From Mona Lisa to The Scream: 18 Secrets of Famous Artworks

Some famous artists, like Michelangelo, da Vinci, and Van Gogh, have secrets embedded deep inside their art pieces. Turns out, they’re even more brilliant than we thought.

With new X-ray technology, it’s possible to discover what’s behind the painting. Some artists also left little Easter eggs in their work. Whether they were intentional or not, they provide exciting insights into their personalities.

Getting to know the artists through a deeper lens is a spectacular way to learn more about them and their renowned work.

1. The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck

The Arnolfini portrait (1434)
Image Credit: Jan van Eyck/Wiki Commons.

According to Britannica, this oil painting was created by Jan van Eyck in 1434 and is set in a domestic interior. The painting is extremely popular because of its intricate details, especially the circular mirror that perfectly reflects the scene.

This mirror has sparked many theories about the symbolism in the painting since it shows two additional figures not present inside the room. Some have said this painting records the man’s marriage, with the two figures acting as witnesses, but curators today don’t agree with this theory.

2. The Blue Room by Pablo Picasso

The Blue Room by Pablo Picasso
Image Credit: Pablo Picasso – PD-US/Wiki Commons.

Experts at the Phillips Collection explain that the Blue Room painting is one of the many pieces in Picasso’s Blue Period, where he concentrated on the human figure in compositions colored by shades of blue.

In 2014, scientists announced that they had found a hidden image underneath the existing painting that showed a man wearing a bow tie, resting his chin on his hand. Since Picasso often reused his canvases due to financial constraints, modern technology allows us to see two paintings on the same canvas.

3. Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Everyone has heard about the Mona Lisa, but not everyone knows what’s hidden behind it. According to Smart History, this painting is likely a portrait of the wife of a Florentine merchant that wasn’t delivered to whoever commissioned it.

While examining the painting, optical engineer Pascal Cotte found a hidden image of a different Florentine woman of the time named Pacifica Brandano. However, many experts are skeptical about this finding.

4. The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

According to the Milan Museum, the artwork was painted between 1494 and 1498 and represents the last meal Jesus had with his disciples.

This painting led to the infamous book titled The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. In the book, there is much speculation concerning the person sitting to the left of Jesus. The book hints at it being his female follower, Mary Magdalene, instead of the apostle John.

5. Café Terrace at Night by Vincent van Gogh

Image Credit: Paul Hermans/Wiki Commons.

This painting is especially riveting because of the theory behind it. According to Wide Walls, it was painted in 1888 and is also known as Coffeehouse in the Evening or The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum. Some speculate that the painting might be modeled on Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, although this theory is not widely accepted among art historians.

The white waiter serving food to the people around him is reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci’s work. It’s also hypothesized that this painting is one of many modeled after the Last Supper.

6. Patch of Grass by Vincent van Gogh

Patch of Grass by Vincent van Gogh
Image Credit: Kröller-Müller Museum/Wiki Commons.

Considering Vincent van Gogh was very poor and often reused his canvases, thanks to cutting-edge technology, we can now see double paintings. One such painting is Patch of Grass.

According to The Guardian, scientists revealed a previously unknown portrait by van Gogh hidden behind the painting. The portrait was of a peasant woman and was revealed by “energetic” X-rays generated by a synchrotron.

7. Self Portraits by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image Credit: National Gallery of Art – Wiki Commons.

According to the National Gallery of Art, Rembrandt painted this self-portrait in 1659 when he suffered financial loss. The piece is an enigmatic depiction of himself etched with uncanny details.

It’s theorized that Rembrandt used lenses and curved mirrors to make his portraits come to life and be realistic. A study published in the Journal of Optics discusses how that is possible.

8. The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein

The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein
Image Credit: Hans Holbein the Younger – Wiki Commons.

The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein is a famous painting dating back to the Renaissance era. Experts at Smart History state that the painting was created in 1533 and depicts two men standing beside a high table covered in objects.

