The five most enigmatic artworks in the history of art!
Who ever said the art world wasn’t elusive…? Want to learn more about its secrets? All you had to do was ask. To pique your curiosity, we’ve compiled a list of five artworks whose mysteries remain unsolved despite endless research.
# 1 The Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci
Before we move on to other less controversial works, let’s start with the best-known mystery in the world of art. Almost everyone has heard of this painting. The figurehead of Leonardo da Vinci’s career, the Mona Lisa, with her enigmatic smile, is one of the leading pieces on display at the Louvre. But just who is the person in the painting?
According to artist Giorgio Vasari, she is Lisa Maria Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo. Vasari posited that Giocondo commissioned Da Vinci to paint his wife’s portrait. This theory has since fallen out of fashion due to a lack of evidence to back up the claim. Some believe the Mona Lisa’s hidden appearance is in fact a depiction of Da Vinci himself, in feminine form.
# 2 The Statue of Liberty, Auguste Bartholdi, 1886
Famously a gift to the United States from France, Liberty Enlightening the World is a colossal sculpture in New York designed by Gustav Eiffel. A true sign of friendship and respect between the two powers, it was given to mark the hundred-year anniversary of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
On closer inspection, however, one detail stands out in particular: a chain at the statue’s feet. Could it be a symbol of democracy? An allegory for freedom in plain sight? No-one knows…
# 3 Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, Caspar David Friedrich, 1818
Now this is a romantic artwork! And where there is romanticism, mystery is sure to follow. The painting depicts a male figure seen from behind, against the light. He seems to be overlooking the rocks in a sea of mist.
Nature is hidden, enshrouded in a cortege of clouds. It is immediately clear the figure is on a quest for an unreachable ideal, lost in the immensity of the world around him. Sensitivity and fog are brought together to create a mystical depiction whose objectives we can only guess at.
# 4 Girl with the Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, 1665
This outstanding creation has been attributed to Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. The woman’s portrait is anonymous and raises a number of questions. Some are convinced it is a portrait of one of his daughters, the pearl earring being a symbol of youthful purity and gentleness. Others claim it is most likely a woman the artist loved, or even his neighbor. Who was she really? The mystery remains unsolved…
# 5 Danaë, Rembrandt, 1636-1643
If ever you find yourself in St Petersburg, be sure to visit the Saint Hermitage Museum, where you can admire this life-size artwork in person. In the painting, we see a nude woman lying on a bed. This is no surprise, as the feminine form was always one of the artist’s main inspirations. On many occasions, he used his wife Saskia van Uylenburgh as his model.
In this painting, however, the resemblance between the two women isn’t immediately clear – and that’s to say the least! Don’t worry, though, for this final secret, we’ve decided to give you the answer: it is in fact possible to make out the faces of two different women in the work. It seems that after his wife died Rembrandt returned to the canvas, adding the features of Geertje Dircx, another of his lovers. The face of the woman in the picture is therefore a combination of both Dircx and Van Uylenburgh!
We warned you, art is full of secrets and a good number have yet to be discovered. Many artworks escape us through the mysteries they hold. In the end, though, isn’t that what makes them so beautiful?
Sign up for the best art updates