Art has been around for as long as we can remember, from petroglyphs dating back to BCE to 19th century abstract art. Given that art has been around longer than our greatest, grandest grandmothers - there’s bound to be more than what meets the eye when looking at a painting; potentially a story that has never been told, perhaps even a dark secret behind its origin. There's a great mystery to almost every famous painting we see … And, that’s why we’re going to deep dive into the world’s most mysterious paintings.
Hold on tight because things are about to get strange.
Who Left the Hidden Message on “The Scream”?
The infamous painting “The Scream” is recognised as is for its eerie nature. Artist Edvard Munch created the iconic piece, which is said to represent anxiety, in 1883. But what if we told you there’s something that makes the painting even more sinister?
Hidden in the top-left corner is a message that reads “Can only have been painted by a madman”. Who wrote this message you ask? Well, after more than a hundred years, with modern technology, experts have been able to discover that the inscription had been written by none other than Munch himself!
We know that Munch was in a dark place when creating his masterpiece, but alongside the diary entry found in which he wrote about the blood-red sky he saw whilst dealing with his illness - the intentions behind the painting are a lot more obvious.
An interesting fact, however, is that the message wasn’t a part of the original painting and was actually written in 1885, two years later. It’s been rumoured that someone at the time had commented on the painting, stating that whoever created it must have been mentally disturbed, to which Munch reacted by writing the phrase on the artwork as a sort of ironic statement.
Whilst the mystery has been solved, it’s still a huge and fascinating part of history!
Who is the “Girl with a Pearl Earring”?
Ah, the “Girl with a Pearl Earring” - ironically, one of the most famously recognizable faces in any piece of art to date, yet no one knows who exactly she is. Painted by Johannes Vermeer all the way back in 1665, people are still creating theories regarding her identity to this day. Daughter of the artist? Mistress? Perhaps even Vermeer created her from scratch? However, it’s likely that none of the above could ever possibly be confirmed due to the sheer time between the 15th century and modern day.
In fact, Vermeer himself is a bit of a blur in history. In fact, he was known as “the sphinx on Delft” - he was a mysterious figure in his town and left behind very few biological tracks, which means it’d be near impossible, if not impossible, to rule out the idea whether the beautiful woman in his famous painting was his daughter; this of which would at least bring us closer to other options if not tell us who she is! It is worth noting that Vermeer, unlike other artists, loved teasing his viewers - he loved the idea of mystery behind his art and leaving people guessing the true meaning behind it.
So, maybe, just maybe, we’ll have to come to terms with the fact we might never know the true identity of the “Girl with a Pearl Earring”.
Who is Beside Jesus in “The Last Supper”?
There’s a whole wormhole of mysteries and facts behind one of the world’s most famous paintings, “The Last Supper”. Painted by Da Vinci between 1495 and 1497, the piece features Jesus surrounded by his disciples at what is described as their “last supper”. The painting itself is full of hidden meanings and details, which is what makes it so mysterious and downright fascinating.
It’s speculated that John (who appears on Jesus’ right) is in fact not a John but instead a Mary - Mary Magdalene. This mystery man/woman is the only person in the painting to have a necklace, and a large one at that, which led people to believe that this person is a woman at least, if not Mary. It’s never been confirmed by Da Vinci who this person is, but religious leaders followed the narrative that John is the one who was pictured, else there wouldn’t be a complete 12 disciples and God forbid a woman sat in Jesus’ most honoured spot at the dinner table! Even more interesting is that some have stated that “John” has quite the resemblance to Mona Lisa, painted by Da Vinci just five years later.
So, is John a woman?
There are a dozen more secrets behind the painting, so let us know if you’d be interested in learning more about “The Last Supper”!
Who was “Mona Lisa”?
The “Mona Lisa” was painted by Da Vinci back in 1503 and is the most famous piece of art to ever exist; like the “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, ironically, it seems that paintings depicting these mysterious, unknown women have become the most recognizable! So, do we know who Mona Lisa was?
Short answer, not exactly. But there are some theories revolving around her identity! Let’s get into them.
Some suggest that the woman in the painting is a noblewoman, often guessed to be one of two - Isabella d'Este, Marchioness of Mantua or Costanza d’Avalos, Duchess of Francavilla. Others have come up with much more… bizarre theories, to say the least. Their guess is that Mona Lisa is actually Da Vinci himself or his secret, gay lover (and assistant of 20 years) Gian Giacomo Caprotti but portrayed as women.
Strange, I know.
It does seem to be agreed by experts that “Mona Lisa” makes most sense to be a painting of Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo - a noblewoman and wife of a silk merchant. I mean, her name is literally Lisa, so it probably makes more sense than her being a man named Gian (although, admittedly, that’d be a lot funnier).
But now we know, or at least think we know, who Mona Lisa is - what’s wrong with her? Okay, that sounded quite mean but it’s heavily speculated that she (or he) was actually unwell during the time she was painted.
Don’t shoot the messenger. I thought she looked quite pretty!
A doctor in 2010 analysed the picture and stated that she most likely had a high cholesterol diet judging from her “puffy eyes”, poor Lisa! Other, more harsh, potential diagnoses include syphilis, bruxism (an excessive grinding of the teeth leading to them falling out), deafness and… facial paralysis. This poor woman wanted to be painted, not picked apart!
Let’s pretend we didn’t just destroy a poor dead woman’s self-esteem and bring our list of mysterious paintings to an end! We hope you enjoyed this article. Stay tuned for more art-based blogs and let us know if you want more like this!