Easter Eggs in Art History

Easter eggs aren't just treats hidden by a giant (and terrifying) rabbit. The term has also come to mean something hidden within a work - whether that's a movie, song of image. 

Just in time for Easter, we're taking a look at the greatest Easter eggs in art history:

7. Raphael's Unicorn

Raphael. Portrait of a Lady With a Unicorn. 1506. 

Raphael. Portrait of a Lady With a Unicorn. 1506. 

Much has been written of Raphael’s portrait, spurring many imaginations. From the resemblance to da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to speculation about the identity of the sitter, this painting is filled with enigma. And that isn’t even mentioning the fact she’s holding a unicorn!

The painting, has undergone several revisions. In the 17th century, the sitter’s shoulders were covered (for modesty) and the broken wheel of St. Catherine was painted over the mythical pet - transforming a magical painting into a religious artwork. 

It wasn’t until the 20th century that technological advancements allowed for these discoveries during x-ray examination. 

Unfortunately, these examinations also revealed it was not originally a unicorn, but rather a lap dog. In fact, the original painting had no animal in the lap of the girl. The dog, and later unicorn, were subsequently painted by other artists.

Sorry to shatter your dreams of Renaissance unicorns running freely through the countryside, this Easter egg is less magical than we had hoped for.

 

6. God rides in a chariot....of the human brain?

Michelangelo. The Creation of Adam. 1508-1512.

Michelangelo. The Creation of Adam. 1508-1512.

Whether you’ve been to Rome or a gift shop, we’ve all seen The Creation of Adam – a masterpiece that took Michelangelo 5 years to create.

But, if you look a little closer, you might find something strange about the shape of God and his posse of angels. First discovered by physicist, Frank Meshberger and written about extensively in scientific texts, this unusually shape is an anatomically accurate depiction of a cross section of the human brain.

And it’s not improbable - apart from drawing, painting and sculpture, cadaver dissection was among Michelangelo’s favorite hobbies – a habit he picked up at the age of 17 when he would use bodies from the church graveyard.

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Though The Creation of Adam is generally thought to depict God creating man, are these anatomical undertones a hint that Michelangelo thought the origin of humanity lay in the human brain? Could one of the most venerated works of art is an apparently atheistic sentiment? Perhaps.

 

5. The Wedding Portrait

Jan Van Eyck. Arnolfini Portrait. 1434. 

Jan Van Eyck. Arnolfini Portrait. 1434. 

This 1434 painting by Flemish artist Jan Van Eyck has surprised scholars for centuries. It is considered one of the most original works of Western art for its uniqueness and complex iconography and geometric composition.

The mysteries contained in this painting are perplexing. While superficially, it appears to be domestic scene, all the content within goes beyond first impressions. From the little dog which symbolizes loyalty, to the green dress which connotes hope – this painting is rich with iconography. We still aren’t sure what the horn hairdo means, but it probably symbolizes something.

The detailed inscription and signature on the wall of the portrait has lead many to believe the painting was legal documentation of the matrimonial union. Nowadays, it’s not unusual for couples to spend thousands of dollars on wedding portraits, but this example is pretty extravagant.

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The most notable Easter egg contained in this painting remains the convex mirror on the back wall. The small medallions set into the mirror’s frame depict tiny scenes from the Passion of Christ, representing God’s ever-present promise of salvation for those depicted in the mirror. Within the mirror, the entire room is reflected back to the viewer in nearly perfect accuracy – including the artist himself.

Could this be the first selfie in history?

 

4. Close Encounters of the Renaissance

Domenico Ghirlandaio. The Madonna with Saint Giovannino. 1449 – 1494

Domenico Ghirlandaio. The Madonna with Saint Giovannino. 1449 – 1494

This 15th century painting is a little strange, and not just the fact that baby Jesus has a six-pack.

Look closer at the sky, and you might be surprised to see what looks like a UFO. It’s made even more suspect by the bystander’s reaction in the background.

Many contemporaneous Florentine paintings depict strange objects flying in the sky – but this definitely isn’t an angel or a dove.

 

 

3. Music at The Last Supper

Leonardo da Vinci. The Last Supper. 1494-1495

Leonardo da Vinci. The Last Supper. 1494-1495

Da Vinci was a master of planting Easter eggs in his paintings, many of which we still haven’t unravelled.

And, it’s all too festive that there are some hidden within his painting of The Last Supper. This work has been the source of many conspiracy theories over the years, most notably in Dan Brown’s pulp novel The da Vinci Code. 