The piece is filled with miscellaneous items that have sparked debates, including one of the earliest known representations of a globe of the world, a detailed human skull, and scientific instruments.

9. Lost Portrait by Edgar Degas

Lost Portrait by Edgar Degas
Image Credit: David Thurrowgood/Live Science.

Like van Gogh, French artist Edgar Degas habitually reused his canvases. According to Live Science, researchers used X-rays to peer through the layers of one of his paintings, uncovering the “lost” work.

They discovered a portrait of a woman they identified as Emma Dobigny, an artist’s model who sat for Degas and other painters in the 1870s.

10. The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo

Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Experts at Britannica explain that the Sistine Chapel’s walls were already adorned with paintings, but Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the ceiling and the Last Judgment on the altar wall. With female figures around the edges of the ceiling and the center starring nine scenes from Genesis, it’s an incredible sight.

The main detail of the painting includes the cloud that surrounds the figure of God and the angels. The cloud resembles the shape of a human brain. Since Angelo studied anatomy in detail, this isn’t a long shot.

11. Bacchus by Caravaggio

Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

According to Art Majeure, Bacchus was the Roman god of wine and fertility, and this painting is well-regarded due to its detailed lighting and shadows.

However, if you look closely at the portrait, you’ll find a reflection of Caravaggio himself in the carafe. Some experts believe this was Caravaggio in his twenties.

12. Wisteria by Claude Monet

Image Credit: Kunstmuseum Den Haag/Wiki Commons.

Smithsonian Magazine reported that a water lily was discovered behind Wisteria. When the piece was being prepared for an exhibition, restorers noticed something odd and X-rayed it.

They found a water lily that contributed to Monet’s earlier popularity. The painting shows his journey and gives more profound insights into the artistic process.

13. Le Bar Aux Folies-Bergère by Édouard Manet

Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Britannica states that A Bar at the Folies-Bergère is a stunning oil painting depicting modern life. It was painted in 1882 and is Manet’s last work since he was terminally ill at the time.

However, the painting itself contains mysteries. In the upper left corner, two legs with green shoes dangle in the sky, while the reflection shows a different version of Susan, the protagonist of the artwork.

14. ‍Bruegel’s Netherlandish Proverbs

Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

According to Arts and Culture, this oil painting was made in 1559 by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, a Dutch Renaissance painter and printmaker.

His painting depicts Netherlandish proverbs in a literal sense. However, experts continue to speculate that the painting hides more than 126 proverbs that only start to scratch the surface of the piece’s depth.

15. The Scream by Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch, 1893
Image Credit: National Gallery of Norway/Wiki Commons.

The Scream is one of the world’s most popular and iconic pieces of artwork. According to Smart History, the skull-shaped head, elongated arms, and flaring nostrils have led to numerous theories regarding the scene.

However, artist Edvard Munch left a faded line of text on the corner, which experts discovered and verified as his writing. The text said, “Can only have been painted by a madman.”

16. The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights
Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

When discussing interesting paintings, The Garden of Earthly Delights tops the list.

This work depicts hell, heaven, and something in between, with odd objects having mysterious meanings scattered throughout, including sheet music painted on a character’s derriere.

17. Primavera by Sandro Botticelli

Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

According to Artchive, Primavera, which measures 314 by 203 centimeters, was created between 1478 and 1482 and is in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

In the painting, researchers have found up to 500 different species of plants, depicted with enough scientific accuracy to make them easily recognizable.

18. Madame X by Jon Singer Sargent

Image Credit: Wiki Commons.

Jon Singer painted Madame X, which is a portrait of a young socialite, Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau. Singer wanted to become more famous for his work, and he did, but for the wrong reasons.

In the original portrait, the right strap of Gautreau’s dress fell down her shoulder, which proved too scandalous for the high society. Even though Singer painted it back on, the backlash led him to leave Paris.

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