Top 10 strange images in Renaissance paintings

Ah, the Renaissance. A period of tremendous social progress and scientific achievements. It was a cultural rescue from the stagnation of the late Middle Ages, and most importantly, how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got their names. And while no legacy can compare to these fully tubular turtles, it’s also worth mentioning that this period produced some of the most famous arts in history.

Renaissance art represented a huge advance in realism due to the movement’s scientific research into anatomy, perspective, and light. It really shines through in his masterfully skillful paintings… most of the time. Every great leap forward has its stumbling blocks, and many Renaissance paintings bear witness to this. Whether spooky, cryptic, or just plain confusing, here are ten Renaissance paintings with illuminating images.

ten Almost all of Giuseppe Arcimboldo

The painter Arcimboldo and his unique style of portraiture

Giuseppe Arcimboldo was a talented 16th-century Italian painter who spent his life painting realistic yet expressive portraits of nobles, their families and their pets. His whole career has been very standard and he never really found a way to stand out. I laugh. He was a total nutcase who painted figures made of fruits, pieces of meat, household items, and even other people.

The funny thing is that Arcimboldo could really paint lifelike portraits etc, but he still dedicated his career to creating the strangest fruits you’ve ever seen. He would, for example, draw the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire as a sculpture made of vegetables – the firm cabbage-headed shoulders are particularly flattering. Another gem is “The Cook”, which portrays the titular chef as a demonic assembly of roast pigs and pheasants. The casual absurdism of his work made Arcimboldo the Eric André one of the painters of the Renaissance.

9 “The Creation of Adam” and his brain

The Creation of Adam – Brain Theory

“The Creation of Adam” is one of the most famous paintings in history. You may know it as “God making the finger AND”, part of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or as a hilarious backdrop from Arrested Development. Either way, the work is emblematic. Painted in the early 1500s, it wasn’t until almost 500 years later that a doctor noticed an unusual anatomical detail hidden in the painting.

Behind God are twelve figures (the nature of which is debated) and a swirling pink cloak, which combine to form a surprisingly precise outline of the human brain. In addition, the folds of the cloak and the placement of the figures and their limbs divide the brain into its main sections (brain, frontal lobes, brainstem, its artery and even smaller pieces like the pituitary gland) at a level of high precision. . Why Michelangelo did this is unknown, but the most dramatic point is that the artist was trying to squeeze into his belief that God is a product of the human mind.

8 “The ambassadors” and their skull

Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors (updated!)

Hans Holbein the Younger painted “The Ambassadors” for one of two reasons: either to hide a Dan Brown message or simply to be a troll. At first glance, the work is just a double portrait, showing two men leaning on a shelf (and not looking really impressed with the whole thing). But hidden in the painting, and not so hidden, are a dozen odd details that historians still debate.

The most famous is the giant skull between the legs of the two men. Its presence is evident from the start, but its true nature is obscured due to extreme anamorphosis, meaning you can only see its actual form from a certain angle. It’s like those hyper-realistic sidewalk designs that only look out from a specific spot, and otherwise look like funny mirror distortions. Why Holbein did this is unknown, but many researchers believe it was just because he could.

7 “An Allegory with Venus and Cupid” and Syphilis

Bronzino Allegory of Venus and Cupid Explained: An Analysis

“An Allegory with Venus and Cupid” by Angolo Bronzino is another that seems quite normal at first glance. Heck, even on a second and third glance. But like most masterpieces, it has been reviewed time and time again, generating at least one interesting version of the whole work: a warning about the dangers of syphilis.

Syphilis had just started to ravage Europe in the decades leading up to the production of this painting, and the work is said to speak of the disease from corner to corner. The painting is quite overtly sexual, and all of its characters seemingly pay the price. One is stabbed by a thorn and does not notice it, like syphilitic nerve damage. There are also missing fingernails, swollen fingers, patchy alopecia, red eyes, and toothless gums, all symptoms of syphilis or side effects of its treatment. The moral: Even if you are the goddess of love herself, reckless and unprotected sex is a big no-no.

6 “The portrait of Arnolfini” and the Weird Flex

The portrait of Arnolfini by Jan Van Eyck: great art explained

When Jan van Eyck painted “The Portrait of Arnolfini” he was not just after depicting a scene or its subjects; he wanted to flex his muscles. Van Eyck was a master, one of the best painters of his day, and is even credited with inventing the modern form of oil painting. “The portrait of Arnolfini” was his subtle and devious way of proving that he could do more.