The strangest thing isn't the fact they're sitting at one side of the table (imagine making that dinner reservation - "table for 24, only 12 will be dining, but we want to sit on one side").

Take close note of the loaves of bread on the table. While Jesus and his apostles may have loved dinner rolls, a musician realized that they could also be music notes.

Giovanni Maria Pala discovered that each loaf of bread in the meticulously composed painting represents a different note that combined make a 40-second requiem.

 

2. Bum music from hell

Hieronymus Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delights. 1503-1515.

Hieronymus Bosch. The Garden of Earthly Delights. 1503-1515.

While on the topic of music, we'd be remiss to not include one of the most puzzling artworks in all of art history. Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is loaded with puzzling imagery that has ignited the imaginations of scholars for centuries. 

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From pigs in nun habits to disembodied ears, it would be easy to label this painting an Easter egg hunt and call it a day.

But, one character in particular has fascinated historians; a small character depicted in Bosch's hell has a musical score tattooed to his derriere.

A Christian University student from Oklahoma, Amelia Hamrick transcribed and recorded this 500 year old song. While it's not the most complex piece of music, it's definitely the only Renaissance butt song out there. 

 

1. Who is Mona?

Leonardo da Vinci. Mona Lisa. 1503.

Leonardo da Vinci. Mona Lisa. 1503.

Perhaps the most enigmatic painting of all time, Mona Lisa attracts millions of visitors to the Louvre every year.

A lack of definitive evidence as to her identity has fuelled many theories. Her masculine features have perplexed many historians who have speculated that perhaps da Vinci used both male and female sitters. Another (crazier) hypothesis is that Mona Lisa is in fact a self-portrait of da Vinci himself. We aren’t buying the resemblance.

From the placement of her hands inspiring speculation that the sitter was pregnant, to a mysterious “LV” placed in her right eye, the many mysteries of Mona Lisa may never be uncovered.

According to historical records, the only women in 16th century Italy who would remove their facial hair were prostitutes, sparking further questions about her identity. Though she has the markings of a noblewoman, could Mona Lisa have been a lady of the night? Technological advancements may have an answer to this mystery, however. Using high definition cameras, a French engineer discovered she may have originally had eyebrows.

This is an Easter egg we’ll never be able to crack.

New Updates on Mercartto

Thanks to all the feedback we’ve received, we have introduced some exciting new features to the Mercartto app.

 

Personality to a Tee

We’ve added a second version of the personality quiz to help you get the best match for you. Take them both, it’s twice as much fun!

 

 

IT's Like "the Large Font of Images"

We’ve updated our zoom features: just spread your fingers over the image to see it in more detail. One tap and you return to the main screen. You can also view landscape images at 90-degrees.

 

 

 

 

 

OUR MATCHING HAS GOTTEN EVEN SMARTER...

We’ve improved the app's machine-learning capabilities to find the best art matches for your personality type.

 

 

 

... and so has our filtering

Trying to find the perfect work to match your couch? Our new color filter will help narrow down the choices. Browsing from work? You can now exclude nudity from your results. Other improvements include size searching by specific height and width dimensions, finding artists by country (well, Canada to be more specific), and the ability to exclude portraits.

 

Check out the update in the app store, or launch the app to update.

New to Mercartto? Click here to download it

Got feedback? artyoulove@mercartto.com

 

How do you value art? How do you price art? (part 2)

Pricing art is one of the most subjective commercial activities attempted. If you compare it to fashion, it can be argued that branded designers (like branded artists) can command a higher premium because of the history and reputation behind the name. But oftentimes an article of clothing’s price is also influenced by the quality of materials, hand vs. factory made, scarcity and uniqueness.

How do you value art? How do you price art?

There is a prevailing belief, particularly in the upper echelons of the contemporary art world, that art makes a great investment. (For a good overview see Caslon Analytics art fund note.) However, research shows that in the overwhelming majority of cases, art is neither a good nor efficient investment.

Glossary of Art Terms

C-Print

C-Print is the abbreviation of chromogenic prints. It’s essentially a fancy word for a color photograph. 


Cotton rag

Cotton rag is a paper made from…cotton! It is generally thicker and sturdier than wood-based papers and has a fabric-like feel and texture.

Cotton rag paper can be printed on digitally or silkscreened. 


Genevieve Blais. After Ingres. C-Print. Ed. of 5

Genevieve Blais. After Ingres. C-Print. Ed. of 5

Edition

An edition refers to the number of identical prints made in a series.

Editions can range from 3, 5, up to 100.

