Here’s a look at some of the secrets concealed in the world’s most important and famous artworks.
If Walt Disney–one of the most brilliant artists of the last century–hid subliminal messages and ambiguous images in his cartoons, the most important artists in art history were certainly no less skilled. The paintings and frescoes of geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo hide many mysteries and secrets that only a careful eye – with the help of an appropriate guide – can uncover.
Here’s a look at some of the secrets concealed in the most important and famous works in art history.
1. The dental secret of the Mona Lisa
Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is perhaps one of the most mysterious and fascinating paintings of all time. (Well, to be honest, pretty much any work by Leonardo da Vinci is intriguing!) Everyone who visits the Louvre tries to unlock the secret behind her bewildering look and mysterious smile, but it was Joseph E. Borkowski, an American art critic, who seems to have cracked the code. The ambiguous expression on the Mona Lisa’s face is probably linked to the woman missing some teeth at the time she was painted. Thanks to the support from sophisticated technology, Borkowski discovered some scars around Mona Lisa‘s lips that indicate an extraction of the front teeth. Plus, the position of her mouth and mysterious smile also show a lack of anterior teeth.
Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”
2. Hidden symbols in a fruit basket
Caravaggio was one of the darkest and most controversial artists in history, and one of the most iconic having completely revolutionized the chiaroscuro technique. In The Supper at Emmaus, a resurrected Jesus reveals himself to his disciples. The revelation is also portrayed through some symbols of Christianity concealed in an unsuspected place: the fruit basket on the wooden table in the foreground. The black grape represents death, the white grape Christian life, the apple is naturally the symbol of temptation and the Devil. The bowl’s shadow forms the outline of a fish, a symbol that persecuted Christians used to recognize one another in Roman times.
3. The mischievous Madame X
The fascinating painting by John Singer Sargent portraying the beautiful Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau appears to be just an elegant painting. However, the depiction caused a plethora of controversy and it’s for this reason the artist made a change that is practically invisible. The shoulder jeweled strap of the French socialite’s sumptuous dress was originally sliding off her shoulder. However, this pose was considered too erotic and sensual for the prudish Parisian public of 1884. It was deemed so scandalous that Singer Sargent changed the painting to display the shoulder strap in its proper position. He then left Paris and sold the painting to the Met, where we can still admire it today.
4. Was Mozart a mason?
In museums, we’re accustomed to seeing prominent men portrayed in a wig and a dress uniform. Very often, they’re posed with a hand tucked under their jacket at belly level….like Napoleon. In truth, such a pose indicates adherence to Freemasonry and the acceptance of its rules and its hierarchy. Antonio Lorenzoni depicted Mozart as such in his portrait.
5. Attention-seeking in the portrait of the Arnolfini Couple
The Arnolfini Portrait is very well known. Jan van Eyck’s 1434 painting is characterized by intense colors, a full-bodied texture and an attention to detail that makes fabrics and crystals seem real. Thanks to the opening sequence of Desperate Housewives, the painting holds a place in pop culture. There is a mirror on the back wall of the room in which the Arnolfini couple are posing. If you look carefully, you can see two figures reflected in it, who are the not the paintings’ subjects. In fact, the mirror contains a tiny self-portrait of Jan van Eyck waving his hand.
6. Klimt in trouble with the husband of his muse
One of Klimt’s most famous paintings is the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Klimt’s muse, however, was a married woman. Her husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, was very jealous of and offended by the relationship between Adele and the Vienna Secession painter so he decided to take revenge in an unusual way. He ordered hundreds of sketches of the painting from Klimt in the hopes that his wife’s image would bore the painter. And sure enough, it worked.
7. Superior intelligence in the Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel, built between 1475 and 1481 during the papacy of Pope Sixtus IV, features displays frescoes from Italian painters like Botticelli, Perugino and Pinturicchio. As everyone knows, the vault and the wall above the altar bear Michelangelo’s signature. This marvelous place visited by millions every year hides a secret visible only from the right angle and with a particularly careful eye. In the Creation of Adam, the cloak supporting God and the angels is shaped like a human brain.