There are mysterious causes why great masterpieces have inspired dozens of conspiracy theories and implausible conjectures.
Sometimes the details hidden in these famous paintings are extremely ingenious, perhaps revolutionary.
Enter now into this fascinating world of 10 great masterpieces of our history that keep stealthy secrets between the canvas and the observer.
Secrets of The Last Supper - Leonardo Da Vinci
The Last Supper is Leonardo Da Vinci's visual interpretation of an event narrated in the four Gospels (the books of the Christian New Testament).
The night before Christ was betrayed by one of his disciples, the teacher gathered them together to eat together, wash their feet and announce what would happen. While they were eating and drinking, Christ gives the disciples explicit instructions on how to eat and drink in the future, in his memory. It was there that the first celebration of the Eucharist was born, a ritual that still remains among Christians.
The Last Supper describes the moments after Christ dropped a bombshell, announcing that a disciple would betray him before dawn. The twelve apostles react to the news with varying degrees of shock.
Leonardo da Vinci had not worked on such a large painting and had no experience in the medium of murals under the fresco technique. The painting was done using experimental pigments directly onto dry plaster wall, and unlike frescoes, where pigments are mixed with wet plaster, the work has not stood the test of time well.
Even before the masterpiece was finished, the paint was peeling off the wall and Leonardo had to repair it. Over the years it has collapsed, been vandalized, bombed and restored. Today we are probably seeing very little of the original work.
If you've read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, you know that this late 15th-century mural by Leonardo da Vinci has been the subject of much speculation.
Brown proposed that the disciple to the right of Jesus is actually Mary Magdalene disguised as John the Apostle. It also suggests that the "V" shape formed between Jesus and "John" represents a female womb, implying that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child together.
Art historians, however, are skeptical of this conjecture, which at the time gained many adherents. Critics suggest that Juan's appearance is feminine simply because that is often how he was portrayed.
But the Italian musician Giovanni Maria Pala discovered a much more compelling secret message. He claims Da Vinci hid musical notes in "The Last Supper" that, when read from left to right, correspond to a 40-second hymn that sounds like a requiem.
In 2007, Pala created a melody from the notes that were hidden in the scene. You can listen to this supposed melody that Da Vinci left hidden here.
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Secrets of the Creation of Adam - Michelangelo (Michelangelo)
"The Creation of Adam" is probably the most famous of the nine Biblical panels that Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But did you know that the scene could contain the image of a hidden brain?
Michelangelo was an expert in human anatomy. At 17, the great Renaissance artist had a job dissecting corpses in the churchyard. According to neuroanatomy experts Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo, the painter placed some carefully hidden illustrations of certain body parts on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
If you look at the shroud that surrounds God in "The Creation of Adam", you will see that Michelangelo could reproduce an anatomical illustration of the human brain.
Suk and Tamargo believe that Michelangelo intended the brain to represent the idea that God was endowing Adam not only with life, but also with knowledge and the ability to reason.
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Secrets of the Separation of Light from Darkness - Michelangelo
" The Creation of Adam " was not the only panel in the Sistine Chapel in which Michelangelo hid anatomical illustrations. According to Suk and Tamargo, in "The Separation of Light from Darkness", a representation of the human spinal cord and brain stem can be found in the center of God's chest leading to his throat.
While the viewer may be surprised by the amount of bare skin on display on the ceiling and wall, there was originally much more to the work. Shortly after Michelangelo's death, Pope Paul III ordered that the genitals of saints and martyrs be covered. More than 40 alterations were made covering the total nudity of the female figures. The chosen artist (Daniele dal Volterra) would forever be known as "Il Braghettone", the maker of underpants or the painter of underpants.
Secrets of Café Terrace at Night - Vincent Van Gogh
At first glance, Vincent van Gogh 's 1888 oil painting appears to be just what the title describes: a picturesque café terrace in a colorful French town. But in 2015, Van Gogh expert Jared Baxter put forward the theory that the painting is actually the artist's version of "The Last Supper."
A close study shows a central figure with long hair surrounded by 12 individuals, one of whom seems to slip into the shadows like Judas. There are also what appear to be small crucifixes hidden throughout the painting, including one over the central Jesus-like figure.
A religious allusion would not be too out of place for Van Gogh. Before turning his attention to painting, the famous Dutch artist had wanted to "preach the gospel everywhere," and his father, Theodorus van Gogh, was a pastor at a Dutch Reformed church. Around the time he was working on Cafe Terrace at Night, van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo van Gogh, explaining that he was in "tremendous need of, would I say the word, religion", with direct reference to the painting.
