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The Most Mysterious Secrets Hidden in World Famous Paintings

The Most Mysterious Secrets Hidden in World Famous Paintings August 20, 2023Leave a comment

They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, which explains why many art enthusiasts believe that art is open to interpretation. But things aren’t always what they appear to be. In some instances, an art piece of a majestic mountaintop might be just that. But in the case of Da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, there are secret details hiding in plain sight. Here are the most mysterious secrets hidden in world famous paintings.

Café's Terrace at Night


Vincent Van Gogh’s 1888 oil painting “Cafe’s Terrace at Night” might appear to be just a café terrace in France, but one expert believes it’s so much more. According to expert Jared Baxter, the painting is Van Gogh’s interpretation of “The Last Supper,” and the central figure in white is Jesus.

There are Apostles and Crosses


A closer analysis of Van Gogh’s painting shows 12 people surrounding the central figure in “Cafe’s Terrace at Night.” And the figure seen slipping into darkness might be Judas. There are also tiny crosses hidden in the painting, including one above the central figure.

The Prophet Zechariah


Michelangelo’s “The Prophet Zechariah” is illustrated in the Sistine Chapel and shows two cherubs glancing over the prophet’s shoulder. But a closer look shows one of the cherubs with their thumb between their index and middle fingers. In those days, this was the equivalent of flipping someone the bird.

Michelangelo Was a Rebel

Wikipedia/Daniele da Volterra

Rabbi Benjamin Blech of the Yeshiva University explained why Michelangelo had likely placed such an obscene gesture in “The Prophet Zechariah” to ABC News. "This perhaps is the key to understanding Michelangelo's courage, Michelangelo's true feelings about the Pope, and the fact that Michelangelo did not hesitate to present us with messages that might've been offensive."

The Last Supper


According to Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” Leonardo Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” mural shows Mary Magdalene dressed as John the Apostle. He also indicates that the “V” shape between Jesus and John symbolizes a womb, which suggests that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a kid. But Giovanni Maria Pala, an Italian computer technician, believes that there are hidden musical notes in the food on the table that contain a 40-second hymn similar to a requiem.

Some Experts Are Skeptical

Wikipedia/Peter Paul Rubens via Art-Bible

Art historians like Mario Taddei don’t agree with Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” They claim that the reason why John looks so feminine is because that’s how he was always shown. "Leonardo had to copy the last suppers before him, and John looks like a woman," Taddei told Artnet.com.

The Arnolfini Portrait


Jan van Eyck’s oil painting, “The Arnolfini Portrait,” shows merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife holding hands. But a look at the mirror in the background shows a reflection of two figures walking into the room, one of whom some claim is van Eyck. But that’s not all.

There’s an Inscription


There’s also an inscription written in Latin right above the mirror in “The Arnolfini Portrait” that most people might have missed because they focused solely on the merchant and his wife. The writing literally translates to: “Jan van Eyck was here. 1434.”

The Creation of Adam


There’s a human brain in Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. According to neuroanatomy experts Rafael Tamargo and Ian Suk, a closer inspection of the shroud surrounding God illustrates a human brain. And there was a reason for this.

God Was Giving Adam Knowledge


According to Tamargo and Suk, Michelangelo probably illustrated the brain to show that God was giving Adam human knowledge in addition to life. But how did the artist know so much about human anatomy?

Michelangelo Was a Pro in Anatomy


Tamargo and Suk claim that Michelangelo hid illustration of body parts in “The Creation of Adam.” And one of the reasons the artist had such knowledge of human anatomy was because he had a job at 17 dissecting corpses.

The Separation of Light from Darkness


According to Tamargo and Suk, Michelangelo illustrated the human brain stem and spinal cord on God’s chest all the way up to his throat in the Sistine Chapel panel “Separation of Light from Darkness.”

Mona Lisa


Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” shows an illustration of a half-smiling woman that some claim was pregnant because of the veil she wore around her shoulders. This was quite common in pregnant women during the Renaissance. Also, Mona Lisa had her arms over her belly, which was also a clue to this theory. But others claims that the real secret is in her eyes.

The Secret is In Her Eyes


Italian researcher Silvano Vinceti claimed he found microscopic letters painted onto Mona Lisa’s eyes. He believed that the L over her right eye stood for Leonardo. Meanwhile, the S in her left eye might refer to the Sforza Dynasty that once ruled Milan. There was also the number 72 under the arched bridge which might refer to the 7 which symbolizes the world’s creation, and the 2, which refers to men and women.

The Ambassadors


Hans Holbeinthe Younger’s illustration, “The Ambassadors,” shows two men standing next to a shelf with an assortment of items. But there’s one item at the bottom that looks like a stretched out skull, which experts believe symbolizes death. Essentially, it’s there to remind people that death is always around.

