Painting has always been one of the world’s greatest and most influential art forms. What’s more, it’s also one of the most famous forms of artistic expression.
Portraits in the art are often so iconic we don’t even question them. The Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile or the Whistler’s Mother looking down at her son seem almost plain, ordinary compared to the mystery behind them. Still, they hold secret meanings and mysteries within themselves.
Here are five paintings with secret meanings that will make you look at these famous portraits in an entirely new light! Let’s learn the truth behind each painting and how these artists used symbolism to convey more profound messages in their images.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa
Considered one of da Leonardo da Vinci’s finest works, Mona Lisa is a portrait of a woman whose smile has captivated the world for nearly 500 years. The same mysterious smile has puzzled artists and historians for years while her eyes stare right through you as if into your very soul.
However, Da Vinci had, even more, up his sleeve: he hid a few tiny details in Mona Lisa’s eyes that many people had never noticed before.
For example, if you look carefully at her eyes, there are clues about what she is thinking. These are not random symbols but signs left by Da Vinci himself, who painted these little secrets into his work. While no one knows why exactly he did it, many believe he wanted to illustrate his artistic skill and techniques or perhaps wanted others to decipher his code.
Vincent Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear
One of Vincent van Gogh’s most famous portraits, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear, is also one of his most mysterious. His brother Theo said it contained all of Van Gogh’s moods, passions, and sufferings. But what do we see in the portrait? Theories abound on what Van Gogh was trying to say through symbolism.
He may have been signaling some deep despair by shaving off his eyebrows. And by covering one ear, he may have been referencing a rumor spread about him by an art critic in 1883, or perhaps he was just enamored with Japanese art and wanted to emulate woodblock prints. We’ll never know for sure—but that kind of mystery is another reason art can be so captivating.
The mystery lies in why Van Gogh chose a diagonal slash across his face rather than applying paint commonly—the effect can only be seen from certain angles. Perhaps he was implying some scarring or disfigurement.
If you look at the bottom right corner, you can make out a shadowed figure standing beside him—some think it could be Sien Hoornik, his prostitute lover, before she left him for good.
Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring
A Pearl Earring by Vermeer is a work of such genius; it’s said to be the inspiration for hundreds of other works by Vermeer. The masterpiece is also known as “the Mona Lisa of the North” because it “unveils great secrets, things we cannot explain, and inspires generations to come.”
The painting contains hidden details, such as an earring tucked behind her right ear or a pendant adorning her neck. According to art historians, these objects were likely signs used by prostitutes to indicate their services (but these claims have been debated).
Many have tried to decipher its secrets. And while some speculate that it contains coded messages or hints at secret relationships, no one can definitively say what they mean.
Velazquez’s The Portrait of Pope Innocent X
In 1650, Spanish painter Diego Velazquez completed one of his most famous works, The Portrait of Pope Innocent X. You’d never guess that within its elegant composition lies a secret. To Pope Innocent X’s right, an out-of-focus chair is a small picture frame containing another portrait—of his mistress! It was a scandalous detail in the 17th century and was later painted over, but it’s still there if you know what to look at.
Richly detailed to perfection, this mysterious portrait hides its subject’s most scandalous secret.
Frida’s Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird
Frida Kahlo is famously known for her penetrating self-portraits. However, there is an intimate detail in one of her paintings that most people don’t notice right away. It’s easy to do—the image doesn’t seem like much at first glance. However, some very intricate details showcase Kahlo’s personal life and experiences.
First off, if you look closely at her necklace—made from thorns, no less—you’ll see it’s falling apart. This detail represents her complicated relationship with Diego Rivera and her poor health; she was nearly bedridden by constant chronic pain throughout much of her adult life.
Some have interpreted a hummingbird as a symbol of femininity. In contrast, others have pointed to its dual meaning of love and death (the Aztec god Xolotl, who had feathers like a hummingbird’s, also carried bones in his hands). Other symbols include Frida’s signature unibrow, flower bracelets she often wore, and her traditional Mexican blouse. The thorns on her necklace refer to an earlier accident that nearly took her life. Also, she was only eighteen years old in 1925, Kahlo contracted polio and was temporarily paralyzed from the waist down.
Famous portraits are timeless soulmates. You can find these famous portraits on 1st-art-gallery.com. It is not only the world’s largest supplier of Made-to-Order oil paintings but also offers frame, stretching, and gallery-wrap service with an abundant variety of frames to choose from so that your painting arrives at your doorstep ready to hang.