Editions are a way to ensure a piece retains value by creating scarcity. As a rule, the more prints made, the less value the work has. 


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Gallery wrapped canvas

Gallery wrapped canvas simply means that the canvas is stretched around a wooden frame, making the image stick out slightly from the wall.

The frame is generally around 1” deep, and sometimes the canvas is painted to match the artwork. 


Gel Medium

Gel medium can be used in many different ways. It can add volume to thin paint to create brush strokes, or can be used as an archival adhesive in collage works.

It can also be used to transfer images onto a variety of surfaces. 


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Giclee Print

Pronounced “G-Clay”, giclee comes from the French verb gicler meaning "to squirt or spray". It’s a printing process that combines pigment based inks with high quality archival quality paper to create a print of superior archival quality, light fastness and stability.


Gloss Varnish

Varnish is a final step sometimes taken in painting that protects the work from dirt and dust. It is a coating on top of the painting that gives it a glossy (or sometimes matt) finish. 


Gouache

Think of gouache as robust watercolour. Pigment is mixed with water and a binding agent to create an opaque paint. Gouache has a long history of nearly 600 years, predating acrylic paint. 


 
 

Hanging Hardware

Hanging hardware is installed on the back of the artwork in order to hang it on the wall.

There are many variations, from French cleats to galvanized wire and the type is generally dependent on the size and weight of the artwork.

It may or may not be included with the artwork. 

D-Rings

D-Rings

Wire Hanger

Wire Hanger

Saw Tooth Hanger

Saw Tooth Hanger

French Cleat

French Cleat


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Original

This means the work is one-of-a-kind and not from an edition.

For example, the Mona Lisa has been reprinted extensively from advertising to tote bags. However, the painting that hangs at the Louvre is the original artwork.

Paintings are almost always original, unless they have been reproduced on paper. 


Signed

Connotes whether or not the artist has signed the work.

The artwork is generally signed on the bottom right corner, but may also be signed on the back so as to not compromise the image.

As a rule, signed pieces increase in value depending on the progression of an artist’s career. 


Silkscreen

Screen printing is a print-making technique that uses a mesh screen to transfer ink through a stencil.

Screen printing was made famous in the 1960s by Andy Warhol and is used today for everything from t-shirts and posters to fine-art.

Help! I Can't Decide Between Two Pieces of Art!

While often it’s nice to have choices, buying art can present a real dilemma. The scenario: you’ve been looking for art for your living room for a while and you’ve finally found two pieces you like by different artists. Both are of a similar size, style, subject matter, and even their prices are essentially the same. How do you decide between the two?

Sharon Berlin, an accredited fine art and antique appraiser, shares her thoughts on this question.

“It’s hard to answer when you don’t know the personality of the person who is buying. And what if you like two pieces from the same artist? Some people might say to go with the more established artist. But why should a less-experienced artist not get the opportunity? How does an emerging artist get a chance if they’re being told, ‘you don’t have enough experience’?

There will always be the kind of person who questions their choices. But at the end of the day, particularly if you’re choosing pieces from artists who have been vetted, such as on an on-line art site or a juried show, you won’t make a wrong decision. If you like them both, just make a choice. Pick what you like/love.

Holiday Gift Guide, Mercartto Style!

It's the giving time of year! For fun we've created gift guides for some of the most popular Mercartto art personality types. To make it easy, we've included links; if you see something you like, it's a click away.

Don't see your personality type? Comment or drop us a line and we'll create one for your type.

When he was "Lenny": My father remembers Leonard Cohen in his youth

On November 6, 2016, the world lost Leonard Cohen, a much-loved Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist. To honour his passing, my father, Herbert Samuels, shared with me his memories of going to summer camp with a young man whose magnetism, strength and storytelling abilities were sharply evident even at a young age.


I remember him as Lenny. We were campers together for a number of years at Wabi-Kon, near Temagami. Lenny was the undisputed leader of the cabin. It was not due to his forcing his way into the role. It was rather by the warmth and magnetism of his personality that made you want to follow him.

Not athletically inclined, he was physically quite strong. A lot of that strength came from force of will. At a relatively young age, he would swim the length of the pool [25 yards] underwater. Someone read that you could not hold your arms straight out perpendicular to your body more than a certain length of time. He took that as a challenge and proceeded to do it.

One summer, we became superheroes with towels tied around our neck as capes. Lenny’s idea was instead of saying “shazam”, like Captain Marvel, we say our names backwards. By his saying “Dranoel Nehoc” or in my case “Trebreh Sleumas”, we were transformed.

