9 Famous Artworks With Mysterious Hidden Meanings

1.  El Autobus by Frida Kahlo


This painting is famous for showing varying members of Mexican society waiting for the same bus.  This includes a housewife, blue-collar worker, Native American mother, and rich gringo businessman, and a girl who is probably meant to be Frida herself.  If it is Frida, then there is likely a darker subtext behind the art.  In 1925, Kahlo was on a bus that was in a terrible accident with a trolley car.  In it, Kahlo was impaled on a metal handrail, leaving her with pain for the remainder of her life.  She frequently included the incident in her later works, and implied that it was a miracle that she survived the crash at all. It has been suggested the blue-collar worker in El Autobus is meant to be the man who saved Kahlo’s life by pulling the handrail from her broken body.  Far from being on their way home, the characters are unknowingly headed directly for a violent encounter that would change their lives.

2. Cafe Terrace At Night by Van Gogh


Painted in 1888, Cafe Terrace At Night is one of Van Gogh’s more famous pieces, interpreted as Van Gogh’s take on a scene from ordinary life.  But a recent theory believes that the painting is really about the Last Supper.  Van Gogh was deeply religious, and his painting has 12 people seated around a central figure with long hair.  There’s even a number of crosses hidden in the picture, including one directly above the Christ figure.


3. Isabella by John Everett Millais


Featuring a bunch of characters from Boccaccio’s Decameron sitting around a table at a feast, a discovery was made in 2012 of a hidden portion of the painting – an erection.  The character in the foreground left of the painting is cocking one leg.  If you look closely, you can see the shadow cast by his nutcracker just happens to line up perfectly with his crotch.  While this could mean anything, it almost certainly wasn’t an accident, as Millais would have noticed the phallic shadow in that position.  The Decameron is a very erotic book, so the reference to sexuality should be no surprise.

4. Allegory With Venus And Cupid by Agnolo Bronzino


This dark painting dark was described as an erotic picture “of singular beauty”, but evidence points to it being a warning about syphilis.   The lower left of the painting captures a screaming man.  While said to symbolize jealousy or despair, a closer inspection reveals that he has swollen hands, hair with signs of syphilitic alopecia, and toothless gum, which are all consistent with symptoms of the STD so common in Renaissance times.

5. La Primavera by Botticelli


The meaning of this painting has been debated for many years, and no single agreement has ever been reached.  This may be because the truth behind the painting sits in the background.  Some claim it’s all about horticulture.  There is an incredible attention to detail put into the plants in this Botticelli meadow.  According to official estimates, there are at least 500 individually identifiable plants on display, comprising nearly 200 different species.

6. The Music Lesson by Johannes Vermeer


An image of 17th-century Dutch life, The Music Lesson features a young girl being taught to play a type of harpsichord called a virginal by her handsome tutor.  The theory behind this hidden theme is that there is an incredible sexual tension between the tutor and his student.  The virginal has been associated with virginity, the mirror above the girl shows that she is watching her tutor instead of the instrument, and the cello is a large phallus shape.  Even the viewpoint suggests a voyeur watching on.

7. An Accident by L.S. Lowry

(c) Ms Carol Ann Lowry/DACS; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

This painting appears to depict a crowd gathering near a lake, looking on at something the viewer can’t see.  What we can’t see is the the waterlogged corpse; the scene was  inspired by a local suicide.  is 1935 work The Fever Van shows a group of pedestrians gawking at a van picking up a patient. At the time, diphtheria and scarlet fever were widespread in Manchester and frequently fatal. His other paintings depict similar violent scenes in which the tragedy is simply part of the background.  The theme in his paintings is that the unseen sufferer in the image will almost certainly die.

8. Man, Controller Of The Universe by Diego Rivera


This piece was commissioned for the Rockefeller Center, but  Nelson Rockefeller took issue with its depiction of Lenin and had it destroyed.  It was reconstructed in Mexico City and became one of the 20th century’s iconic works. It’s also a monumental act of revenge – it claims Nelson Rockefeller’s father had syphilis.  After Nelson Rockefeller tore down his original version, Rivera went back and painted his father, J.D. Rockefeller Jr., under a bacteria close up.  That bacteria happened to be that of syphilis.  He also added in martini and a woman that may have been a prostitute, despite Rockefeller being a lifelong teetotaler.  Just to put the nail in the coffin, he moved Lenin in a more prominent position.

9. A Satyr Mourning Over A Nymph by Piero di Cosimo


This painting is supposed to depict a scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In that story, Procris is accidentally killed in the woods when her hunter husband Cephalus mistakes her for a wild beast and hurls a spear through her. But a close examination proves there’s no way Cosimo’s Procris could have been killed by accident.  According to British professor Michael Baum, all signs point toward the scene depicting a brutal murder.  Her hands appear to have defensive wounds and her bent hand is something typically found in a murder victim with a particular back injury.  Really, it shows the aftermath of a knife attack.  This one may have been an accident however; Professor Baum suspects Cosimo asked the local morgue to loan him a corpse for the painting and just happened to get a murder victim.

Sources: listverse, omgfacts