There is often more to an image than meets the eye, and many of the world's most famous works of art have secrets hidden beneath the surface. You can study your favorite painting over and over again and still discover a new cryptic symbol or hidden detail. Some of the world's most famous artists intentionally leave secret messages in their paintings, and some have even sparked popular conspiracy theories, either to subvert authority, challenge the public, or reveal something about themselves. Hundreds of years later, thanks to technological advances, many of these secret messages are being discovered for the first time.
These are the famous paintings that KUADROS considers the most enigmatic.
No.1 The Last Supper - Leonardo Da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci's famous depiction of Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper has been at the center of some popular theories in recent years, as depicted in the 2003 novel "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown and the adaptation 2006 film of the book starring Tom Hanks. 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 that forms between Jesus and "John" represents a female womb, implying that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child together. Art historians, however, are skeptical. da Vinci's Last Supper is important for its expressive composition and use of perspective, which was an innovation at the time. Da Vinci lined the figures and walls of the painted room with strings radiating from a nail on the wall where the original is painted, above a dining room in a monastery in Milan. Many suggest that John's appearance is feminine simply because that is how he was portrayed. Expert Mario Taddei told Artnet.com: "Leonardo had to copy the Last Suppers before him, and John looks like a woman." But a much more convincing secret message was discovered by the Italian computer technician Giovanni Maria Pala. He claims that Da Vinci hid musical notes within "The Last Supper" that, when read from left to right, correspond to a 40-second hymn that sounds like a requiem.
When the abbot of the monastery complained that the painting was taking too long, the enraged artist was said to have threatened to use the abbot's face as a model for the traitorous Judas. In the end, da Vinci visited the prisons of Milan to find the perfect villainous face for Judas, who is sitting fifth from the left. Professional art historians say there is no evidence for the conspiracy theories about the Last Supper set forth in "The Da Vinci Code" and other books on the subject; and they reject the identification of the figure to the left of Jesus as his follower Mary Magdalene, rather than the apostle John.
No.2 The Creation Of Adam - 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 contained a human brain? The hidden message is found in the fabric where the shape of the brain can supposedly be distinguished. Apparently, the artist included it in his fresco because autopsies were prohibited by the Church at the time. It turns out that Michelangelo was an expert in human anatomy. At 17, he had a somewhat creepy job dissecting corpses from the church graveyard. Therefore, some believe that he would have liked to present this passion for anatomy to one of his greatest achievements, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. 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. And if you look at the shroud that surrounds God in "The Creation of Adam," you'll find that it creates 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 human knowledge.
One doctor says that Michelangelo was very familiar with the human brain and that he used his knowledge of neuroanatomy to symbolically represent the brain in his "Creation of Adam." Other interpretations go even further, this painting goes against religious ideology and conveys the message that everything is born of man, rather than the other way around. What a sacrilegious thought indeed. Such a famous work of art, and yet we are still finding hidden secrets centuries after its conception.
No.3 The Mona Lisa - Leonardo Da Vinci
Namely, the Mona Lisa, the most famous painting among famous paintings, the most visited work in the Louvre museum. This enigmatic lady actually has more to see here than that infamous half smile. First of all, it is speculated that she is pregnant, given the way the arms are placed on the belly and the veil around the shoulders, which was used by pregnant women during 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. But 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 in 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 "72", Vinceti argues that it could be due to the importance of numbers in both Christianity and Judaism. For example, "7" refers to the creation of the world, and the number "2" could refer to the duality of men and women.
Even more surprising, in 2015, a French scientist using reflective light technology claimed to have found another portrait of a woman below the image we see today. The consensus is that this was da Vinci's "first draft", and that he painted it to create his masterpiece.
No.4 Cafe Terrace At Night - Vincent Van Gogh
This painting of colorful outdoor views is a picturesque work, the vision of a relaxed viewer who enjoys the charm of his surroundings without any moral concern. Remember Van Gogh's mood when he wrote that "the night is more alive and more colorful than the day". At first glance, Vincent van Gogh's 1888 oil painting appears to be just what the title describes: a quaint cafe terrace in a colorful French town. But, in 2015, Van Gogh expert Jared Baxter proposed the theory that the painting is actually the artist's version of "The Last Supper." Close study shows a central figure with long hair surrounded by 12 individuals, one of whom appears to slip into the shadows like Judas. There are also what appear to be small crucifixes hidden throughout the painting, including one above 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 of a Dutch Reformed church. At the time of working on Cafe Terrace at Night, van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo van Gogh, explaining that he had a "tremendous need for, I must say the word, religion", with direct reference to the painting.