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Secrets of the Prophet Zacharias - Miguel Angel
Some of Michelangelo 's work in the Sistine Chapel may have some rather controversial hidden secrets. "The Prophet Zacharias," for example, looks like a mural of the eponymous prophet reading a book while two cherubs look over his shoulder.
But, if you look closely, it looks as if one of the angels is "flip-flipping" which is when you put your thumb between your middle and forefinger. Basically, it's the old version of showing the middle finger.
Rabbi Benjamin Blech of Yeshiva University told ABC News: "This is perhaps the key to understanding Michelangelo's courage, Michelangelo's true feelings towards the Pope, and the fact that Michelangelo did not hesitate to present us with messages that could have been offensive."
The feeling that this is all part of Zacarías's fantasy is also tangible. In a room full of imaginations, each occupant of the Sistine Chapel ceiling seems to be troubled by something, the power of perspective ensuring that Zacarias's messages carry further.
It's not just the fact that he's over the door, reading from his own work, that feels like God's agenda setting.
Zechariah is perhaps one of the most interesting apocalyptic prophets, who predicted the end of the world or, as he would prefer to say, the day of the Lord. Miguel Angel makes Zacarías capture the viewer with his emblematic figure.
The Mona Lisa - Leonardo Da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci's 15th-century masterpiece is perhaps one of the world's most recognizable works of art, but there's a lot to look at in that mysterious smile.
First of all, it is speculated that La Gioconda is pregnant, given the way her arms are positioned on her belly and the veil around her shoulders, which was often worn by women during pregnancy in the Italian Renaissance.
But the most recent findings are in his eyes. In 2011, Italian researcher Silvano Vinceti claimed that he found letters and numbers microscopically painted on them. He told the Associated Press that the "L" over his right eye likely represents the artist's name.
The meaning of the letter "S" he sees in his left eye and the number "72" under the arched bridge in the background are less clear. Vinceti believes the "S" could refer to a woman from the Sforza dynasty that ruled Milan, meaning the woman in the painting may not be Lisa Gherardini, as has long been believed.
As for the number "72", Vinceti argues that it could be due to the importance of numbers in both Christianity and Judaism. For example, the number 7 refers to the creation of the world, and the number 2 could refer to the duality between men and women.
Other secrets that The Mona Lisa keeps and that were recently discovered under X-rays:
- There is a hidden lace in the Mona Lisa dress
- The transparency of the veil shows that da Vinci first painted a landscape and then used transparency techniques to paint the veil on top.
- The work went through a change in the position of the index and middle fingers of the left hand.
- The elbow was repaired for damage caused by a stone thrown at the painting in 1956.
- The blanket that covers Mona Lisa's knees also covers her stomach.
- The left finger was not completely finished.
- A smudge in the corner of the eye and chin are varnish accidents, countering claims that Mona Lisa was ill.
- And the Mona Lisa was painted on uncut poplar board, contrary to other speculation.
Secrets of The Portrait of Arnolfini - Jan van Eyck
When Jan van Eyck 's 1434 oil painting is first observed, it appears to simply depict the merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife.
But if you look closely at the mirror in the center of the room, you'll notice that there are two figures walking into the room. It is widely believed that one of them is Van Eyck himself. You may also notice that there is a Latin inscription in elaborate writing on the wall above the mirror, which translates as "Jan van Eyck was here. 1434."
The Portrait of Arnolfini, as the title says, was revolutionary in its time and the painting continues to fascinate us to this day. The entire image draws the viewer's attention to details that could be an important message or convey a veiled meaning.
Throughout the centuries the work has been interpreted as a portrait of two newlyweds, with typical symbols of a nuptial event, beginning with the fertility symbol of the pregnant position of Constanza's body, which as is known was just a whim of the artist. In fact, the couple ultimately had no children.
Other fertility symbols are the red bed and carpet. The shoes that were on the wooden floor also had significance as a common wedding gift for a bride from a groom. Oranges symbolize fertility and love.
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Secrets of the Ambassadors - Hans Holbein the Younger
Hans Holbein's most iconic painting The Younger often eludes proper interpretation. Jean de Dinteville and Georges de Selve (1533), also known as The Ambassadors, have been the subject of intense scrutiny by historians for hundreds of years. The double portrait, proudly displayed at the National Gallery in London, remains a fascinating enigma within which every detail seems to suggest multiple meanings.
