In January of 1497, Fray Augustin Leyre, a Dominican Inquisitor and expert on the interpretation of secret messages, is sent to supervise Leonardo Da Vinci's last touches to "The Last Supper" painting. He was sent by Alejandro VI who had heard that Da Vinci was painting the twelve apostles without their halo of sanctity, that the chalice was missing, and that Leonardo had painted himself in the painting with his back to Jesus. This could have sent him to the inquisition. Why then did he do this? Was Leonardo Da Vinci a heretic? Full of misleading facts and controversies, "The Secret Supper" reveals the truth behind Da Vinci's best-known Christian piece. After finishing this novel, you'll never see "The Last Supper" in the same way again.
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'I cannot recall a more dangerous and tangled puzzle than the one I was called upon to solve in the New Year of 1497...' An anonymous Soothsayer has written to Rome suggesting that Leonardo da Vinci has encrypted a secret, blasphemous code in his painting The Last Supper. Father Agostino Leyre, an Inquisitor and expert in cryptography, is dispatched by the Pope to the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie to decode the painting. Should he succeed, da Vinci will face trial for heresy - and certain execution. Full of dark surprises, The Secret Supper depicts a deadly game of wits between the brilliant Leonardo da Vinci and the man intent on uncovering the shattering secrets behind one of the most famous Christian masterpieces.Review:
The Da Vinci juggernaut rolls on, this time in the capable hands of a bestselling author in the Spanish-speaking world. The Secret Supper has been ably translated by Alberto Manguel, author of A History of Reading, that delightful revelation that squiggles on a page are words, and words make stories. Set in 1497 Milan, at the time of the painting of the Cenacolo, or The Last Supper, in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Sierra has created a tale of religious fanaticism, betrayal, murder, Church politics, artistic chicanery and mystery to confound the reader.
Fra Agostino Leyre, a Papal Inquisitor, is sent to Milan to confirm--or not--the messages of the "Soothsayer," who alleges that Leonardo Da Vinci is a heretic and has hidden heretical messages in his painting of The Last Supper. Leonardo is a figure larger than life, literally. A blue-eyed, tall, handsome man, always dressed in white, he is surrounded by faithful students and friends who are his acolytes. His brilliant mind, ranging over a multitude of ideas, has gained him a reputation for "hiding heterodox ideas in paintings apparently pious."
What Father Agostino follows is a labyrinthine path through alliances and rivalries, differences of opinion about Leonardo and a discussion of the heresy of the Cathars. They are a fascinating sect, more extra-Christianity than Christian heretics. Their practices are based on a belief that certain deprivations--primarily food and sex--will purify and make them worthy. Sierra is a very fine guide, taking the reader through palaces and monasteries rife with intrigue and typical of the flowering of intellect that came after the Dark Ages. It is a time when "Suddenly, from one day to the next, Plato's Greece, Cleopatra's Egypt and even the extravagant curiosities of the Chinese Empire that Marco Polo discovered seemed to deserve greater praise than our own Scriptural stories." Dangerous for the incumbency.
A compelling case is made that Leonardo's heretical beliefs are there for all to see in The Last Supper, if only we know how to find them. Sierra gives us the key--and keeps the suspense going right up to the end of the book. It isn't necessary to believe any of it, or even care if it's true, to enjoy this pilgrimage through another time and place. --Valerie Ryan
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