It turns out that even masterpieces we know very well can have some secrets.

At Enlighten, we believe that almost every significant piece of art hides a mystery to solve. Today, we would like to tell you about some of them.

112 Proverbs at a Time

‘Netherlandish Proverbs’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559

Pieter Bruegel painted a village inhabited by people who represent Flemish proverbs of his day in age. All in all, this work of art includes approximately 112 identifiable idioms. Some of them are still widely used, for example, ‘swimming against the tide,’ ‘banging one’s head against a brick wall,’ ‘armed to the teeth,’ ‘big fish eat little fish’ and so on.

Other proverbs stand for human foolishness.

The Subjectivity of Art

‘Breton Village in the Snow’ by Paul Gauguin, 1894

Gauguin’s painting ‘Breton Village in the Snow’ was sold after the author’s death for only seven francs. It was purchased under the name ‘Niagara Falls’ because the auctioneer had turned it upside down by mistake and decided that it was a waterfall rather than a village.

A Hidden Portrait

‘The Blue Room’ by Pablo Picasso, 1901

In 2008, researchers used x-ray cameras to discover an image hidden under ‘The Blue Room’ by Picasso. It was a portrait of a man wearing a suit and a bow tie, resting his face on his hand. ‘When he [Picasso] had an idea, you know, he just had to get it down… He could not afford to acquire new canvases every time he had an idea that he wanted to pursue,’ curator Susan Behrends Frank explains.

How Masterpieces Come to Life

‘Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway’ by J. M. W. Turner, 1844

In 1842, Mrs. Simon was traveling to England by train. Suddenly, it started raining cats and dogs. An elderly gentleman sitting in front of her stood up, opened one of the windows, put his head out, and kept it there for about ten minutes. The woman was so intrigued that she opened another window and started admiring the landscape as well. One year later, when she was attending an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, Mrs. Simon recognized that moment in one of the paintings. It was called ‘Rain, Steam, and Speed.’

Michelangelo’s Anatomy Lessons

‘The Creation of Adam’ by Michelangelo, 1511

Some American experts in the field on neuroanatomy believe that one of Michelangelo’s most famous works contains allusions to anatomy. They argue that the right part of the painting is an anatomically correct image of a huge brain. As a matter of fact, you can find even the most sophisticated components of the brain, such as the cerebellum, the optic nerve, and the pituitary gland. At the same time, the conspicuous green band perfectly coincides with the vertebral artery.

‘The Last Supper’ by Van Gogh

‘Café Terrace at Night’ by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

Researcher Jared Baxter argues that Van Gogh’s painting ‘Café Terrace at Night’ contains a hidden allusion to ‘The Last Supper’ by Leonardo da Vinci. The central figure is a long-haired waiter in a white tunic surrounded by twelve people (just like Jesus and the apostles). There is a cross behind the waiter’s back, which is also quite symbolic.

An Ode to Cheese

‘The Persistence of Memory’ by Salvador Dali, 1931

When creating his masterpieces, Dali often turned to unusual sources of inspiration. It is no wonder that one of his most recognizable works was inspired by contemplating melting Camembert cheese.