Hidden Mysteries of the Da Vinci Code

Leonardo da Vinci's famous drawing of 'Vitruvian Man.'

It is believed that Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci left hidden messages in his painting and other works. (Image: Cogent via Dreamstime)

The date was November 15, 2017. The place was Christie’s Rockefeller Center office in New York. The world-famous auction house founded in 1766 was holding an auction. A painting was sold for a whopping US$450.3 million in the auction that day, setting a new record for the most expensive painting ever sold at public auctions.

The painting was Salvator Mundi. It depicts Jesus in a blue gown looking straight ahead, raising his right hand, while holding a transparent non-refracting crystal orb in his left. The painter was a genius from the Renaissance period, the renowned Leonardo da Vinci. The big spender was a Saudi Arabian prince.

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Salvator Mundi was later reported to be on display at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. However, this painting is not as simple as it looks. Like all other Da Vinci paintings, it hides an amazing secret, and this kind of hidden message is often referred to as the “Da Vinci Code.” A thriller novel published in 2003 used it as the title and it was later adopted for the name of a popular Hollywood mystery movie in 2006.

Are you curious about what the Da Vinci Code is in the Salvator Mundi and other famous works of the Renaissance genius? What is it that makes the Da Vinci Code so fascinating? Let’s find out. 

The genius’ fetish 

Leonardo da Vinci was born near an Italian city, Vinci, in the 15th century. Being an illegitimate son of a nobleman, he could not inherit the family name. The name of the city became his surname — da Vinci — a name that thoroughly annotates the meaning of the word “genius.”

Panoramic view of Vinci, Florence, in Italy.
Leonardo da Vinci was born near an Italian city, Vinci, in the 15th century. (Image: Marco Taliani De Marchio via Dreamstime)

How could there be a man with such profound knowledge? He was not moderately good at different disciplines, but mastered them all superbly, a real “jack of all trades” and master of all. As well as painting, the erudite da Vinci also excelled in architecture, anatomy, astronomy, geography, philosophy, mechanics, and military engineering. He was not simply knowledgeable, but he was thinking hundreds of years ahead of his time.

What had he thought of? His designs included helicopters, tanks, gliders, submarines, and machine guns. Can you imagine that these items were already designed 400 years ago?

What is interesting to note is that Leonardo da Vinci was an avid cipher enthusiast. Throughout his lifetime, he wrote over 7,000 pages of manuscripts, using all sorts of codes that only he could come up with. One type has been deciphered over the years and that is “mirror writing.”

The great painter had a special talent. That is, he could write from right to left and the words he wrote were flipped like mirror images. In other words, you have to see with a mirror to understand the words. Why did he write like that? Was there some secret that he did not want people to know?

One of the deciphered manuscripts, the “Leicester Manuscript,” was in mirror writing. It was named such due to its purchase by the Earl of Leicester in the 18th century. Two hundred years later, Bill Gates, the richest man in the world at the time, bought it for US$30.8 million in 1994. The manuscript was in mirror code. It recorded natural phenomena such as fossils and the formation of mountains.

It also recorded an amazing event — that Leonardo da Vinci once went on an expedition to a cave and he saw some amazing things in it. He also hinted in the manuscript that his genius and subsequent achievements were related to that experience. There is no way to know for sure what Leonardo da Vinci had experienced, but people in modern times have found clues in his paintings relating to this secret. 

Gallery in the Fanate cave in the Apuseni Mountains, Bihor county, Romania.
Da Vinci hinted in a manuscript that his genius and subsequent achievements were related to an experience he had during an expedition to a cave. (Image: Cristian Tecu via Dreamstime)

The code in the masterpiece 

Leonardo da Vinci hinted in his manuscript that his talents had something to do with the cave experience. There is no way now to know what really happened in that cave. Nevertheless, some people are still able to find clues associated with this secret among his paintings.

When you think of da Vinci’s paintings, which one comes to your mind first? Mona Lisa? Yes, that is the most widely recognized piece of all, but it is too small. Let’s talk about a big one. It is a fresco measuring roughly 15×29 feet, housed by the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. At the time, Duke Ludovico Sforza wanted to enlarge the church. He commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint a fresco as part of a plan of renovations to the convent buildings. The fresco ultimately became the church’s treasure.

Da Vinci chose the end wall of the refectory to paint his long-prepared masterpiece The Last Supper. The fresco we see today, however, is incomplete because the church, on a whim, opened a door at the bottom center of the painting in the 17th century. We no longer see the feet of Jesus and three disciples. The painting we see online now is a restored one.

