Throughout history, important authors have departed from the usual theme and have put aside the romantic and the historical to represent mysterious themes, sometimes even taboo themes, such as those related to Satan (example in Goya’s Coven ) or what refers to sexuality and debauchery (in The Garden of Earthly Delightsof El Bosco).
These authors present in their works a much greater depth of meaning than in the pictures that portray royal families or young lovers on the river bank. However, due to their reputation as provocateurs, the impact of their compositions is less.
We all hope to find something secret santa in Goya’s paintings, and we all approach Bosco’s paintings trying to find the hidden messages that the flamenco genius wanted to convey to us. In the same way, Dalí is also one of these authors who is known to hide something.
All of them are geniuses of art, and their works deserve our attention, appreciation and study. Even so, what we are going to review and analyze on this occasion are not works by painters who went out of orthodoxy on the subject, but by those who, sticking to the commission they were given, managed to hide a secret santa message.
This is precisely what makes Leonardo, Velázquez or Miguel Ángel true geniuses, capable of elaborating the works that their payers demanded and in addition to giving depth to the content with great mastery.
When the king, the pope or the nobleman commissioned a painting from the artist, normally the subject matter was not susceptible of much meaning (lords on thrones, mounted on horseback, shiny clothes, large families, religious references so, a priori , they would not be paintings of great importance,beyond the pictorial quality. However, it is precisely in this type of work where, throughout the history of art, we find more mysteries.
When in April 1483 the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception of Milan commissioned a canvas for the altar of the Church of Saint Francis the Great, they made it very clear that they were looking for a painter who would reflect the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus, accompanied by prophets and angels. The price to be paid to the teacher would be 800 lire. Leonardo Da Vinci responded to this commission, unfortunately for the Confraternity (and for our good fortune).
The elaboration of this painting brought many headaches both to the religious who had requested it and to Leonardo himself, who at that time was in his thirties with a certain fame in the city of Milan. He had already painted the Adoration of the Magi (1481) for the friars of San Donato, and the commission from the Confraternity would be an important step in his career as a painter.
However, this contract would go on for too many years and lead to a lot of hassle for payments. In any case, the interesting thing is that La Virgen de las Rocas, the painting that he finally painted for the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, is one of these works with a hidden message.
It is even said that it was due to its peculiarities that the religious did not like it, and that is why Leonardo had to make several copies (one is kept in the Louvre, another in the National Gallery in London, and in 2005 a third was discovered ).
In an innovative environment, the Italian genius presents the Virgin, Saint John the Baptist and the Child Jesus accompanied by the Archangel Uriel surrounded by a wild landscape, of disturbing darkness and strange geological formations.
They are not surrounded by any architectural structure. It’s a curious representation to say the least. What are they doing there in the middle of a forest that seems haunted? they would ask themselves in scandalized Confraternity.
To begin with, the very subject of the painting has already scandalized the official doctrine of the Church for centuries. Leonardo was a provocateur, and he chose a subject from the apocryphal gospels (those texts not recognized by the Vatican as valid or true).
In a passage in these forbidden gospels, John the Baptist was orphaned and went to live in a cave, where he was found by Mary and the Child Jesus when they were fleeing to Egypt. The subject of the painting is more than clear, and therefore the wild environment and rocky nature.
The game of glances and hands also helps La Virgen de las Rocas to be surrounded by mystery. After the sfumatoMany more questions appear when we look at the gestures: is the Virgin threatening the Child Jesus himself with that hand that twists and stalks from above.
Why does the archangel point to John the Baptist and not to Jesus? The entire painting seems to be in motion, although in the London version (which experts say is the copy of the original, which would be the Louvre) the angel’s pointing finger does not appear.
The hidden symbolism of The Virgin of the Rocks is exploited by Dan Brown in his famous novel The Da Vinci Code (2003), where he directly points out that Leonardo tries to represent symbols against Christian dogma, mainly relegating Jesus himself to a third plane, behind the Virgin and Juan Bautista.
It would be very daring to paint a picture for the Church mocking the son of God, but certainly in La Virgen de las Rocas Jesus does not seem to be the protagonist of the scene. By certain interpretations, Da Vinci was more than a provocateur: he was deeply atheist and anti-Church. Perhaps whenever he could he hid his anti-Christian messages in his paintings, as is also the case in The Last Supper .
The most famous vault in the world hides many secrets santas. Surely a genius like Michelangelo (1475-1564), with many more concerns than mere painting, wanted to leave his signature on the works he made. In the fresco of The Creation of Adam , the most recognized of the Sistine Chapel, there is much more than a close-up of fingers.
According to the most controversial interpretation, Michelangelo, a well-known admirer of the human body and its study, who had participated in dissections of corpses and knew perfectly every organ of our body, reflected in his most famous fresco nothing more and nothing less than the brain human .
Although it may sound scandalous and implausible, the truth is that considering the similarities this theory does not seem so far-fetched (indeed the strange drawing that floats in the air looks like a brain). Furthermore, due to the symbolism of the brain itself as the central organ of the body and source of knowledge, it would not be surprising if Michelangelo identified it with God, the wise Creator.