Van Gogh never signed "Café Terrace at Night". However, he specifically mentioned the painting in three pieces of correspondence, so art historians are confident that he painted it.
No.5 The Arnolfini Portrait - Jan Van Eyck
The image hangs in the National Gallery in London and probably represents Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife Costanza Trenta. The couple's identity was narrowed down from just a few possibilities, but only they lived in Bruges long enough to get to know the painter up close. The first key to painting is the setting, in a fairly rich home, full of objects and beautiful clothes. The symbols in the painting are impossible to miss, although they are not of a single interpretation. Nor is the meaning of the image completely clear. Over the centuries, it has been interpreted as a portrait of a newlywed couple, with symbols drawn from a wedding event, beginning with the obvious fertility symbol of the pregnant position of Constance's body, which as shown it was just a fad of fashion. In fact, the couple ultimately had no children. Other fertility symbols are the red bed and the rug. The shoes lying on the wooden floor also had meaning as common wedding gifts for a bride from a groom. Oranges symbolize fertility and love, the loyalty of the puppy. But if you look closely at the mirror in the center of the room, you will see that there are two figures entering the room. It is widely believed that one of them is destined to be Van Eyck himself. You will also notice that there is a Latin inscription in very elaborate script on the wall above the mirror, which translates as "Jan van Eyck was here. 1434".
However, the most important part of the painting, which is not shown, is the discrepancy in the years. The painting, as mentioned above, was dated 1434, while Costanza Trenta died in 1433. The painting could also have had a different context than the one in which it was finished. As an X-ray has shown, Jan van Eyck made several changes, and whether or not these were related to such an occurrence is subject to dispute.
No.6 The Ambassadors - Hans Holbein the Younger
Long before 3D glasses or Easter egg hunts became popular, Renaissance painters got their audience to look at pieces from new angles by playing with perspective. One of the most famous examples of the technique is Hans Holbein the Younger's double portrait, The Ambassadors, which has a history as rich as the many details hidden in its brushstrokes.
The interpretation of the painting as an allegory of the political and religious tumult of Henry VIII's schismatic England, in which the hapless ambassadors find themselves trapped, has been universally accepted for over a hundred years.
The painting features a pretty impressive illusion on its base. If you look at the lopsided image at the bottom of the painting from right to left, it appears to be an anamorphic skull. Scholars believe it is meant as a reminder that death is always just around the corner.
In the upper left corner, behind the lush green curtain, you'll find Jesus in an iconic pose. Some art historians believe that this divine cameo is linked to the memento mori skull and hints at a place beyond mortality. It is a symbol meant to suggest that there is more than death, namely an afterlife through Christ. Others believe that the hidden icon represents the division of the church that Henry VIII was inflicting on his countrymen.
The figure on the left side of The Ambassadors is Jean de Dinteville, the French ambassador to England. He was about to turn 30 at the time of this double portrait. His friend and fellow diplomat Georges de Selve, pictured right, was only 25 years old at the time and had already served as French ambassador to the Republic of Venice on several occasions.
The oil on oak portrait was made to hang in the halls of the Dinteville house. However, the National Gallery has exhibited Holbein's mind-boggling painting since 1890. For more than 125 years, it has been one of the most prized exhibits in the London museum.
No.7 The Birth Of Venus - Sandro Botticelli
Nudity in Botticelli's famous painting was quite innovative for the late 15th century. But that's not where the artist's audacity ends. Some art historians believe that the scallop shell on which Venus is riding the ocean waves is actually intended to symbolize female genitalia and thus allude to fertility, creating a birth scene that reflects Venus's oceanic origins. while symbolically connecting with human birth.
Venus, goddess of love, lies demure in the seashell, being dragged ashore by Zephyr, god of the west wind. There, one of the Horae, goddesses of the seasons, stands ready in a cloak to dress the newborn deity. The fourth figure Zephyr carries is meant to be an Aura (nymphs of the wind) or Chloris, a nymph associated with spring and blooming flowers such as those that flow through the image.
Christian inspiration was dominant in the art of the Middle Ages, so nudity was rarely depicted. However, the rise of humanism led to a renewed interest in the myths of ancient Rome, and with it a resurrection of the nude.
