This painting, “Separation of Light from Darkness” by Michelangelo, is one of nine paintings in the center of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel which depict the birth of the world, the creation of man, and man’s fall from grace. It shows a muscular God who rips in half the universe, dividing the night from the day.
His up-angled face denotes a remoteness, and while the strokes that make up the figure are smooth and polished, the space around him is raw and chaotic, just like an unbuilt firmament might have been. God’s billowing red robe offers him majesty and power, despite nudity being the norm for most famous paintings of the era.
Under a Dark Blue Sky
Vincent van Gogh might not have found acclaim for his artwork until after his death, but he’s now regarded as one of the best at what he did. Artistic representations of everyday scenes such as this painting, “Cafe Terrace at Night.” It’s a lovely scene, but let’s learn more.
The night has no black in it, despite it being night, using only dark blue and van Gogh’s unique style of a star. In fact, it’s said that van Gogh painted the stars with such accuracy that scholars are able to date the creation of the painting down to the DAY. Or, almost. The two possibilities are the sixteenth or the seventeenth of September 1888.
You Know That Smile
It’s much smaller than you think it is, it’s mysterious, and it’s one of the most famous paintings in the world. It’s “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci. This beguiling beauty has captured hearts, been stolen, and gotten art historians in a tizzy over what it is exactly.
First off, it might be unfinished: Lisa’s lack of eyebrows makes people wonder if Da Vinci had forgotten to finish it or if his right hand had become partially paralyzed before it could be done. Her enigmatic smile is due to the low spatial frequency of the artwork, meaning it disappears while looking straight at it.
The Secret in the Mirror
Despite looking like it could have been produced hundreds of years later, “The Arnolfini Portrait” was painted by Dutch painter Jan van Eyck all the way back in 1434. It seems to be entirely straightforward until you start to look a little closer. Some of the details are strange.
It was a wedding photo, but the woman already appeared pregnant. There are touches like the small dog, the chandelier, and the trappings of the room, which could either be an allusion to wealth or to aspects of religion. Jan van Eyck’s signature is on the wall, and there are unknown figures reflected in the mirror.
Plenty of Symbolism
Celebrating the achievements and friendship of two men, “The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein the Younger is chock full of strange details. The most prominent of them is the odd shape on the ground between the men. When the painting is tilted and viewed from a specific angle, the shape becomes a human skull.
There is also a silver crucifix hiding behind the green curtain in the upper right, so well obscured that few spot it on their own. The pair of globes could mean anything from the exploration going on at the time to the tumult of the Lutheran Reformation. However, the celestial globe is proud and tall, perhaps speaking about the constancy of the stars above Earth.