As the fresco began to flake and deteriorate, the church decided to restore it. That kicked off a series of restorations that went on for 400 years up to now. The more the restoration work that was performed, the more details of the original painting were needed, and the more abnormalities were discovered.

Let’s have a look at The Last Supper. This is a fresco that changed the history of European painting. For the first time, Leonardo da Vinci created the visual effect of a three-dimensional painting on a two-dimensional plane. The fresco depicts one of the most famous scenes in the New Testament — Jesus’ last visit to Jerusalem for the Passover. 

Closeup of Leonardo da Vinci's fresco 'The Last Supper.'
‘The Last Supper’ is a fresco that changed the history of European painting. (Image: Thomas Jurkowski via Dreamstime)

Passover is a major Jewish holiday commemorating God’s liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. On the day of the Passover, Jesus and his 12 disciples sat together for dinner when he suddenly said: “One of you will betray me.” Da Vinci’s The Last Supper portrays the reaction given by each disciple when Jesus declared the forthcoming betrayal. 

The secret in the masterpiece, who could he (she) be? 

According to the Bible, Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. In the painting, Judas leans back and clutches his money bag, showing his terror and guilty conscience. The other 10 disciples show shock and surprise, some discussing among themselves and some asking Jesus directly.

Take note of the young man at Jesus’ right. Most people consider him to be Saint John, who became a disciple of Jesus after seeing his miracles. Compared to the calmness of Jesus and the shock of the other disciples in the painting, John shows more sadness, as if foreseeing the fate of his master.

One strange point is that Leonardo da Vinci painted John in the same way he painted women. He is wearing a red robe similar to that of Jesus, but the posture, the clothes, the orientation and features of the face are extremely similar to the way Da Vinci painted female characters in his other portraits.

We know that Jesus did not have any female disciples. Then the question is: Who is the character that Leonardo da Vinci painted? Was it a person whom Leonardo da Vinci had met? This is still an unsolved mystery.

The encounter in the cave that Leonardo da Vinci mentioned in his manuscript took place when he was 24 years old, which was a key turning point in Da Vinci’s life. His famous paintings were all created after that. The Last Supper was painted when he was in his 40s. The mysterious anomaly of the feminine Saint John in the painting may be related to that experience. 

The secret in the masterpiece, the hidden score 

There’s another unexpected secret hidden in “The Last Supper. An Italian musician named Giovanni Pala claims he actually found sheet music in the painting. Where is it? By placing a staff over the painting and using the bread on the table and hands of the saints as notes, Giovanni Pala was able to decipher Da Vinci’s musical code. Some say he was over-reading it. If we convert the score back to music in accord with Da Vinci’s habit of writing from right to left, what kind of tune do we get?

'The Last Supper' fresco by Leonardo da Vinci with musical staff and notes overlaid.
By placing a staff over the painting and using the bread on the table and hands of the saints as notes, Da Vinci’s musical code is revealed. (Image: Just Strange via YouTube)

If the music were cheerful, or if there was no tune at all, this would mean the brainchild is overdone and wrong. However, the score does have a sad tone, which is in line with the crucifixion theme. It seems likely then that Pala has discovered yet another Da Vinci Code. Since Leonardo da Vinci was a musician himself who could play, sing, and compose his own music, hiding the score in the painting was quite a credible speculation.

If it is possible for Da Vinci to do something as bizarre as hiding a score in a painting, then his use of a female painting technique to express a key religious figure like Saint John must have a special purpose. The probability of this speculation holding true is very high, only that more clues are needed to reveal the answer. Meanwhile, people are still trying to decode the secret of Saint John in The Last Supper.

As for the US$450.3 million auctioned painting Salvator Mundi previously mentioned, there is already a well-developed interpretation of the code contained within. 

The code in ‘Salvator Mundi’ 

The painting Salvator Mundi has been claimed by some individuals to be a forgery, but the vast majority of connoisseurs believe it to be authentic. The character in the painting is Jesus, gazing at the viewer with a faint Mona Lisa-style smile at the corners of his mouth. His right hand is raised with three fingers, representing the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is a detail on the painting — the trace of a fold in the fabric near Jesus’ right rib. It looks like a deep wound. The position should be where Jesus was pierced by a Roman soldier with a spear during the crucifixion. It is a detail that fits Leonardo da Vinci’s perfectionist persona.

