Art is always open to different interpretations. You can go over your favourite work of art as much as you like and still be able to discover new meanings that did not seem to be there before. Some art pieces truly have hidden meanings.
Art, generally, is mysterious. That is one of the beautiful things about the craft. While many theories abound about some famous artworks, here are the top 10 paintings with hidden meanings you may not know.
10. Bacchus – Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio painted one of his famous works, Bacchus, in 1595. The painting was inspired by Bacchus, the Roman god of agriculture, wine and fertility, who is equivalent to the Greek’s more popular Dionysus. However, a 2009 discovery revealed the image of a man is hidden in the carafe of wine in the bottom left, thanks to modern technology called reflectography.
Experts argue that Da Caravaggio may have painted a self-portrait as the discovery showed a person in an upright position, with an arm held out towards a canvas on an easel. Expert Mina Gregoritold The Telegraph that it appeared that Da Caravaggio painted a portrait of himself while he was painting.
9. The Old Guitarist – Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso’s painting depiction of an elderly man cradling a guitar is one of the most revered works of his Blue Period in the early 1900s. However, a surprising discovery was made in 1998. Researchers used an infrared camera to discover another painting of a woman layered underneath that of the old man. It has become easier to spot the woman since the painting has started to fade.
8. The Ambassadors – Hans Holbein the Younger
When Hans Holbein the Younger painted The Ambassadors in 1533, he probably thought that the meaning behind the lopsided image at the bottom of the painting from the right may not be discovered. However, the impressive illusion at the base of The Ambassadors shows what appears to be an anamorphic skull. Scholars believe that the skull is a reminder that death is constantly around the corner.
7. The Arnolfini Portrait – Jan van Eyck
Take a first look at Jan van Eyck’s 1434 oil painting and you may conclude that it is just a portrait of the merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife. However, when you take a closer look at the mirror in the centre of the room, you will see that two figures are entering the room.
Scholars believe that one of the people is van Eyck himself. To add credence to the belief, there is a Latin inscription in very elaborate writing on the wall above the mirror, which translates to “Jan van Eyck was here. 1434.”
6. The Prophet Zechariah – Michelangelo Buonarroti
Michelangelo has been credited for creating masterpieces for the Roman Catholic Church during the High Renaissance. One of his works in the Sistine Chapel, The Prophet Zechariah may have some cheeky hidden secrets. The painting showcases the eponymous prophet reading a book while two cherubs glance over his shoulder.
A closer look at the painting might reveal what appears to be one of the angels “flipping the fig”, which means when one puts their thumb between their middle and index fingers. As in, this is an old version of giving the middle finger aka “f**k you!”
Rabbi Benjamin Blech of Yeshiva University provided a more elaborate explanation to ABC News.
“This perhaps is the key to understanding Michelangelo’s courage, Michelangelo’s true feelings about the Pope, and the fact that Michelangelo did not hesitate to present us with messages that might’ve been offensive,” Blech said.
5. Mona Lisa – Leonardo Da Vinci
Da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa has been a subject of speculation for decades. Her half-smile is not the only mystery. First, there is speculation that she is pregnant given the way her arms are positioned around her belly. The veil that was draped around her was another clue as that was what pregnant women wore during the Italian Renaissance.
Second, an Italian expert believes that her left eye holds the letter ‘L’ and her right eye has an ‘S’. He told the Associated Press that the “L” stands for Leonardo, the artist’s name. However, the meanings of the letter “S” in her left eye and the number “72” under the arched bridge in the backdrop remain unclear. The expert believes the “S” might refer to a woman in the Sforza dynasty that ruled Milan, which may indicate that the woman in the painting may not be Lisa Gherardini, as many believed for a long time.
The “72,” has been argued to be due to the significance of numbers in both Christianity and Judaism – “7” for the creation of the world and “2” for the duality of men and women.
4. Bill Clinton – Nelson Shanks
American artist, John Nelson Shanks, made a portrait of a former U.S. President, Bill Clinton, in 2006. A first glance will only show the former president posing beside a mantel in the Oval Office. However, a closer look will reveal a more hidden shadow from a lady’s dress. It was the same stained blue dress of Monica Lewinsky which became a symbol of Clinton’s scandal in the 1990s.
3. The Madonna with Saint Giovannino – Domenico Ghirlandaio
Domenico Ghirlandaio’s 15th-century Italian Renaissance painting indicates a belief in alien existence at the time. The painting shows Mary from the Bible praying over baby Jesus. However, a closer look shows the presence of a UFO, with a man in the background shielding his eyes to gaze up at it.
2. The Last Supper – Leonardo da Vinci
Da Vinci’s The Last Supper has been a subject of controversial theories for years. Dan Brown’s book, Da Vinci Code, suggests that the disciple to the right of Jesus is Mary Magdalene disguised as John the Apostle. The book also suggests that the “V” shape that forms between Jesus and “John” represents a female womb, which implies that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child together.
However, art historians are sceptical about the theory, with some suggesting that John’s appearance is feminine simply because that’s often how he was depicted. Giovanni Maria Pala, an Italian computer technician, revealed a more compelling secret when he claimed that Da Vinci hid musical notes within The Last Supper. The notes correspond to a 40-second hymn that sounds like a requiem when read from left to right.
1. The Creation of Adam – Michelangelo Buonarroti
The Creation of Adam is arguably the most famous of the nine biblical panels Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo knew the human anatomy well, a valuable knowledge he garnered during the time he dissected corpses from the church graveyard at the age of 17.
According to neuroanatomy experts Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo, Michelangelo placed some carefully concealed illustrations of certain body parts onto the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. A closer look at the shroud surrounding the mural show that it creates an anatomical illustration of the human brain.
Suk and Tamargo believe Michelangelo suggested that the brain represents the idea that God was endowing Adam with not just life, but human knowledge as well.
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