There is a ton of detail to take in while looking at Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s “The Blue Cloak,” also known as “The Topsy Turvy World.” The central figure is a woman putting on a cloak of the same color, but why? Well, a Dutch proverb gives us the phrase “Pulling the wool over your eyes,” or hiding the truth from yourself.
The original version of this painting had a woman pulling a cloak over her husband in order to hide her adultery, and this updated version has a similar scene. There are also dozens of other proverbs rendered in visual form, from admonishments to good advice. Check out the full list – there are over a hundred!
Gazing Down the Beach
Even an unassuming piece of artwork such as this, Hendrick van Anthonissen’s “View of Scheveningen Sands,” can hold some mystery to unravel. While it seems to be little more than villagers on the beach harvesting food from a whale, it has a hidden secret. We can now see the secret – the whale – but before that, the whale was hidden by a layer of repaint.
When that was discovered, the painting went from people simply looking out at the ocean on a cold day to people gathering for some kind of spectacle. Did the artist dislike it? Did one of the owners decide to get rid of the dead animal? We just don’t know.
Springtime for Botticelli
Nine figures from classic mythology frolic in a flowery field under luscious trees. But who are all these figures? The goddess of love and beauty, Venus, takes up the middle while a blind cupid fires arrows above her. To her right and our left, a trio of Graces, minor goddesses, dance in a circle, and Mercury is on their other side.
To our right, the nymph Chloris painted twice, when her depiction to the right wonders why Zephyrus, the god of the west wind, is giving her a feel. One of Sandro Botticelli’s masterpieces, “La Primavera” has a complex composition that is still a mystery, though the skill he gave it is no mystery whatsoever.
Ready to Party
This guy seems like he’s glad it’s Friday. Why yes, it’s “Bacchus” by Caravaggio, and we see before us one of the most common interpretations of the Greek god of wine, inebriation, fertility, and theater. Sure, it’s a great painting, but what is there to wonder about? Well, there is some discussion among historians about who exactly was the model for the great godly guzzler.
The most likely option is that the model was Caravaggio’s pupil, Mario Minniti, who had modeled for the painter in a number of other works. However, some believe that Caravaggio set up a mirror and used himself as the model since Bacchus is offering a glass of wine with his left hand instead of his right.
Using Devices to Help
This quiet scene isn’t so quiet, actually – it’s “Music Lesson” by the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, and there’s something about it. Not the subject itself – the teacher and student using music as a stand-in for their relationship (evidenced by the teacher singing along to the music) was a common theme at the time.
No, a theory from Tim Jenison says that Vermeer used optical devices (like a lens) to paint this scene, and his 2013 documentary went about trying to prove it. The results were somewhat inconclusive, as well as being quite controversial. There are plenty of points both for and against it.