Raphael’s “The School of Athens” takes us back to a time when bearded men in togas gathered in the square to be smart together. The composition naturally draws the eye to the men in the center – Plato and his student Aristotle, two of the most well-known philosophers and thinkers of all time.
Who else can we see? You can see Pythagoras (he has a famous theorem) in the lower left as he studies a large tome. Ptolemy and Raphael himself, looking directly at the viewer, can be seen on the right side, talking to Zoroaster, who is handling a globe.
The Missing Picture
Looking at this painting, we sit in awe of the technique and skill of Dutch Golden Age painter Johannes Vermeer. This piece is called “Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window.” The painting seems to be a little more than exactly the title, but it turns out there’s something missing from the first picture.
A major restoration occurred in 2021, revealing a heretofore unseen element: a huge picture of Cupid on the wall behind the girl, as seen in the second picture, in addition to much brighter colors. Scholars see the presence of Cupid as evidence that the woman is reading a love letter.
A Bearded Man Is Watching You
One of the earliest pieces of work from Pablo Picasso’s blue period, “The Blue Room,” this painting seems to show us a young woman bathing in her tub, but there’s a little more to it than that. It turns out this picture also contains a peeper! Oh no! Thankfully, he can’t see anything past the layer of paint that is on top of him.
An x-ray study of the painting in 1997 revealed a painting underneath “The Blue Room,” and an infrared scan in 2008 revealed a bearded man wearing a bow tie, seated, with his right hand touching his cheek. Picasso, unable to sell his paintings, painted over them until they did.
A Feast for the Eyes
There are not many pieces of famous art on this list from a lady, but here’s a fine example. Clara Peeters painted this still life, titled “Still Life with Cheeses, Almonds, and Pretzels,” around 1615. She painted her signature on the handle of the silver knife at the bottom.
A still life is mostly just about painting something as accurately as you can, using subjects such as these, but there’s still a fun tidbit in this piece. The jug of drink that is in the center of the painting has a black lid, and if one looks quite closely, one can see a small reflection of the painter herself.
A Devilish Face
“Death and Ascension of St. Francis” is a complicated piece, showing us the time of St. Francis’s passing and rising to heaven, but if one looks closely, one can see a lot more than just a crowd of monks there to honor his passing.
In the section of clouds above the heads of the monks, there is a cluster of clouds – one of the clouds, on the right side, appears to be a face. Giotto di Bondone, the painter, might have been the very first person to have done such a thing, but for what reason, it’s hard to say. A rival painter, perhaps?