Italian finds 'hidden music' in Leonardo's Last Supper

An Italian computer technician says he's uncovered musical notes encoded in Leonardo da Vinci's painting The Last Supper, raising the possibility that the Renaissance genius might have left behind a sombre composition.

It's a new da Vinci code, but this time the story may be more than fiction.

Italian musician and computer technician Giovanni Maria Pala has written a book describing how he decoded the music he says is hidden in the painting. ((Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press))

An Italian musician and computer techniciansays he's uncovered musical notes encoded in Leonardo da Vinci's TheLast Supper, raising the possibility that the Renaissance genius might have left behind a sombre composition to accompany the scene depicted inhis 15th-century wall painting.

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

Painted from 1494 to 1498 in Milan's Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, The Last Supper captures Jesus' last meal with the 12 Apostles before his arrest and crucifixion.

The paintingvividly depicts the shock of Christ's followers as they learn that one of them is about to betray him.

Pala, a 45-year-old musician who lives near the southern Italian city of Lecce, began studying Leonardo's painting in 2003, after hearing on a news program that researchers believed the artist and inventor had hidden a musical composition in the work.

"Afterward, I didn't hear anything more about it," he said in an interview. "As a musician, I wanted to dig deeper."

In a book released Friday in Italy, Pala explains how he interpreted elements of the painting as musical clues.

Pala first saw that by drawing the five lines of a musical staff across the painting, the loaves of bread on the table and the hands of Jesus and the Apostles could each represent a musical note.

An image of The Last Supper by Leonardo is projected in Tokyo. The hands and bread loaves can be read as a 40-second musical hymn. ((Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press))

This could be related to the Christian symbolismof the bread, representing the body of Christ, with the hands used to bless the food, he said. But the notes made no sense musically until Pala realized that the score had to be read from right to left, following Leonardo's particular writing style.

In his book — La Musica Celata (The Hidden Music) — Pala also describes how he found what he says are other clues in the painting that reveal the slow rhythm of the composition and the duration of each note.

The result is a 40-second "hymn to God" that Pala said plays best on a pipe organ, the instrument most commonly used in Leonardo's time for spiritual music.

Alessandro Vezzosi, a Leonardo expert and the director of a museum dedicated to the artist in his hometown of Vinci, said that he had not seen Pala's research but that the musician's hypothesis "is plausible."

Previous research has indicated that the hands of the Apostles in the painting can be substituted with the notes of a Gregorian chant, though so far no one had tried to work in the bread loaves, Vezzosi said.

"There's always a risk of seeing something that is not there, but it's certain that the spaces [in the painting] are divided harmonically," he said. "Where you have harmonic proportions, you can find music."

Though Leonardo was more noted for his paintings, sculptures and visionary inventions, he was also learned in music, Vezzosi said.He played the lyre anddesigned various instruments, and his writings include some musical riddles, which must be read from right to left.

Reinterpretations of The Last Supper have popped up ever since Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code fascinated readers and moviegoers with the suggestion that one of the Apostles sitting on Jesus' right is Mary Magdalene,rather than a male.