The Old Guitarist


The early 1900s “The Old Guitarist” represents one of artist Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period. But in 1998, experts used an infrared camera and found another painting within the painting featuring a woman. As the painting faded over the years, the woman’s face above the elderly man’s neck became easier to see.

View of Scheveningen Sands


Hendrick van Anthonissen painted “View of Scheveningen Sands” which showed a group of people on the sandy shores staring out at what seemed like nothing. But when conservator Shan Kuang restored the 1641 painting, they discovered that there was a beached whale hidden behind yellow varnish. This explained what everyone in the painting was looking at.



Sandro Botticelli’s “Primavera” is widely considered as a celebration of spring and fertility of the land. In fact, there are approximately 200 different types of plant species rendered in the painting that only a true plant enthusiast could appreciate.

Madame X


John Singer Sargent made a portrait of Parisian socialite Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau. His original depiction showed Gautreau’s gown strap slipping off her shoulder. But he was forced to repaint the straps and rename the painting to hide Gautreau’s identity after the portrait caused an uproar in upper-class society.

Netherlandish Proverbs


The 1559 oil painting “Netherlandish Proverbs” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder contains approximately 112 acted out proverbs within this seemingly simple village. And many of these idioms like “banging one’s head against a brick wall” are still used today.

The Blind Leading the Blind

via MyModernMET

Within the “Netherlandish Proverbs,” art enthusiasts will find all sorts of fun proverbs like this interpretation of three blind figures, which represent the Dutch proverb “If the blind lead the blind, both will fall in the ditch.”

It’s An Uphill Battle

via MyModernMET

Another Dutch proverb within Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “Netherlandish Proverbs” includes a person seemingly struggling to swim. This symbolizes the Dutch proverb “It is ill to swim against the current,” which is more popularly known as an uphill battle.



When experts used reflectography technology on the 1595 painting “Bacchus” by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, they discovered something interesting. There was an image of a man hidden in the carafe of wine. But who was he?

The Man Within the Bacchus Painting


Art expert Mina Gregori explained to “The Telegraph that: "Caravaggio painted a person in an upright position, with an arm held out towards a canvas on an easel. It appears to be a portrait of himself while he was painting."

The Music Lesson


Johannes Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson” shows a woman looking away from an instrument known as a virginal to meet her instructor’s eyes. This is evident in the mirror hanging above her. Other hints that this was more than just a music lesson include the wine on the table which was considered an aphrodisiac and the stringed musical instrument that some consider to be the artist’s interpretation of a phallus.

David and Goliath


One of the panels on the Sistine Chapel shows David in the process of vanquishing Goliath the giant. But Michelangelo was clever enough to illustrate the Hebrew letter gimel with a little help from David’s stance. Gimel is symbolic of reward and punishment, which reflects the biblical story of David and Goliath.

Madonna with Saint Giovannino


Domenico Ghirlandaio painted the “Madonna with Saint Giovannino” during the Renaissance which shows a saucer-shaped object on the upper right-hand corner near Madonna’s head. And some experts claim that it’s nothing more than a religious interpretation of a famous passage.

The Object is Symbolic of the Gospel of Luke Passage


Some believe that the object is symbolic of the Gospel of Luke of passage which states: "Shepherds abiding in the field keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, an angel of the Lord come upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them." But others believe it’s something otherworldly.

The UFO in Madonna with Saint Giovannino


There are others who think that Ghilandaio was reflecting his interpretation of a UFO sighting which may have been common in those days. This suggests that people might have been seeing flying saucers during the 15th century.

Supper at Emmaus


When Italian Baroque master Caravaggio painted the “Supper at Emmaus” in 1601, he may have been alluding to the time Jesus fed fish to the masses. The hint of this is in the shadow cast by the fruit basket on the table that looks an awful lot like a fish.

Young Woman Powdering Herself


Experts discovered that George Seurat’s painting of a young woman powdering herself was actually a portrait of his 20-year-old mistress Madeleine Knobloch. But X-rays also showed that that painting of the flowers hanging on top was originally a self-portrait of Seurat, but a friend reportedly told him that “it looked bizarre,” so he changed it.



Michelangelo’s David statue is often seen as calm and collected right before going into battle with the giant Goliath. But in 2007, Stanford University’s Digital Michelangelo Project claimed that when the face of the statue is seen from near eye level, David looks a little more preoccupied about the battle.

The Garden of Earthly Delights


Hieronymous Bosch created an interesting interpretation of the temptations people faced in “The Garden of Earthly Delights.” But in 2014, a college student noticed a musical score tattooed on someone’s bare backside and translated it into modern music notation.

The Birth of Venus


There are a couple of art historians out there that suggest that the scallop shell Venus is riding on as she travels across the ocean in Botticelli’s 15th century painting “The Birth of Venus,” represents female genitalia and fertility.

