Millions, perhaps billions of artworks have been made around the world across centuries. 90% of the time, what you see is what you get. “But what about the other 10%?” I hear you say. “What dark secrets lie within them?”
Well, reader. I’ve done some digging and found 4 more secrets hidden within famous paintings, just for you. You know the drill; get comfy, grab some popcorn and hold onto your seats because things are about to get… weird.
What are the people looking at in “View of Scheveningen Sands”?
This first secret I find extremely fascinating, simply because of how recently it was discovered and mostly because I’m shocked it took people so long to realise something was missing from the painting.
Out of curiosity, did you happen to visit the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge, England anytime between 1873 and 2014? If you answered yes, you may have fallen victim to this particular painting’s hidden secret.
Painted in 1641 by artist Hendrick van Anthonissen, “View of Scheveningen Sands” had left its viewers in a state of confusion for years, centuries even - what on earth were the crowd of people on the beach staring at?
Shockingly, it took 140 years to realise that perhaps - and I’m sure they were going out on a limb here - the crowd were actually looking at something. In 2014, conservator Shan Kuang discovered a beach whale under a coat of yellow varnish whilst she was restoring the painting, thus solving the mystery of just what in god's name were those crazy people staring at?! Or, more formally, the mystery behind the “View of Scheveningen Sands”.
How Many Sayings are Hidden in “Netherlandish Proverbs”?
By far one of my favourite paintings ever, “Netherlandish Proverbs”, was created in 1559 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and is said to have at least 112 identifiable proverbs hidden within it. 112!
For context, a proverb by definition is ‘a short, well-known pithy saying, stating a general truth or piece of advice’ or, in shorter words, a phrase.
There are a variety of sayings featured in the painting, some have definitely aged better than others. For example, it depicts more well-known proverbs, still used in modern day, such as ‘banging one’s head against the wall’, as well as ones that haven’t really stood the test of time, like being a ‘pillar biter’, which essentially means to be a religious hypocrite.
Take a look at the image below and see how many you can point out!
The Hidden Story Behind “The Music Lesson”
Painted between 1662 and 1665 by artist Johannes Vermeer, “The Music Lesson” depicts quite literally what it says on the tin - a woman at a music lesson. Innocent enough, right?
“The Music Lesson” is said to be much more vulgar, you could say, than what meets the eye. The painting actually involves several symbols of sexuality. Firstly, the woman is learning how to play the virginal, a keyboard-like instrument associated with female purity. Again, innocent enough, right?
If you look in the mirror across from her, you’ll see her reflection - she is looking away from the instrument and directly at her instructor/teacher. Other details that hint towards perhaps something much less, let’s say pure, include the wine bottle on the table - which is an aphrodisiac and some say the stringed instrument on the floor might be a… phallic symbol.
I’ll let you Google what phallic means.
“Woman Powdering Herself” is Technically Not the Original
For our final entry on the list, we have a painting created by Georges Seurat between 1889 and 1890. This piece looks totally normal at first glance, and that’s because it is - there’s nothing in plain sight odd about this painting.
It’s what’s under it.
X-Rays have revealed that the painting in the top left corner of a lovely flower was originally a self-portrait of Seurat himself. But why cover it up? Well, supposedly a friend of the artist warned him that the portrait looked “bizarre”.
It is said that the self-portrait featured in this particular painting is the only one Seurat ever created. See, words hurt, people!
To end on a fun little note, the woman Seurat painted is actually his 20-year-old side pi- I mean, mistress, Madeleine Knobloch.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our continuation of secrets hidden within famous paintings - which one has shocked you the most so far and are there any we’ve missed that interest you? Let us know!