A Museum of Mysteries: Hidden messages in classic works of art

Ruhi Gilder
Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch’s 1893 painting The Scream, has a line of mysterious graffiti. It was first noticed when the painting was exhibited in Copenhagen in 1904, eleven years after this version (one of four) was painted. Currently displayed in the National Gallery and Munch Museum, Oslo, the words, “Can only have been painted by a madman”, are inscribed in pencil in the top left-hand corner of the painting.  

This sentence has been the topic of much conjecture among art critics, questioning whether it was an act of vandalism by a spectator or Munch himself, who was known to have had mental health problems throughout his life. 

Recently, The National Museum of Norway used infrared technology to analyse the handwriting and compare it with Munch’s diaries and letters, concluding that the sentence was pencilled in by the artist himself. This comes ahead of the preparation for the opening of the new museum in 2022 in Oslo.  
Throughout history art has continually mystified and fascinated researchers all over the world. Brood over some such amazing hidden messages and secrets of classic paintings.
View of Scheveningen Sands  
Hendrick van Anthonissen’s painting at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England was a whole different painting between 1873 and 2014, and after its restoration. The 1641 landscape depicts people gathered in a cluster gazing at nothing in particularConservator Shan Kuang was tasked with removing a coat of yellow varnish, and as she approached the horizon a fin of a beached whale was revealed. Kuang says, “In the past it would be very common to cut a painting or paint over it to fit aesthetic purposes.” 
Netherlandish Proverbs  

A painting that also doubles as a fun activity! The 1559 oil-on-oak-panel painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder shows literal illustrations of Dutch-language proverbs and idioms. Also known as “The Blue Cloak” or “The Topsy Turvy World” it is currently housed at Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. Of the approximately 112 proverbs depicted, there are a couple we still use today such as, Swimming against the tide“, “Banging one’s head against a brick wall” and “Armed to the teeth“.  

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s 1595 painting hides an image of a man in the carafe of wine. In 2009, thanks to a modern technology called reflectography, art experts were able to discover this almost hidden figure. Caravaggio painted a person in an upright position, with an arm held out towards a canvas on an easel. Researchers say it may even be a self-portrait of the artist. 
Café Terrace at Night 

Legendary artist Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 oil painting seems like what it is, a quaint café scene in a typically French city. Though, according to researcher Jared Baxter the painting is the artist’s version of “The Last Supper” ! According to experts, Van Gogh’s religious leanings featured heavily in his art. A study of the painting reveals that the painting includes one central figure with long hair surrounded by 12 individuals, a figure in the shadows and a cross in the distance. 
The Last Supper

Arguably one of the most famous paintings of all time, Da Vinci’s masterpiece is famous for its hidden meanings and codes (to know more, pick up Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code). An Italian musician and computer technician claims to have discovered a musical melody on the painting. Drawing the five lines across the painting, he says the apostles’ hands and the loaves of bread on the table are in the positions of music notes. Even more surprisingly, the tune that is formed is said to be in perfect musical harmony. 
The Creation of Adam

The glorious Sistine Chapel, site of some of Michelangelo’s best work, including the biblical fresco, Creation of Adam. Researchers claim the flowing reddish-brown cloak behind God and the angels is the exact same shape as a human brain. Even parts like the vertebral artery and the pituitary gland have been spotted. It’s no secret that the artist was an expert in human anatomy, and researchers believe the brain signifies God imparting divine knowledge to Adam.  

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