During this period of the early Renaissance, painting on wood panels was in fashion. But the popularity of canvas was on the rise, especially in humid regions where wood tended to warp. As canvas was cheaper than wood, its perceived status was somewhat lower, so it was reserved for works not intended for large public exhibitions. The painting stands out as the first work on canvas in Tuscany.
The Birth of Venus was meant to hang in a room. The nudity of the piece takes on a more sensual tone when you know it was meant to hang over a double bed. This location and its daring depiction helped keep The Birth of Venus hidden from public view for nearly 50 years. The painting has a companion piece. Although it was completed four years before its sister, La Primavera can be seen as something of a sequel to The Birth of Venus. While the second depicts the arrival of Venus in a world on the verge of blooming, the first shows the world in bloom around the now clothed mother figure. The pair of paintings are said to have been intended to communicate how "love triumphs over brutality".
Botticelli asked to be buried at the feet of his Venus. Not the paint, mind you. He wanted to lie eternally for his earthly inspiration, Simonetta Cattaneo de Vespucci. Called the most beautiful woman in Florence, as well as the most beautiful woman of the Renaissance, Simonetta was the muse who inspired several of Botticelli's works, including The Birth of Venus and La Primavera. When he died in 1510, Botticelli was buried near this married noblewoman, for whom it is speculated that he harbored unrequited love.
No.8 Self Portrait - Rembrandt
Rembrandt painted, drew, and engraved so many self-portraits in his lifetime that changes in his appearance invite us to assess his state of mind by comparing one image to another. Such a biographical reading is encouraged by the way the artist confronts the viewer directly. Rembrandt painted this self-portrait in 1659, having suffered financial failure despite many years of success. His spacious house on the Sint-Anthonisbreestraat and other possessions had been auctioned off the previous year to satisfy his creditors. In this late work, the deep-set eyes boring into the viewer's seem to express inner strength and dignity. However, interpreting paintings on the basis of an artist's biography is dangerous, particularly with an artist whose life has been idealized to the degree that Rembrandt has. The light that so effectively illuminates the head also accentuates Rembrandt's left shoulder and, to a lesser extent, his widely executed clasped hands.
In 2001, British artist David Hockney and American physicist Charles Falco announced that they had found indications that Rembrandt and other Old Masters relied heavily on the use of curved lenses and mirrors to create their lifelike scenes and portraits. And in August 2016, two researchers in the UK, artist Francis O'Neil and physicist Sofia Palazzo Corner, published a study in the Journal of Optics that explained how Rembrandt might have used combinations of curved mirrors and lenses to create his famous self-portraits . The researchers see many details in Rembrandt's self-portraits that support their theory, including the strong light in the center of the portraits and the relative darkness at the edges, which is also seen in reflections cast by curved mirrors.
Artists are constantly using new pigments and oils to produce colors that are more vibrant, luminous and interesting. Rembrandt van Rijn was no different. The old Dutch master had technique, creativity and painstaking work to his credit. It also had chemistry. A new analysis of his works shows that he used a rare compound in some of his paintings: a lead carbonate mineral called plumbonacrite, Pb5(CO3)3O(OH). Knowing the composition of the artist's palette will help conservationists figure out how to best preserve their artwork over time.
No.9 Bacchus - Caravaggio
Caravaggio's painting of Bacchus contains all the revelry associated with the mythological libertine bubbling beneath its surface. It is this feeling of storm beneath the calm that makes it such a powerful piece of art. Bacchus, the god of wine, is usually shown drunk; Caravaggio's Bacchus is serene and autonomous. He is often seen riding a triumphal chariot drawn by tigers, leopards, or goats; in Caravaggio's version, the Bacchic procession is about to begin or has ended. Or maybe this Bacchus has completely different plans.
The first time something hidden in this work was discovered was in 1922, an art restorer was cleaning the canvas of this 1595 work. As the accumulation of dirt over centuries disappeared, a hidden portrait became visible. In the glass wine carafe in the lower left corner, a tiny Caravaggio sits in the small reflection of light on the surface of the wine.
Today, almost a century later, researchers confirm it. It doesn't seem too hidden, but thanks to modern technology called reflectography, art experts in 2009 were able to discover that the image of a man is actually hidden in the wine jug at the bottom left. And it may be Da Caravaggio himself. "Caravaggio painted a person in an upright position, with one arm extended towards a canvas on an easel. It appears to be a portrait of himself while he was painting," expert Mina Gregori told The Telegraph.