When we think of classic art in museums and intricate frescoes in grand cathedrals, we are often overcome with a need to appear dignified and serious. After all, this spectacular artwork has been around for centuries, and the portraits of aristocracy, charming landscapes, and examples of religious iconography give us an essential glimpse into the past.
Yet while depicting their world, it seems that many famous artists also concealed hidden meanings and sinister in-jokes in their pieces. And on second glance, some of these are rather unsettling.
From the slightly disturbing, to the down-right terrifying, here are some examples of Easter Eggs that will ensure that you never look at classic art in the same way.
1. The Last Judgement by Michelangelo
The Last Judgement was heavily criticized by the Catholic church for being insensitive to proper decorum and the treatment of nudity. Even the Pope's own official, Biago da Cesena, said:
"It was mostly disgraceful that in so sacred a place there should have been depicted all those nude figures, exposing themselves so shamefully."
As a response, Michelangelo worked Cesena's face into the scene as Minor, the judge of the underworld. Not only is he depicted in hell with donkey ears, but a snake also appears to be biting off his genitals.
2. Basilica of St. Francis fresco by Giotto di Bondone
Performing touch-ups on the famous fresco, art restorers were astounded to discover a figure of a devil hidden in one of the clouds. It seems likely that Bondone painted the face to spite someone he knew.
3. The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger
At first glance, the painting appears to be a work depicting two ambassadors, but all it takes is to observe it from the side on, and a nifty anamorphosis is revealed.
The object on the floor at the front is actually a skull. What a creepy little pseudo-hologram to remind us of our impending mortality!
4. The Madonna with Saint Giovannino by Domenico Ghirlandaio
In this 15th century painting, a strange object seems to be looming in the background. It has baffled people for centuries and many suspect it is in fact a UFO, due to the multitude of bright beams of light being emitted from it.
Whether the object is extra-terrestrial, ethereal or simply a part of religious iconography, the fact that we have no idea what it is, is kind of sinister. Did Ghirlandaio know something we didn't?
5. The Magpie on the Gallows by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The lush foliage and clear sky in this painting is the epitome of serenity. So, that's why upon closer inspection, viewers will have been horrified to notice a man in the bottom-left corner. He appears to be strenuously defecating while the others look on at the idyllic landscape.
6. Superbia by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Another fantastic entry by Bruegel, this artwork is awash with various individuals popping a squat. However, the most horrendous of visions is the person on the right, who is clearly experiencing a painful diarrhea situation, creating an unstoppable waterfall out of his own waste.
7. The Last Judgement by Michelangelo - Part II
Coming back to the first artwork by Michelangelo, there is another sinister Easter Egg that must be pointed out. The martyr that was flayed alive in The Last Judgement is actually the artist's self-portrait.
Isn't it a bit grotesque to want to depict your own face on an empty envelope of skin? I guess this was Michelangelo's way of saying that he was a tortured soul too.
8. Bacchus by Caravaggio
Advanced infrared technology revealed a tiny detail on the carafe of wine in the painting of Bacchus, showing a young man peeping out from the sweet red wine. In fact, this tiny intruder is Caravaggio himself and he appears to be holding a brush and working at an easel.
Personally, I find this unsettling because it just makes me wonder what else may lie beneath those layers of paint.
What do you think?