The artist's painting features a rather noticeable illusion on its lower base. If you look at the skewed image at the bottom of the painting from right to left, it appears to be an anamorphic skull. Scholars believe that the image is intended as a reminder that death is always just around the corner. When the skull is viewed from the right of the image, the apparent image distortion is corrected.
Painting is a tradition that shows educated men with books and work instruments. Objects on the top shelf include a celestial globe, a portable sundial, and various other instruments used to understand the heavens and measure time. Among the items on the bottom shelf are a lute, a flute box, a hymn book, an arithmetic book, and a globe.
Certain details of the work could be interpreted as references to contemporary religious divisions. The broken string of the lute, for example, may signify some kind of religious discord, while the Lutheran hymnal may be a plea for Christian harmony.
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Secrets of the Old Guitarist - Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso's haunting depiction of an old man holding a guitar is one of the most revered works of his Blue Period.
However, in 1998, researchers used an infrared camera and discovered that there is another painting under it, showing a woman. Now that the paint is fading, it's easier to see the woman's face above the old man's neck.
Research by the Art Institute of Chicago and a 2001 exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art sought to unravel the jumbled images. The most obvious features include a woman's head facing left and an outstretched arm with an open hand facing right. It is highly likely that Picasso originally began painting a portrait of a woman, possibly appearing to be seated and in a bad mood or worry. Not much of this image is visible except for her face and legs.
The Old Guitarist is probably the most iconic painting of Picasso's blue period when he lived in poverty and emotional turmoil. The ghostly presence of the mysterious image of the woman adds an element of mystery to this great work of the 20th century.
Secrets of Madam X - John Singer Sargent
In 1884, John Singer Sargent painted a portrait of the wealthy Parisian socialite Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau. It originally depicted the jeweled strap of her dress slipping off her shoulder, but the artwork scandalized upper-class society at the time.
The artist was forced to paint the straps, change the name of the painting, and move to London to avoid public and critical ridicule.
The painting, which initially debuted with such stern scorn but is today treasured as a beloved masterpiece in Western art history, is just one example of a work of art that gradually evolved from condemnation to celebration.
Much of the initial reception of a work is based on societal tastes, etiquette standards, and values of the time, and as these attitudes change over time, the public may begin to view old paintings with a new perspective. Sargent's Madame X is perhaps one of the most dramatic examples of this trend, but not before raising intriguing questions about what really defines a work of art's popularity, legacy, and earned fame.
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Secrets of Spring - Sandro Botticelli
Critics question the specific meaning behind La Primavera, Sandro Botticelli's masterpiece. It is widely accepted that, on some level, the artwork is a celebration of the season of flowers and the fertility that the season brings.
For one thing, Boticelli's painting has secret delights for horticultural enthusiasts. Botanists have identified at least 200 different species of plants in "Spring" which are presented in specific detail.
The key to interpreting the composition of La Primavera as a whole could lie in the sources of the painting, but there is no consensus on what they were. Some parts seem to come from Ovid, who wrote about Chloris and her transformation, and from Lucretius, who in his poem "De rerum natura" touched on some of the images seen in the painting. It could also have been inspired by "Rusticus," a poem celebrating country life by Poliziano, a close friend of the Medici family.
Fortunately, our appreciation for the beauty of the painting transcends our difficulties in understanding it. Metropolitan Museum of Art Curator Ian Alteveer's recent statement on Jasper John's White Flag could easily fit in with Botticelli's Spring: "As I was enthused by this work, I realized that a work can be inscrutable and still haunt you. can enchant."
In 1893, Aby Warburg, one of the most important historians of Florentine art, published his groundbreaking study of Botticelli's Primavera. In his article The Birth of Venus and Spring by Sandro Botticelli , the scholar related the meaning of the painting to Ovid's Fasti, Virgil's Aeneid, and texts by Lucretius and Poliziano. According to Warburg, the three figures on the right visualize a passage from Fasti and show the moment when Zephyrus abducts the nymph Chloris who transforms into Flora. This source, however, explains only part of the image. And the rest? Referring to the Aeneid, the Odes of Horace, and the writings of Lucretius and Poliziano, Warburg saw in the painting a representation of the Garden of Venus. According to his reading, the figures from left to right are: Mercury, the Three Graces, Venus with Cupid, Flora, Chloris and Zephyr. The painting, therefore, would represent the kingdom of Venus as described by Poliziano in his Stanze per la Giostra:
In Poliziano's verses we find almost all the protagonists of Botticelli's painting: Venus, Cupid, the Three Graces, Zephyr and Flora.
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