Creativity and Cultural Heritage

Leonardo da Vinci used musical theory to create perspective in The Last Supper, according to an expert presenting at the ICS

On the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death, Joaquín Saura gave a lecture in which he argued that, "Music is all over his work"

Descripcion de la imagen
Joaquín Saura, experto en Leonardo da Vinci y teoría musical.
FOTO: Natalia Rouzaut
03/05/19 16:38 Natalia Rouzaut

Leonardo da Vinci used musical theory to create perspective in The Last Supper mural, according to Joaquín Saura, an expert onsaid artist/inventor and on musical theory. The specialist presented his theory at a University of Navarra conference that marked the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death. The ICS’s Creativity and Cultural Heritage project organized the event.

"Music is all over his work,” Saura argued, since, with it, da Vinci created geometric shapes that compose, delimit and structure the mural.

As he pointed out, at the time, the musical system was frequently used as a numerical and geometric system. Da Vinci, who was also a musician, used the musical scale and its intervals (octaves) to create measurements. If sound is a vibration, a note is a vibration of the whole object, a complete unit. The sharper the note, the smaller the space that vibrates (a half, an eighth, etc.).

The artist transferred this idea to his painting—figures diminishin scale as they move away from the center. Thus, the elements on the first line would be a do and are life size, and the subsequent elements decrease to a half, a third, a sixth, creating the illusion of perspective.

"Leonardo calculated that, if the ceiling and the walls on which he painted were a do—a complete note—an element at a certain distance would be a soand thusone-fifth the size," he said.

The mural’s mysteries and controversies

According to Rafael Zafra, ICS researcher and the conference organizer, this "novel theory" unveils unknown aspects of The Last Supper. One example is the controversial door that is part of the mural, hiding Jesus’ feet from view.

Following this theory, we can see how the piece is designed to be "geometrically square and divided into thirds," Saura noted. Thus, he believes that da Vinci knew the future layout of a door and simply removed the upper third and raised the image by letting the door be there and not invade the painting. The da Vinci expert relies on the fact that, during restoration of the mural, lines that indicate the painting’s prior layout were found in the second third.

As part of this tribute to da Vinci on the 500th anniversary of his death, an image of the mural was projected onto the University of Navarra’s Central Building, specifically on a nave that is similar in proportion to that of the refectory of the former Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, where the mural resides.

Thus, in the words of Rafael Zafra, "This tribute combines scientific and academic rigor with the performative and artistic creativity so characteristic of da Vinci's himself."

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