I remember he taught me how to comb my hair to achieve the same pompadour he had. Somehow, it didn’t attract the girls to me like the way they gravitated to Lenny.

He was a storyteller. One night, after lights were out, he spun a tale for what seemed like a half hour. He related how he was waiting for a bus during a heavy Montréal snowstorm. He described the scene, the street name, and bus number in full detail. A passing motorist offered him a ride home. But first had to stop at the driver’s first-floor apartment to pick something up. He invited Lenny to come with him out of the cold. His host momentarily left the room and returned holding a knife. He came at Lenny who evaded him, momentarily, and tried to escape through an open window. We were on tenterhooks. As Lenny was partially out, the man “ grabbed me by the leg. He started pulling my leg, pulling my leg, just like I’m pulling yours.”

Years later, I flew to New York with my brother and sister-in-law. While waiting for a cab, my sister-in-law said “Isn't that Leonard Cohen, standing over there alone? Why don’t you say hello.” Shyly, I went over and the four of us shared a pleasant relaxed taxi into Manhattan. On the way, Lenny said offhandedly that he often thought of me. Nonplussed, I asked why. He said one of his favorite past times, particularly when in a new place, was to go into a variety store, and leisurely poke around. He often felt he should buy something, and many times, it was a water pistol. I laughed. One summer, my parents visited and brought water pistols for the cabin. We had a short time playing with them before they were confiscated by our counselors.

That was Lenny. Gracious, friendly, down-to-earth and full of stories. Little would it have occurred to me that my boyhood friend of many summers would become the international superstar. Now that I look back, I’m not at all surprised.

3 dreadful mistakes people make when hanging art

3 dreadful mistakes people make when hanging art

Have you ever walked into a room and instinctively sensed that something didn’t feel right about the art? Do you ever look around your space and wonder if your art is doing you justice, and vice versa?

16 reasons to buy art

Why buy art? The simple answer for some may be “because it matches my couch.” While consumers might purchase art because they want to coordinate their homes or offices, the motivations for bringing original art into one’s physical space can be deeper, more complex than simply enhancing one’s décor.

Artists give the world something it didn’t know it was missing.” Dan Pink, May 2011

According to research by Unity Marketing, demand for art and other decorative wall items is growing. Since 2010, the share of American households that purchased any art, wall decor or picture frames rose from 47 percent to 54 percent in 2012. Moreover, purchasers are trading up from mass-produced decoration to one-of-a-kind original art.

There are a myriad reasons for art purchases. One of the primary is emotion. Unity Marketing observed that over 70% of American consumers surveyed agreed with the statement, “When choosing art for my home, the way the piece makes me feel is the most important.”  This aligns with Mercartto.com's own research where 62% of responses said art was purchased “because they fell in love with it.” A previous post in this blog supported the relationship between art and endorphins, noting that works of art can give as much joy as being head over heels in love.

Art makes people happier to be where they are. It enhances one’s home/work environment and improves quality of life. It can make a small room seem bigger, and a larger room cosier. For many, art serves as a conduit for self-expression and is a reflection of their individuality and personal taste. For others, art offers an escape: a chance for contemplation, a moment relived, a journey to another culture, another way of seeing and thinking. Art can inspire new ideas, perspectives and goals for both adults and children. Often people buy art to be part of a community. As noted by author Sarah Thornton,

Just as churches and other ritualistic meeting places serve a social function, so art events generate a sense of community around shared interests... People really talk about the art they see. Reading takes a long time and is solitary, whereas art fosters quick-forming imagined communities.”

Moreover, art has been known to improve society (e.g. artists revitalizing blighted neighbourhoods), not to mention that it is environmentally friendly, energy efficient, easy to maintain and enduring. Finally, people buy art for status and investment reasons. According to Alan Bamberger, critic art appraiser and author of The Art of Buying Art, one of the main reasons buy art is some purchasers believe, rightly or wrongly, that it might one day be worth more than they pay for it. They may buy because they like, but in the backs of their minds they hope and pray that the future bodes big bucks for their new acquisitions. But in the majority of cases, buyers never see profits over costs.

Good reasons for spending money on art
Good reasons for spending money on art

A la David Letterman... Top 16 reasons to buy original art (hat tip to Alan Bamberger for inspiration)

  1. Emotion: It creates an emotional reaction in the viewer. According to research by Unity Marketing, over 70% of American consumers surveyed agreed with the statement, “When choosing art for my home, the way the piece makes me feel is most important.”

