The musical staff lines up with many features of the painting, and when played there is an unmistakable melody.
For all the fictional and sensational theories that Leonardo da Vinci hid messages in his art, there may be one that holds water. In 2007, a computer technician and musician named Giovanni Maria Pala discovered a hidden melody within da Vinci’s “Last Supper.”
The melody can be heard in the video featured above. Slow and dirge-like, it could have been a somber soundtrack for the moment when the disciples heard that one would betray Christ. It is performed on pipe organ, as that was the most prevalent instrument of religious music during Leonardo’s time.
Finding the melody
According to Tampa Bay Times, Pala compared the melody to a requiem. The description is fitting, as all interpretations of the tune are played at largo speed (about 40-60 bpm). While it is not the greatest melody, it contains enough musicality to suggest it was purposefully written. This further suggests that Leonardo knowingly designed the piece with the melody in mind.
Pala began his efforts to uncover the melody after he heard rumors of its existence, in 2003. He explained that he heard a brief report, and as a musician he wanted to “dig deeper.” This began an extensive study of da Vinci’s masterpiece, one that would take years of work.
Through his research, Pala discovered that many aspects of the painting fell in line with a musical staff. Placed over the table and bodies of the figures, each hand appeared to fit a note. Below their hands, on the table, Pala also found that the loaves of bread placed about were also part of this design.
Music and symbolism
Soon the music staff was filling up. Live Science reports that Pala suggested that the artist intentionally used hands and bread as Christian symbols. The bread represents the body of Christ, while the hands are the tools that aid in the occurrence of transubstantiation. That they are all placed in precise intonation only supports the theory that they were intended as musical notes.
Pala was not able to make sense of the notes at first. They seemed to line up with the staff, but the tune was nonsensical and unappealing. It was not until he played the staff backwards, from right to left, that he found the melody he was looking for. According to Live Science, this backwards writing was a peculiarity of the artist’s composition style.
The theory was deemed “plausible” by Alessandro Vezzosi, a Leonardo expert and director of the artist’s museum in Vinici. Vezzosi had previously suggested that the placement of the hands could have had relation to Gregorian Chant. Live Science quotes Vezzosi:
“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 told the AP. “Where you have harmonic proportions, you can find music.”
Read more at Live Science and watch the video above to hear the melody.