The Hidden Messages in Masterpieces
I often wonder what it would be like to learn from the Old Masters — or at the very least, be a fly on the wall while they painted their masterpieces. So when I stumbled upon an article from Reader’s Digest about hidden messages in famous paintings, I immediately stopped what I was doing and got my read on.
Below are a few of my favorite “secrets” pulled from the fun-filled roundup. Enjoy!
Mona Lisa’s Smile? What About Her Eyes — Right Eye That Is!
The most visited art at the Louvre, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa has surely sparked debate among many viewers and art historians. Although we will never really know the truth behind the creation of Mona Lisa, there is one secret that has been hiding in plain sight all along … well, sort of.
Da Vinci actually wrote his initials, LV, in Mona’s right eye — although they are microscopically small. But that’s not all that is hidden in this enigmatic portrait. In 2015, a French scientist claimed to have spotted another woman’s portrait underneath the Mona Lisa using reflective light technology. Most agree this was the “first draft” for the artist, and then he just painted the masterpiece over it.
Just in Case You Didn’t Know by His Signature…
In Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck didn’t want to just stick to his signature when it came to marking his work. Just in case someone needed a reminder of who created the masterpiece, the writing is on the wall — literally. Look closely at the mirror in between the two figures of the painting, and you will find “Jan van Eyck was here 1434” written directly above. Not so secret, right?
But did you notice anything else? If you look in the mirror, instead of above it, you might just spot two more figures. They appear to stand just about where a viewer of this scene would be standing. And, according to Reader’s Digest, many deem the figure in the mirror with his hand raised is van Eyck himself.
Setting the Mood for The Last Supper
Are you all that surprised another famous work by da Vinci is on this list? (The Da Vinci Code, anyone?) This time, let’s take a closer look at his The Last Supper. This masterpiece has been said to hold tons of secrets throughout the years, such as the ending of the world and who the mysterious figure next to Jesus truly is.
But there is another theory regarding The Last Supper. Though it might not be as well known, this one offers a rather interesting revelation. Giovanni Maria Pala, an Italian musician, found what appeared to be a musical melody within the painting.
By drawing five lines of the staff across The Last Supper, the bread loaves on the table and the apostles’ hands take on the positions of musical notes. If you read in the way da Vinci wrote, from right to left, these supposed music notes create a small hymn-like melody, roughly 40 seconds in length.
Because, Wine Not?
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio must have really, really, really loved his wine. As if his portrait of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, wasn’t a strong indication on its own, there is another, quite hidden reason to assume his passion for the beverage.
During a restoration of the circa 1595 portrait in 1922, a concealed secondary portrait emerged. In the bottom, left-hand corner of the painting is a self-portrait of Caravaggio himself. He is sitting in the teeny reflection of light on the wine jug’s surface. Clever, huh?
We just can’t get enough of Madame X by John Singer Sargent — so much so, it was one of Artists Network’s (our sister site) first Flash Art Facts. You see, Madame X is really Madame Pierre Gautreau, a socialite of the 19th century known for her rather, uhm, “daring” fashion choices.
Although this might look like a classy portrait today, it generated quite the scandal in the late 1800s. To play up her bold style, the artist painted the right strap of her gown slipping down her shoulder. You may be thinking, “But the strap isn’t falling down her shoulder?” You are correct: It’s not. That’s because Madame Gautreau’s humiliated family demanded the painting be removed and repainted with strap in place!
Sargent was also quite humiliated. He ended up leaving Paris and holding onto the iconic work for more than 30 years before selling it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The initial sting wore off with the Met’s purchase. Sargent is said to have remarked, “I suppose it is the best thing I have done.” But, he requested the museum disguise the subject’s true name.
Do you know any hidden, or not-so-hidden, secrets in famous artworks? Share them in the comments!