  2. Improve quality of life: Art can improve how people feel about their physical space. By enhancing one’s home or work environment, quality of life improves (think of the difference between a blank wall vs. one with art). It shapes the emotional mood of the home. It can make a small room seem bigger (e.g. large, open landscape with remote horizon or calming abstract) and a larger room cosier (collection of smaller pieces).
  3. Escape: Art can provide opportunities for quiet contemplation and escape from the day-to-day. It can be regularly uplifting. It can be an object of meditation.
  4. Individuality: Allows people to express their individuality and taste. It can reflect, enhance and magnify the personality of the individual who owns it.
  5. Self-expression: Can be a visual representation of one’s beliefs, feelings, convictions, philosophies and aspirations.
  6. Memento: Art can conjure memories from a specific period of time, like a trip abroad, milestone, etc. My friend saw the favelas of her recent trip to Rio; the artist drew from the crackling surrounding a candle. I guess there's truth to art being in the eye of the beholder.
  7. It’s a window: Art can enrich our lives by offering us glimpses of other cultures, religions, histories, seeing and thinking, nature, etc.
  8. Inspiration: Art can inspire new ideas, perspectives, goals.
  9. Be part of a community. Sharing art with others can be instant. Want a community? Just visit the Mona Lisa in July (but good luck trying to buy it).
  10. Improve society: Quoting Alan Bamberger: Across the country and around the world, artists move into troubled or blighted neighborhoods or parts of cities and revitalize them with their artistry. Their creative expression increases property values, new businesses move in, and the overall quality of life improves immeasurably. Sooner or later, the public at large discovers these wondrous transformations, and in some cases, people actually travel thousands of miles to visit these oases, spend time there, and of course, buy art.
  11. Gift: As a gift for a special occasion (wedding, birthday, anniversary, retirement, graduation).
  12. Support the artist: To support the artist behind it. Collectors like to get not just a painting, but a piece of the artist as well. More on this in future posts!
  13. Children: To teach children by encouraging them to fantasize, use their imagination and explore their own creativity.
  14. Status: Art can be used to signify wealth, success, power. Sarah Thornton pg. xii Art is not classless.... Art is about experimenting and ideas, but it is also about excellence and exclusion. In a society where everyone is looking for a little distinction, it’s an intoxicating combination.”
  15. Non-disposable: It’s environmentally friendly, energy efficient, easy to maintain and enduring. It is not generally destined for landfill.
  16. Investment: As a financial investment. According to Alan Bamberger, one of the main reasons people buy art is they believe, right or wrong, that it might one day be worth more than they pay for it. They may buy because they like, but in the backs of their minds they hope and pray that the future bodes big bucks for their new acquisitions. But in the majority of cases, buyers never see profits over costs.

Can the colour of your art affect your mood?

Can the colour of your art affect your mood?

Can the colour of the art you choose to surround yourself with affect your mood? According to the field of colour therapy, it can. From the Egyptians to now, people have recognized that colour can be used to heal (or stimulate) the viewer.

Canadians are like a Groucho Marx punchline

Canadians are like a Groucho Marx punchline

Yesterday I was speaking to a photographer who, by most accounts, could be arguably described as "world class": he has a great deal of recognition in Europe; is a regular at the major global art shows; has exhibitions in museum-calibre institutions; was written up in Time magazine; and has works owned by people who live in homes described as palaces. 

Canadian Election 2015: Breakdown of Art Policies by Party

Canadian Election 2015: Breakdown of Art Policies by Party

During his 2008 campaign, Stephen Harper infamously remarked that “ordinary people don’t care about art” and that the general population felt alienated by the elitist galas that rich artists attend. While it hasn’t been a hot-ticket issue during this long campaign, arts funding is an issue that concerns many Canadian voters. As the election approaches on October 19th, we take a look at each parties’ platforms and their policies pertaining to the arts and funding. 

Dismaland: Why Should We Care

Dismaland: Why Should We Care

It might seem over-the-top, maybe a little sensationalist; an abandoned seaside resort in in the UK gets transformed (seemingly under the cover of night) into a morbid parody of Disneyland. You might even wonder what makes this art? The most ambitious project by world-famous street-artist and provocateur, Banksy, a pop-art exhibition entitled Dismaland stands to be one of the most inventive and important exhibitions of the past two decades.

Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibit 2015

Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibit 2015

The recent proliferation of art fairs has impacted the global art market. Many have argued that their rise is a reaction to globalization and the online market; allowing for potential buyers to be exposed to a concentrated number of new artists.  TheToronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, the largest outdoor art fair in Canada,  has been filling Nathan Philip’s Square with a variety of local talent since 1961.