Nevertheless, for someone who was so detail-driven, it is the crystal ball that Jesus is holding that appears to have been a major mistake. Some analysts believe that the crystal ball in the painting does not truly refract the image behind it. Could Leonardo da Vinci have made a mistake? However, for a master who studied optics and was a perfectionist in details, the mistake of omission of details on the crystal ball can only be described as highly improbable.

The painting 'Salvator Mundi,' a half-length figure of Christ with one hand raised in blessing and the other holding an orb.
The crystal ball in the painting ‘Salvator Mundi’ lacks proper refraction leading some to think this is another of Da Vinci’s secret codes. (Image: via Wikimedia Commons)

Jesus can’t hold two bags in his hands like ordinary people do when we come out of the supermarket! What he is holding must mean something. Therefore, there is only one explanation. That is, the mistake that Leonardo da Vinci seemed to have made was actually deliberate and deeply meaningful. 

An author and investigative mythologist, William Henry, has been intently studying the three white dots floating in the middle of the transparent crystal orb. Could it be that the real mystery is hidden in this most obscure of bright spots? In 1989, Belgian astronomical archaeologist Robert Bauval came up with an astounding theory. He said that the size and position of the three pyramids on the Giza plateau in Egypt were designed in correspondence to the three brightest stars on Orion’s Belt. If that is the case, what was the significance of this design for the ancient Egyptians? 

The secret in ‘Salvator Mundi,’ Orion, and Egyptian civilization 

The constellation Orion had a unique place in the hearts of the ancient Egyptians. It was the incarnation of the great God Osiris, father of the falcon-headed God Horus. Osiris was king in Egypt and a teacher of knowledge and wisdom. He was resurrected after his death and became the lord of the underworld. He ruled over the land of eternal life, which was the location of the three bright stars at the belt of Orion, called Aaru in ancient Egypt. Whether Egyptians could travel after death to Aaru, the kingdom of heaven, and receive eternal life depended on the final judgment of Osiris.

Papyrus with Osiris at Egyptian Museum of Turin, Italy.
As lord of the underworld, the Egyptian God Osiris ruled over the land of eternal life, which was the location of the three bright stars at the belt of Orion, called Aaru in ancient Egypt. (Image: Sergiomonti via Dreamstime)

William Henry speculates that it is likely that Leonardo da Vinci was hinting in his painting that Jesus’ heavenly world was also in this location. How could Leonardo da Vinci know? People naturally associate it with his strange life-changing experience in the cave. There is a theory proposing that Da Vinci met a messenger from Orion in the cave, or a messenger who passed on the knowledge and wisdom to him. Could it be that he painted the appearance of this messenger into The Last Supper as well?

Orion appears at least three times in the Bible. When God, Jehovah, taught the saints, he often spoke of the Pleiades and Orion together. For example, in the Book of Job in the Old Testament, it is written: “He makes the stars: the Bear, Orion, the Pleiades, and the constellations of the southern sky.” The quote refers to the divine power of the creator to create the stars and the heavens. The Big Dipper Bear is used for navigation, which we understand; why mention the Pleiades and Orion, which have little to do with people’s lives and travels? Is this a hint that the location of the heavenly world is in the Pleiades and Orion?

Jesus came to Earth to teach people the wisdom that leads them to the Kingdom of Heaven and to establish the morality of loving others as ourselves, a mission which was similar to that of Osiris of Orion from ancient Egypt as the mentor of a more ancient civilization — both were to leave behind a culture for those civilizations.  

In conclusion, the Da Vinci Code is most likely to be real; however, it is nothing like the code we are familiar with, such as the Morse code or the Enigma machine used by Germany in World War II. Da Vinci’s way of hiding information is very similar to acrostic poems. That is to say, he learned something crucial and wanted to tell people about it, but not in a straightforward way.

Whether it was due to inappropriate timing or the likelihood of being criticized for being straightforward, he decided to tell the world a message through obscure means, while at the same time leaving clues for later generations to solve — and all were said to be related to the mysterious experience he had in the cave at the age of 24.

Other famous examples of hidden messages are The Prophecies written by the French prophet Nostradamus in the 16th century and the “Back-pushing pictures” co-created by famous Chinese prophets Li Chunfeng and Yuan Tiangang of the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century. This kind of obscurity is the usual method used by extraordinarily gifted people to convey heavenly messages to the world.

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