Home Uncategorized 7 Unexpected Details Hidden in Famous Paintings

7 Unexpected Details Hidden in Famous Paintings


Painters like to leave secret messages and hidden meanings in their works and very often we are not even aware of them. For example, do you remember that famous painting The Girl with a Pearl Earring? Turns out that it’s probably not an earring at all. How about the 2 paintings from Salvador Dali that are closely related to his sister?

Bright Side offers you to peek into the world of art and wants to tell you several curious stories that are hidden behind world-famous canvases.

1. How Salvador Dali revenged his sister.

Before meeting Gala — the muse and love of his life, Salvador Dali asked his sister, Anna Maria, to pose for his paintings. It’s her who is depicted in the picture Figure at a Window, that the painter created when he was 21. Soon after he painted this the relationship between the brother and sister started to worsen. They came to a dead end when Dali wrote in one of his paintings “Sometimes I spit at the portrait of my mother and it gives me satisfaction.”

Even many years later, Anna couldn’t forgive Salvador for this vagary insulting their mother and in 1949, she published a book Salvador Dali, Seen Through the Eyes of His Sister. The book contained neither admiration nor praise and it made Dali furious. In 1954, he did a painting called Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity that resembles Figure at a Window. There is the opinion that it was the painter’s revenge on his sister for her book.

2. Where is Icarus in the picture Landscape with the Fall of Icarus?

The famous painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder has many hidden secrets, many of which still haven’t been revealed. The painting has 2 controversial explanations. The first one says that a person’s death can’t stop the flow of life, even the death of such a bold and brave character like Icarus. That’s why in the foreground of the picture we see a working plowman, while Icarus himself is hidden in the bottom right corner of the painting. Nobody noticed his fall, life is harsh but it is going on. The second explanation says that Icarus’s death as a person that was striving for new achievements and discoveries is a defeat for all those who are drawn to light and perfection.

Art historians managed to find out that there is a drawing that has nothing to do with the technique of the artist behind the canvas, which means that this painting could be a copy while the original hasn’t been saved at all. Other historians believe that the painting is original and was drawn by Bruegel on a wooden basis after which it was moved to canvas. Unfortunately today no one can ask the real artist of the painting, but everyone can enjoy the view of this masterpiece at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels.

3. Young Woman Powdering Herself by Georges Seurat and the painter’s self-portrait is hidden in the picture

This painting depicts the sweetheart of the painter whose name was Madeleine Knobloch. The genre of this portrait was unusual for the Seurat — it was probably love that inspired him to do this experiment. Until his death, nobody would have guessed that this woman was the painter’s mistress — Seurat was very reserved and didn’t talk about his personal life, even to his close friends.

Initially, the painter drew his self-portrait in the window where he was looking at the girl with love, but per the advice of one of his friends he replaced his portrait with flowers in a vase. What a pity!

4. The mystery of the Woman at a Window by an unknown artist

On the left, is a photo of the canvas during restoration where the primer coat can be seen. On the right side, is the canvas after the restoration.

The canvas Woman at a Window belonging to an unknown painter, which is stored in the National Gallery of London, has a very interesting story. In 1978 the painting was sent for restoration — a routine procedure for art masterpieces. However, during the procedure experts found out that there was one more layer under the primer coat and it’s not a brunette but a blonde girl depicted in it. Additionally, the girl has different eyes and clothing.

The painting could have been corrected to match the values of the 19th century. Her ample bust, her glance to the side, and some other details could indicate that the girl in the first portrait is a courtesan.

5. How Raffaello Santi hid himself and his friends in the fresco

One of the most famous Renaissance masterpieces, a famous fresco by Raffaello Santi School of Athens hides several surprises in itself. The painter embodied the images of great thinkers and scientists and also decided to perpetuate some of his famous friends in it. For example, he copied the appearance of Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher, from Michelangelo Buonarroti (1), the philosopher Plato resembles Leonardo da Vinci (2), while the facial features of Raphael himself can be seen in the image of Apelles — an ancient Greek painter.

6. What is encrypted in one of the most famous canvases of Paul Gauguin?

A huge painting called Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? (about 5 feet in height and 12 feet in length) should be ’read’ from left to right like the Kabbalistic texts that Gauguin was interested in. Here are some transcripts:

  • The infant symbolizes a sleeping soul before its earthly incarnation.
  • The man plucking the fruit symbolizes a person’s aspiration to learn mysteries.
  • The woman in black symbolizes a soul at its highest stage of development.
  • The old lady symbolizes the fact that the body will die.

After Gauguin finished working on this canvas, he tried to commit suicide but he failed to do it. Several years later, the painter died from various diseases. He spent the last years of his life in poverty and his paintings were recognized and appreciated by the world many years after his death.

7. The Girl with a Pearl Earring probably doesn’t have any earrings on at all.

A recent study of the most famous painting by Johannes Vermeer figured out that the depicted pearl is too big to be natural. Perhaps this is an artificial pearl made of Venetian glass, tin, or mother-of-pearl. Scientists can’t find a fixation for the earring in the painting — there is no loop connecting the ear and the earring. What kind of decoration it is and how it looked initially seem to be the questions no one will able be to find the answers to.

Are you aware of any other secrets that famous paintings are hiding from us? Please let us know about them in the comments!


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