This may be the most controversial suggestion because it has been proposed by many lay experts before and denounced by the academics every time as foolish and mistaken. Certainly, there have been some outlandish claims but to dismiss all of them, some of them highly important, is equally foolish. This is the truth: under the apparent surface of many great paintings, especially landscapes, is a hidden face. Sometimes it is the artist’s, sometimes an admired poet’s or, as in most instances, still anonymous. Academics comment in disagreement “that you can see what you want to see” but the self-evident examples shown here make that response untenable. Practising artists, however, when shown these examples have unanimously agreed with our perception, many with comments like “That’s how an artist thinks.”
Michelangelo’s Last Judgment is the preeminent example. Scores of figures around the altar-wall, when seen together from a distance, resemble the unmistakeable profile of Michelangelo’s poetic hero, Dante Alighieri.....with Christ in the center of Dante’s brain. This was first suggested by a Venezuelan diplomat in 1951 and has been ignored with few exceptions ever since. Charles Tolnay, a well-known expert on Michelangelo, last cited it in a note in 1960.1 For the next half-century no book or article on Michelangelo ever mentioned it. I brought the observation back to the attention of the art world, with additional support, in the pages of The Art Newspaper in 2007. It was met with a deafening silence. Nevertheless, what you need to know is that hundreds of subsequent artists were inspired by the presence of Dante’s profile in the Sistine Chapel. Look at it in a book. Go see it yourself in Rome. It is the single most important visual illusion in the history of art.
The examples here all come with supporting evidence. It is not just that the “faces” look like a face but the “face” has meaning. All scenes in true art are ideas in the artist’s mind so the instability with which an image can change from an apparent scene of nature to a human head beautifully conveys the evanescence and constant mutability of human thoughts. After you train your eyes with the examples here, you will get more enjoyment out of a museum than you ever had before. Interpreting art becomes fun.
The evidence for the illusion in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment is laid out in abundant detail in the essay “Michelangelo’s Art Through Michelangelo’s Eyes.” If you have the time – and it does not take long – read it. It explains not just Michelangelo’s methods but the fundamentals – explained here in a different way – of all art, helping you interpret other art by yourself. Each way has its own merit. Try both.
1. Joaquin Diaz Gonzalez, Scoperta d’un grande segreto dell’art nel Giudizio Universale di Michelangelo, 2nd. ed. (Rome: Angelo Belardetti) 1954; Charles de Tolnay, Michelangelo: The Final Period (Princeton University Press) 1960, p. 119, n.68
All Articles (Alphabetical by Artist, then Title)
Leonardo's closely observed landscape turns into something else entirely but only if you expect it
A famous but much maligned painting has more poetry in it than its critics think
Catching a glimpse of the divine or true good in our own being can be the start of a spiritual transformation as Lotto shows
If an artist's first and last initials are the same, or his initial matches that of his hometown, like Lucas van Leyden's, it is more than likely to appear in his work as well.
There is more to the Tragic Actor than meets the eye. Find out what's there that others cannot see.
To see what's in a painting can take a very long time... 15 years, in this case.
Look for the eyes. Then the face. Never forget to look for them because you can find them anywhere in art.
See how Notre-Dame, France's cathedral and symbol of the nation, becomes Matisse's
There is yet more meaning in the drawing as we see in Part 2 of this analysis
There's probably more unseen in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel than has ever been known....
Find how artists would have seen what we do not: Michelangelo's Only True Self-Portrait
Miró's inventive and individualistic style, however modern, is merely a complement to his deep traditionalism. And that's as it should be.
See how a seemingly abstract painting is not quite so abstract after all
Is landscape portraiture? Monet clearly thinks so.
Underneath the architecture of Monet's cathedrals is a major surprise
Like scripture, there are two ways to view a landscape: externally and internally. See how...
Peale's American portraits have more in common with great European art than is generally accepted.
Two protagonists in one painting must both represent the artist. It's a given in art so it's your job to find out how.
See how Picasso turns one scene into another in ways that have never been seen
Picasso turned the face of a Spanish queen into a townscape by fusing the two
Genres are an artificial classification of little meaning. For instance, as here, still-life without life would be still-born.
Picasso at his most abstract is still figurative in ways that have never been seen
See the miraculous head of Christ in Poussin's painting that no-one but artists has ever noted. The painting is up for sale next week with an estimate of $30 million.
How the setting is so rarely what you think....you must think differently
The presence of a mystery in an artwork, intentionally made mysterious by the artist, does not mean that the mystery cannot be solved. Mysteries are made to be resolved.
If you like Renoir but can't see Raphael, you won't see Renoir's Raphael
The Inner Tradition as practised by a Catholic artist....
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