The Persistence of Memory


While some might think that Salvador Dali’s 1931 painting “The Persistence of Memory” was a reflection of time being flexible, Dali was simply inspired by the gooeyness of Camembert cheese. But he was quoted claiming that the melting clocks “"are nothing other than the tender, extravagant and solitary paranoiac-critical Camembert of time and space."

The Starry Night


Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 illustration “The Starry Night” indicates a swirling dust and gas cloud in the night sky that was eerily similar to something scientists saw around a star in 2004 with the Hubble Space Telescope. These swirly patterns are hidden in other of his paintings as well. But that’s not all.

The View From the Asylum


Vincent Van Gogh drew inspiration for “The Starry Night” from the view of the window to his room at the Mausole Lunatic Asylum where he was voluntarily admitted after suffering a mental breakdown resulting in him cutting his left ear off.

Patch of Grass


In 2008, two Dutch scientists named Koen Janssens and Joris Dik used a particle accelerator’s X-rays to find the face of an unknown peasant woman hidden behind Vincent van Gogh’s 1887 “Patch of Grass” painting.

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa


Katsushika Hokusai was a Japanese artist known for his painting “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. The depiction shows the snowy peak of Mount Fuji in the background while terrible waves swirl across a turbulent ocean. The approximate 12-meter waves symbolized Hokusai’s fear of the sea.

The Scream


Edvard Munch painted “The Scream” in 1893 and was inspired after a sunset walk where the sunlight made the clouds look red like blood. He claimed he sensed an “infinite scream passing through nature.” But others believe that the orange sky was the result of a volcanic eruption. Some art enthusiasts claim it represented Munch’s emotions since his sister had been placed in a mental asylum.

Watson and the Shark

Ferdinand Lammot Belin Fund / CC

John Singelton Copley’s 1778 painting “Watson and the Shark” shows a 14-year-old cabin boy named Brook Watson being rescued from a shark attack in the waters near Havana, Cuba, in 1749. Unfortunately, it took three attempts to rescue Watson, and he lost his leg in the process.

Stag Night at Sharkey’s

Public Domain

Artist George Wesley Bellows picked a low point of view when he painted “Stag Night at Sharkey’s” in 1909 so the viewer would feel like a spectator at this boxing match with two boxers fighting at a private athletic club across from his studio. Although the club was private, outsiders, or stags, would be allowed to view a fight or even participate in one.

A Friend in Need

Wikimedia Commons

The 1903 painting “A Friend in Need” by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge shows a group of dogs sitting around a gaming table playing poker like humans. The paintings were later used by Brown & Bigelow for their cigar ads. But Coolidge’s paintings were often frowned upon by critics who didn’t consider the painting true works of art.

The Potato Eaters

Wikimedia Commons

Vincent Van Gogh’s 1885 painting “The Potato Eaters” shows a group of peasant women sitting around a table eating potatoes. At the time, he wanted to show how different the lower class lived versus the upper class.

The Raft of Medusa

Wikimedia Commons

Theodore Gericault’s 1819 painting “The Raft of Medusa” or “La Radeau de la Meduse” shows what the survivors of the wrecked French naval frigate Meduse had to endure after drifting on a raft. Approximately 147 people tried to survive, but 15 died while waiting 13 days to be rescue. The survivors were so starved that some even turned to cannibalism to get by.

Barge Haulers on the Volga


Ilya Repin painted “Barge Haulers on the Volga” in 1873, which shows the hardship of forced labor. In the painting, all the men looked defeated, except for a young man who appears to be pulling against his binds in defiance.

The Gross Clinic


The 1875 painting “The Gross Clinic” was inspired by Thomas Eakins’ witnessing of a surgery where Doctor Samuel Gross tended to a man’s infected femur with conservative surgery as opposed to amputation. The woman recoiling on the far left was the patient’s mother.

Susanna and the Elders


Artemisia Gentileschi’s 1610 painting “Susanna and the Elders,” has Susanna in the batch looking very uncomfortable as two men gawk over her. The painting is based on a scene from the Book of Daniel where Susanna refuses the requests of these two men, and they retaliate by ruining her reputation. Fortunately, a man named Daniel shows up and clears her good name.

Der Wanderer Uber Dem Nebelmeer


“Der Wanderer Uber Dem Nebelmeer” or “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich was painted in 1818. It’s believed that the painting is a metaphor for an uncertain future and for self-reflection. Friedrich also said: “The artist should paint not only what he has in front of him but also what he sees inside himself."

Des Glaneuses


Jean-Francois Millet painted “Des Glaneuses” or The Gleaners in 1857. The painting shows three peasant women gleaning a field of wheat after a harvest. The painting was criticized because it reflected poorly on the French upper classes who used lower class laborers to build their society.