6 Secrets Hidden Within Famous Paintings

We’ve all seen the world’s most famous paintings, some of us might think we know each one like the back of our hand. I mean, we only need to say the words “Mona Lisa” for you to picture her in your mind. That’s how familiar we’ve become with some of the most infamous pieces.


But what if I told you that there are hundreds of secret messages, details and meanings hidden within even the paintings we thought we knew best?


Well, I’m sorry to ruin your day, but I’m about to show you 6 secrets hidden within famous paintings. You’ll probably never be able to see them the same again but, hey! At least you’ll have some cool facts to impress your friends!

The Hidden Brain in “The Creation of Adam”

We’ll start off a little more tame. We don’t want to shock you too much before you’ve got past the first painting! Did you know that there’s a hidden brain in one of, and arguably the most famous, Michelangelo’s nine biblical paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? 


Before he became a painter, Michelangelo was responsible for dissecting corpses at the church graveyard when he was just 17. Whilst rather gruesome, it did give him some insight into human anatomy. 


Painted between 1508 and 1512, the shroud around God is a perfectly drawn, anatomically correct brain, this of which two neuroanatomy experts pointed out themselves.


Surprisingly, this isn’t the only painting that features a hidden body part. In fact, in another panel at the same chapel by the name of “Separation of Light from Darkness”, Michelangelo painted an anatomically correct spinal cord and brain stem which is positioned on the centre of God’s chest and up his throat. 



Jesus is the main focus of "Café Terrace at Night"

Continuing with the biblical theme, it is believed that there’s more to what meets the eye in Vincent van Gogh’s "Café Terrace at Night" (1888). Whilst at first glance the painting looks as though it's depicting just what the title describes, at a closer look you’ll be able to see some figures. 


People have theorised that this was perhaps van Gogh’s own version of “The Last Supper” as, when properly analysing the painting, you’ll be able to see a man who holds great resemblance to Jesus surrounded by 12 other men - perhaps his 12 disciples? 


What makes this theory more compelling is that one of the men is seen slipping into the shadows. Famously, at “The Last Supper” Jesus told his disciples that one of them would betray him, that being Judas. Maybe it's Judas we can see hiding away. 


That along with the sheer amount of crucifixes hidden within the painting, there’s far too much detail for it to be a coincidence. How fascinating?  



A Subtle Middle Finger to the Pope in “The Prophet Zechariah”

The anatomy of the human body isn’t the only thing Michelangelo hid in his paintings. In fact, one of the other nine paintings within the Sistine Chapel ironically has a rather offensive message to the Pope discreetly painted onto it. 


Whilst at first glance, the painting looks as though it innocently depicts a prophet reading whilst two cherubs sit on his shoulder - that isn’t all there is to it. If you look closely enough, you will see one of the angels with their thumb between their middle and index fingers. This hand gesture just so happens to be a 14th century middle finger! 


Michelangelo wasn’t shy about his dislike of the Pope, which has been made very clear through this painting. So much has been revealed within his paintings, we wonder what other offensive messages lie within them!



The Hidden Skull in “The Ambassadors”

I find this one really interesting because once you see it, you can’t unsee it. In the painting “The Ambassadors” created by Hans Holbeinthe Younger (1533) there is a skull, which acts as a sort of illusion, hidden at the bottom of it - look from right to left and you’ll see it! 


Scholars have said that the meaning behind it might be to remind the viewer that death is always around the corner. 





The Story Behind “Madame X”

This next one isn’t so much a hidden message but rather a fascinating fact that I wanted to mention. I can’t see the painting the same way I did! “Madame X”, the famous painting of a beautifully elegant lady in a sophisticated black dress, we all know and love is technically not the original. 


In 1884, artist John Singer Sargent created a portrait of a young socialite by the name of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau. The original painting featured Virginie with her jewelled strap falling off her shoulder, which was incredibly scandalous at the time. He faced a lot of backlash at the time for presenting the upper-class so provocatively and, so, he covered up the fallen strap with regular ones, changed the name of the painting and moved out of the country entirely in attempts to avoid further judgement. 



The Hidden Musical Score in “The Garden of Earthly Delights”

The Garden of Earthly Delights is an oil painting created by artist Hieronymus Bosch between 1490 and 1510. The painting itself is extremely bizarre as it is, with a dozen strange secrets hidden within it, but the biggest of the bunch hadn’t actually been discovered until 2014. 


A college student had noticed a musical score painted onto the rear-end of one of the people on the right side of the painting, more specifically the one being squished by the instrument. We've zoomed into the exact spot so you can check it out for yourself! The student then translated the score and, well, let’s just say it’s pretty eerie. 




Click here if you're brave enough to give it a listen! 


And with that, we come to the end of our list of secrets hidden in or behind famous paintings! Which one surprised you the most?


Why not include a secret message or hidden object in your next art piece? Here's a couple of ideas...

✨ A positive affirmation

🐶 A pet

🌊 A reflection in the water


If you like blogs like these, stay tuned for many more to come! 


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