

"It sounds like a requiem," Giovanni Maria Pala said. "It's like a soundtrack that emphasises the passion of Jesus."

But, unlike The Da Vinci Code, which fascinated readers and moviegoers with revelations that one of the depicted apostles is Mary Magdalene, that she and Jesus had a child and their bloodline continues as a closely guarded secret, Mr Pala said his discovery does not reveal any supposed dark secrets of the Catholic Church or Leonardo.

He believes it shows the artist in a light far removed from the conspiratorial descriptions found in fiction. He said: "He wasn't a heretic like some believe. What emerges is a man who really believes in God."

Painted from 1494 to 1498 on a wall of the refectory of the church, The Last Supper depicts a key moment in the Gospel narration of the final meal that Jesus had with the 12 Apostles before being arrested and crucified. It shows the shock of Christ's followers as they learn that one of them is a betrayer.

Mr Pala, 45, who lives near Lecce, in southern Italy, began studying the painting in 2003, after hearing that researchers believed the Leonardo had hidden a musical composition in the work. He said: "As a musician, I really wanted to dig deeper."

In his book La Musica Celata (The Hidden Music) published yesterday in Italy, Mr Pala explains how he interpreted the painting's Christian symbols as musical clues. He first saw that by drawing the five lines of a musical staff across the painting, the loaves of bread – representing the body of Christ in Christian tradition – as well as the hands of Jesus and the Apostles – used to bless the bread – could each represent a musical note. But the notes made no sense musically until Mr Pala realised that the score had to be read from right to left, following Leonardo's particular writing style. Other clues in the painting reveal the slow rhythm of the composition and the duration of each note. The result is a 40-second "hymn" that Pala said plays best on a pipe organ, the instrument most commonly used in Leonardo's time for church music.

Alessandro Vezzosi, a Leonardo expert and the director of a museum dedicated to the artist in his home town of Vinci, describedthe musician's hypothesis as "plausible." He said previous research indicated that the hands of the Apostles can be substituted with the notes of a Gregorian chant, though so far no one had tried to work in the bread.

He also noted that Leonardo was a skilled musician, played the lyre, designed various instruments and wrote musical riddles which read from right to left.

For further browsing, visit Pala's site and the official Last Supper site

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