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Great art goes beyond just colour and form. It can communicate emotions and ideas, tell stories, and even challenge and confuse. This is why there are several famous paintings with hidden meanings that are not immediately evident.

This means that even today, centuries later, art connoisseurs and critics are still locked in hot debates over the meanings attached to certain pieces of art. But while many theories about the real meaning or possible interpretations have been debunked as mere attention-grabbing speculations, here are eight paintings with secret meanings that will make you go…

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Famous Paintings With Hidden Meanings

1. Café Terrace at Night – Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

Painted in 1888, Van Gogh’s classic is one of his more recognizable works. The scene depicts a seemingly ordinary café on a cobbled street, with a waiter standing by to take an order while patrons sit around leisurely. 

Café Terrace at Night
Café Terrace at Night

However, scholars have begun to believe the painting features an homage to Leonardo da Vinci. The twelve figures at the back sit beneath what looks like a cross along one side of their tables, like Leonardo’s disciples, and a shadowy figure departs the scene like Judas.

It also happens that Van Gogh declared a ‘tremendous need for religion’ in a letter to his brother around this time. In a letter he wrote to his brother soon after completing the painting, the artist claimed that he had a “tremendous need for, shall I say the word – for religion”.

This makes the reference to The Last Supper in the painting very likely and makes it one of the famous paintings with hidden meanings.

2. El Autobus – Frida Kahlo, 1929

 El Autobus
El Autobus

Not all famous paintings with hidden meanings are meant to be publicly discovered. This is especially true of Frida Kahlo’s El Autobus, as what appears to be a simple depiction of Mexican society laid out on a wooden bench at a bus stop may have a more personal tone.

Four years before she painted it, Kahlo had been involved in a bus accident that left her permanently damaged. And in the painting, the woman to the right of the picture resembles Kahlo herself. Also, the man in the blue overalls apparently bears a striking resemblance to the man who pulled an iron bar from her stomach after the accident.

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3. The Last Supper – Leonardo da Vinci, 1490s

 The Last Supper
The Last Supper

Just like The Last Supper in the Bible, da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting is said to contain hidden messages. As one of the most famous paintings in history and a very important religious work, it’s not surprising that people have often looked hard for deeper meanings.

In 2007, an Italian musician claimed to have found a selection of musical notes in the painting, hidden in bread rolls and hands of the apostles in the painting. When played, the notes, which read from right to left following da Vinci’s own writing style, resulted in a tuneful 40-second composition.

What makes it even more probable that this is one of the famous paintings with hidden meanings is that Leonardo was a fine musician himself.

Listen to the composition here.

4. An Accident – L.S. Lowry, 1926

An Accident
An Accident

L.S. Lowry’s pictures are renowned for depicting working-class life in the Northwest during the early to mid-20th century. His matchstick figures have entered the popular consciousness and even inspired a song.

However, these pictures are more than just happy matchstick people going about their day. Many contain small scenes of hardship and despair.

This is particularly true of 1926’s An Accident, which may feature a scene inspired by a local tragedy – giving his works a much deeper social meaning. 

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5. The Creation of Adam – Michelangelo, 1477-1480

The Creation of Adam
The Creation of Adam

One of the great figures of the Renaissance, it is well-known that Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni was an exceptional artist, architect, and sculptor who took years to create his masterpiece on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

However, not many people know that he was also an expert anatomist, who used to dissect corpses with the intention of producing anatomical sketches. This meant there may be more on display than simply incredible beauty.

There are reasons to believe that Michelangelo left such anatomical illustrations behind in many of his works. The Creation of Adam, one of his most iconic works in the Sistine Chapel, is an example of a famous painting with hidden meanings.

Art historians believe this work contains several hidden anatomical sketches, including an image of the human brain, disguised in the creation scene. This is believed by many to be a criticism and covert attack by Michelangelo on the Church’s attitude and contempt for the science and discovery that was happening all around. 

Famous Paintings With Hidden Meanings - battabox.com

6. The Madonna with Saint Giovannino – Domenico Ghirlandaio, 15th Century

Even though Italian Renaissance painter Domenico Ghirlandaio painted The Madonna with Saint Giovannino in the 15th century, this particular piece of art is one of the famous paintings with hidden meanings that have kept viewers baffled until today.

The painting, which portrays the Madonna with Jesus, appears to have nothing out of the ordinary. But when examined closer, it features an unidentifiable object hovering in the sky!

The Madonna with Saint Giovannino
The Madonna with Saint Giovannino

Hugely detailed, probably in order to ensure that it stands out, the object can be seen near Mary’s left shoulder. Under the object, on the ledge, the painting features a man staring at it, as he blocks the sun out with his hand.

Of course, the painting has intrigued U.F.O enthusiasts for ages. While there is no agreement regarding the nature of the object, there is no doubt that its presence makes the painting a fascinating one and one of the famous paintings with hidden meanings.

Famous Paintings With Hidden Meanings - battabox.com

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7. Portrait of Bill Clinton – Nelson Shanks, 2006

In 2006, former U.S. President Bill Clinton unveiled a portrait of himself painted by American artist John Nelson Shanks. It shows the President standing beside a mantel in the Oval Office.

At first glance, the painting does not reveal much. However, Nelson Shanks himself later admitted that the painting hinted at the infamous Monica Lewinsky scandal.

 Portrait of Bill Clinton
Portrait of Bill Clinton

Shanks had subtly incorporated a shadow from a dress into the painting – the same stained blue dress of Monica Lewinsky that became a symbol of the scandal during the 1990s.

Of course, a list of famous paintings with hidden meanings cannot be complete without da Vinci’s popular Mona Lisa painting. This renowned piece of art depicts a smiling La Gioconda at the Louvre in Paris and has also had its own share of controversies, especially with all the hidden messages and clues in it.

Famous Paintings With Hidden Meanings - battabox.com
The Mona Lisa

Some of them include the artist’s initials “LV” in her right eye, the number 72 marked in the arch of the bridge. There are even theories that she was pregnant at the time of the painting, and another painting was discovered lurking beneath the surface of this popular piece.


Famous Paintings With Hidden Meanings: It’s A Wrap

It can take time and effort to work out the true meaning of any work. For the most part, the artist wants the viewer to understand the context and meaning of any painting. But that’s not always the case.

Sometimes, artists include hidden messages in their work, hiding them away so that only a select few people can understand their true significance.

To recap it all, here is a list of famous paintings with hidden meanings:

  • Vincent Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night
  • Frida Kahlo’s El Autobus
  • Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper
  • L.S. Lowry’s An Accident
  • Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam
  • Domenico Ghirlandaio’s The Madonna with Saint Giovannino
  • Nelson Shanks’s Portrait of Bill Clinton
  • Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa

Also, just in case you were wondering why the title promised seven famous paintings with hidden meanings but listed eight, no, it’s not a mistake. The writer can count. And if you weren’t paying attention and you want to know if you’ve indeed been caught slacking, well… now you have to scroll through the entire thing again.

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