The main painting shows a man and a woman getting married and is simply masterful in its perspective and realism. But van Eyck blows this completely out of the water in one small section. A mirror is hung on the back wall of the stage and, inside the mirror, a perfect recreation of the scene from behind, including the natural fish-eye effect of the mirror. That’s right, inside the painting is a completely different painting from the first back painting, and he demonstrates a technical aptitude unheard of in his field.

5 “The Garden of Earthly Delights” has hidden music

Hieronymus Bosch Butt Music

Hieronymus Bosch is famous for his surreal, symbolic and nightmarish depictions of religious landscapes, as if Michelangelo and Salvador Dali had an old Dutch baby. His most famous works are large sprawling altarpieces like “The Last Judgment”, “The Temptation of Saint Anthony” and the most famous of all, “The Garden of Earthly Delights”.

The play shows three scenes: one is probably Eden, one possibly Earth, and one Hell. Each is filled with dozens and dozens of trippy images, but one stands out. In the Hell scene, a series of musicians are tortured with their instruments, and one of them has obviously been punished by having music tattooed on his buttocks. Well, a music student transcribed that music, and now we can all listen to “600 year old hell bum music”.

4 The Voynich manuscript

The most mysterious book in the world – Stephen Bax

While not a painting itself, the notorious Voynich Manuscript contains dozens of paintings, and each is stranger than the last. The manuscript is a handwritten and illustrated journal and throughout is a complete mystery.

On the one hand, the entire journal is written in its own unique language, which has never been successfully translated. It seems unlikely that this was just a hoax, as the handwriting bears all the telltale signs of real language. In addition, the book is filled with cryptic paintings which depict, among other things: plants resembling aliens, diagrams adorned with unknown objects / codes / philosophies, religious scenes of nymphs and angels, dragons, sculptures strange and new constellations. Who wrote the manuscript, why they wrote it and what it was intended for are still completely unknown, but it seems to have come from somewhere in Italy in the 15th century.

3 “Madonna with Saint Giovannino” and a UFO

Mystery: Our Lady with Saint Giovannino!

Domenico Ghirlandaio’s “Virgin of Saint Giovannino” is 99% a normal Renaissance religious painting, but it is the 1% that catches the eye. The painting is a scene of the Virgin, Saint John and the baby Jesus, and more specifically – a small drop in the background sky.

The drop, which seems to fly, is a grayish disc and emits shiny golden rays all around. In the background is also a man and his dog. The two gaze at the object, the man shielding his eyes from the harsh golden light. Understandably, many have interpreted this as a UFO and cite it as evidence of (semi-) ancient aliens.

2 Soundtrack of “The Last Supper”


Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” is one of the most famous works of art in existence. Because of this, and because its subject matter is Christ’s Last Supper with His Apostles (including Judas the Traitor), it has been the subject of constant interpretation and reinterpretation by scholars. There are numerology claims, a hidden Mary Magdalene, and more. Another is, and I can’t believe I’m typing again, a musical score hidden in the painting.

Yes, apparently Bosch is not the only one. Using the table as a basis for starting the staff lines and the positions of the subjects’ hands and the pieces of bread they hold (symbols of the body of Christ) as musical notes, a short piece emerges. It has been described as a solemn requiem; a sad little piece intended to mourn the imminent death of Christ, which some interpret as a secret nod to da Vinci’s otherwise dubious faith.

1 Ugly babies

Why babies in medieval paintings look like ugly old men

This strange image is not in one painting but in hundreds. For some reason, it has taken artists thousands of years to figure out what children look like. Hundreds of positively gorgeous scenes, with beautiful adult subjects and crisp perspective, were spoiled by incredibly ugly children. Not just ugly, but hideous, like charmless little Steve Buscemi.

Ugly babies are such a common occurrence that it has its own dedicated Tumblr, tabletop books, and scholarly studies trying to find the cause. One theory suggests that because the Christian churches commissioned most of the paintings, their child subjects were all modeled after the baby Christ, who was born perfectly formed and unchanged. It would make him look like a little adult man, a DeVito if you will, and therefore the ugliness of the baby. Whether this “homoncular Jesus” theory is correct or not, it is difficult to explain how grotesque these little monsters were.

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